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3.99 | 26 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1981


1. Fire Of Unknown Origin (4:11)
2. Burnin' For You (4:30)
3. Veteran Of The Psychic Wars (4:50)
4. Sole Survivor (4:05)
5. Heavy Metal: The Black And Silver (3:19)
6. Vengeance (The Pact) (4:41)
7. After Dark (4:25)
8. Joan Crawford (4:54)
9. Don't Turn Your Back (4:07)

Total Time 39:05


- Eric Bloom / guitars, vocals
- Donald Roeser / guitars, vocals
- Allen Lanier / guitars, keyboards
- Joe Bouchard / bass, vocals
- Albert Bouchard / drums, vocals

About this release

July 1981

Thanks to cannon, Pekka, Lynx33, Unitron for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

"It's time we had some leave, We've been living in the flames..."

'Fire Of Unknown Origin' is one of the Blue Oyster Cult albums that most people agree on, as being one of the band's best. I can concur definitely that the album is very consistent in terms of quality rock and melodic compositions, the sound is terrific and the songs are easy to latch onto and stay in the head. The opening track is blockbuster, being the title track, and one of the all time great BOC songs. I was astonished at how amazing the musicianship is on this after hearing them on the far more inferior singles that have littered rock compilations over the years. BOC are at their best on album tracks I believe, rather than the AOR radio approach akin to Journey or Asia. 'Fire of Unknown Origin' is one of the songs I would say deserves to be on any BOC compilation.

'Burnin' For You' immediately moves into the AOR territory that inevitably the band turn to in their latter years. However this is still a decent melodic song, ad more of a diversion on this album. 'Veteran Of The Psychic Wars' is a track I have heard a number of ties in various forms; it appears on the movie and soundtrack of 'Heavy Metal:The Movie', the adult illustrated magazine movie that I actually saw in a dark, dingy theatre in the 80s. I had forgotten it until a recent listen to Arjen Lucassen's 'Lost in the New Real'. The post metal approach, and very strong lyrics by Michael Moorcock resonate with me; 'Don't let these shakes go on, It's time we had a break from it, It's time we had some leave, We've been living in the flames, We've been eating out our brains, Oh, please don't let theses shakes go on.' This is excellent song from BOC, but I kind of love Arjen's version better, as it is heavier and more complex musically.

'Sole Survivor' is next but Asia's song is actually better if we are comparing. I am no fan of this style and it reeks of soft AOR. Moving on, we have the mighty 'Heavy Metal: The Black And Silver' and what a song this is; metal to the max, old school with crunching axes and pounding drumbeats. 'Vengeance (The Pact)' follows and they bring out the flute. There is a powerhouse performance from Bloom on vox, and cool riffs over some non-sensical lyrics. The chorus is anthemic, and those harmonies work well together. Dharma's lead break is exceptional, he really lights it up, and then the riff moves up a key, until it gets locked into a faster tempo; now we are motoring! The lyrics mention an arrow in the head to save his master, but I never understood BOC.

'After Dark' is one I like to skip as it does nothing for me, but the next track is incredible. Based on Joan Crawford's expose novel and film, 'Mommie Dearest' this song goes into some sordid details about the troubled actress's life. 'Joan Crawford' is very weird and scary with some fun moments such as a car skidding across my earphones and then crashing in a fireball. Then there are a bunch of jazz sounds and other effects. The lyrics are rather chilling; 'Crawford has risen from the grave!'

'Don't Turn Your Back' is the proggiest thing on here and it's a sheer delight when BOC get creative. The time sig is very odd, perhaps a 4/2 or 6/8 in some places, and this has a great bassline. It is the ultimate way to finish an album.

In conclusion, I agree that this is a terrific album for BOC but I have heard better form them, especially in their so-called black and white period, the first three albums. Nevertheless, this has some extraordinary songs, and is well deserved of a solid 4 stars.
Like its predecessor, Cultosaurus Erectus, Fire of Unknown Origin retains a little of the dark, murky energy which made the band's early albums (up to Secret Treaties) so compelling. However, the band's experiments with their style here are somewhat less successful than on the preceding albums. The mid-paced Veteran of the Psychic Wars can, depending on mood, turn into a bit of a slow plod, and the opening title track incorporates a disco beat which you really have to be in the right mood for if it's going to work.

If you come here seeking occult proto-metal fury like the Cult of old, you won't get it. Still, Burning For You and Joan Crawford are catchy enough tracks, and the album overall is one of their more successful blends of hard rock, pop, and thematic weirdness.

Members reviews

Strange as it may sound to some, this album counts as one of my all-time favourites. Though some may not find it anything special, and others think it is a tad too AORish, nevertheless it has always struck a chord within me. Some of the songs are nothing short of masterpieces, the musicianship is superb throughout, and so is the artwork - one of the most important elements both in progressive rock and hard rock/heavy metal.

"Fire of Unknown Origin" (one of the best titles I can think of) contains at least one hit in "Burning for You", written by guitarist extraordinaire Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser - a catchy, almost infectious little number which got the band a lot of airplay back when the album was released. Though a simpler composition than their immortal (pardon the pun) "Don't Fear the Reaper", and far from being one of my favourite BOC songs, it's still AOR with some bite. The other tracks, however, are a different story - starting with the title-track, with lyrics penned by punk muse Patti Smith (who was for a long time the partner of keyboardist Allen Lanier). Featuring great keyboard work by Lanier himself, as well as the band's trademark,left-field lyrics, it straddles the line between commercial and sophisticated.

The album's real highpoint, though, is the magnificent "Veteran of the Psychic Wars", written by vocalist Eric Bloom together with English sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock (of Hawkwind fame). The latter had already provided the lyrics for two other BOC classics, "Black Blade" and "The Great Sun Jester", both inspired by his cycle of Elric of Melniboné and his magic sword, Stormbringer. However, as good as those two tracks are, "Veteran" is something more - definitely one of the band's classics, and one of my favourite songs ever. Its lyrics have had a constant appeal for me, especially in some difficult moments of my life: "My energy is spent at last/And my armour is destroyed/And I've used up all my weapons/And I'm helpless and bereaved...." The song, a slow, powerfully moving composition, features a killer guitar solo by Roeser, and a haunting, eerily echoing drum pattern, as well as an impassioned vocal performance by Bloom.

While "Sole Survivor", featuring former Meat Loaf vocalist Karla DeVito, and the somewhat weak "After Dark" follow the AOR-inclined path of "Burning for You", the eerie, ominous "Vengeance (The Pact)", and the dramatic "Joan Crawford" lean much more strongly towards progressive territory, boasting frequent time changes, rich musical textures and intense, evocative vocals. The album closes with the soothing vocal harmonies, layered bass and keyboard lines of the deceptively catchy "Don't Turn Your Back" (check its death-themed lyrics).

Like its predecessor, the excellent "Cultosaurus Erectus", "Fire of Unknown Origin" was produced by hard-rock icon Martin Birch, who in those years would also revive Black Sabbath's flagging career. With great clarity of sound, sterling performances from all the band members, powerfully emotional vocals by Eric Bloom, and intriguing, thought-provoking lyrics, it ranks undoubtedly as one of BOC's best offerings. Though not exactly a masterpiece, it is an album that has a lot to offer to fans of great rock music - heavy or otherwise.

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