Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Blue Oyster Cult have an unusual standing in the world of rock, both incredibly popular, selling multiple millions of albums, but also remaining to be somewhat niche.
Whilst everyone knows THAT song there’s so much more to their expansive recorded work and even the most casual of dips anywhere into their back catalogue will unearth gems.
For a band who were first formed over fifty years ago they’re one of the few acts who’ve put out consistently good material and this new album stands amongst their best.
Mainstays Eric Bloom and Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser still lead the New York crew with a fiery passion and their guidance at the helm has seen the band consistently following their own hearts, always true to their creative inspiration.
Somehow, ‘The Symbol Remains’ seems to traverse the whole career of the band, drawing in elements from multiple points in their timeline and throwing in the odd curveball, giving it a variety and freshness that makes it never less than compulsive listening.
Throughout, the guitars have a real heft and drive but this is counterpointed with the quintet’s trademark vocals that make them stand out from the rest of the field, the writing never less than sparkling.
Primarily known as a hard rock band, this epithet hardly even scratches the surface and there are touches of other genres scattered throughout, each track bringing something to stimulate the senses.
Opening the album with a bang, ‘That Was Me’ is street fighting tough as heavy-duty riffing and pounding rhythms assault tear from the speakers, threatening to shred them.
Part way through the track the band slip in their first surprise, a brief reggae section whose touch verge into Rush’s ‘Spirit of Radio’ territory and somehow mixes in a little of the Eagles.
From thunder to heavy bubblegum pop rock as ‘Box in my Head’ mixes 80’s and 90’s vibes with ‘Blade Runner’ esthetics. Great hooks and backing vocals lift the music into a lighter, but always fascinating, sphere.
This reflection of the band’s past is also aptly illustrated in ‘Nightmare Epiphany’, shot through with the spirit of 60’s rock ‘n’ roll.
Capturing those heady high school days of drive in’s, bleachers and lazy and balmy nights that stretch endlessly through the Summer, B.O.C. show their teeth as something sinister lurks in the shadows.
The album isn’t short of epic tracks either with the huge and heavy ‘Tainted Blood’ crushing and the showstopping ‘The Alchemist’ featuring a section that would fit right in place on any Iron Maiden album, as guitars, drums and bass charge every forwards.
As you make your way through ‘The Symbol Remains’ there are more snatches of the familiar, both from their own box of tricks but also from bands they’ve influenced and admired, all brought together in a musical melting pot.
Listen carefully and you’ll hear Thin Lizzy’s twin guitar harmonies, Alice Cooper’s unsettling fingerprints, Metallica’s rawness and Deep Purple’s groove cropping up at points and glistening amongst the well-crafted structures.
Stone cold rockers are strewn throughout and it’s a joy to hear the band let loose on ‘Edge of the World’, ‘Stand And Fight’ and ‘The Machine’.
This is the sound of Blue Oyster Cult having some fun and unleashing their muscular firepower but each has its own character. From 80’s FM radio rock, through to ‘There’s A Crime’s New Wave energy and the rockabilly on ‘Train Train (Lennie’s Song)’ there is always something new around the corner.
They even somehow manage to move into the sort of material that 10cc and Steely Dan mastered on the wonderfully subversive ‘Florida Man’.
Final track ‘Fight’ rolls beautifully, drawing to a close an album that should reach way beyond the faithful in its appeal.
Always intelligent, their humour and class hallmarks of the band, Blue Oyster Cult have once again staked their place as one the greatest American bands of all time, their likenesses worthy of being carved in the stone of rock music’s Mount Rushmore. Quite simply, ‘The Symbol Remains’ lays a firm claim to be amongst the very best albums you’ll hear all year.
The Kings are back and their return couldn’t be more timely or welcome. Simply brilliant.
- That Was Me
- Box In My Head
- Tainted Blood
- Nightmare Epiphany
- Edge Of The World
- The Machine
- Train True (Lennie’s Song)
- The Return Of St. Cecilia
- Stand And Fight
- Florida Man
- The Alchemist
- Secret Road
- There’s A Crime
Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser