Blue Oyster Cult – The Symbol Remains: Album Review

They’ve been very active on the live circuit, but Blue Oyster Cult are back with some new music for the first time in nigh on twenty years.

Release date: 9th October 2020

Label: Frontiers Music

Format: CD / DL / LP

I must admit to having a soft spot (as opposed to a soft white underbelly) for Blue Oyster Cult. Back in 1979 as a fledgling gig-goer, seeing the band at Manchester Apollo was my second ever gig. A fledgling Magnum as support too. The Mirrors album was fresh on the turntable and despite being far from a classic, the excitement of seeing five guitars line dup across the lip of the stage more than compensated. Incredibly, that was over forty years ago.

Now, strange things happen in the bizarre world of rock music, but none more strange than the emergence in 2020 of a new Blue Oyster Cult album. It sounds like the setting for one of their own mysterious brand of sci-fi songs. Almost twenty years have passed since Curse Of The Hidden Mirror. By that time, I’d lost some interest and the band had sort of lost their way from the top-notch stuff that was pouring out of them at their peak in the late seventies and early eighties.

Many thought there would never be any new music, the band continuing to tour relentlessly on the back of a library of work that could fill a decent setlist or two. A few years back at Manchester Academy they even played their first album in full. Plus ‘the hit(s)’ and they always seem to draw a good crowd of rockers of an age who were probably also back at the Apollo in ’79.

However, Hell freezes over as ‘that’ symbol is back, coming crashing back down to Earth. With Eric Bloom and Donald Roeser still fronting the quintet, the multi-instrumental skills of Richie Castellano make him a clear contender for the main foil and supporting presence who can also add some lead vocals. Recording with the touring band too must be a bonus so there’s no suggestion or evidence that they’re anything less than a match fit band.

Fourteen tracks in all, and to be fair with a bit of trimming this could be a superb single album rather than one that does its best to fill a full CD or what now seems like the obligatory double heavyweight vinyl. As That Was Me kicks in, it’s clearly the Cult. Sounds a bit heavier too. Tainted Blood might be on the very edge of hard rock AOR ballad territory but is a belting track. Totally immediate and as an opening gambit, the trio of songs that announce the return see heavy sighs of relief appearing from Cult fans globally.

Train True heads off on a boogie as Nightmare Epiphany swings with some twangy guitar and provides some of the breadth of the palette that you’d expect from BOC. Stand And Fight is much more basic rock and metal, stomping heftily like a monstrous Godzilla (naturally). “Stand and fight, It’s do or die, A call to arms, It’s you and I” and some hey hey’s, you can imagine Pappa Het & Co pinching this one.

At the back end of the record, There’s A Crime rocks in fits and starts like their early albums did and Secret Road seems cut from similar cloth to The Last Days Of May in the cool desert rock vibe.

Looking for a track that might challenge The Reaper as a bonafide classic? The Alchemist is perhaps the one that rises to the top. A fine example of that melodramatic narrative (there are hidden secrets, paths of darkness and witnessing things that can’t be described) and horror soundtrack that epitomised some of their best work.

An unexpected and rather pleasing little surprise on our hands. After so long, expectations might have been held in check, but The Symbol Remains is as good as anything you could expect from 2020 Blue Oyster Cult.

Listen to That Was Me here:

Blue Oyster Cult: Website / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube

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