BLUE ÖYSTER CULT — Blue Öyster Cult (review)

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT — Blue Öyster Cult album cover Album · 1972 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
BOC's self-titled, debut album comes with a very stylish, black-and-white cover, slightly reminiscent of Escher's haunting visual creations. That, and the long, intriguingly cryptic song titles (not to mention the lyrical themes), should be proof enough that they are not your average, run-of-the-mill hard rock band. Though they sound nothing like the Birmingham behemoths, the nickname of 'American Black Sabbath' the band gained soon after their debut clearly shows they had something that set them apart from other American acts tackling the harder edge of the musical spectrum. Their sound, though firmly rooted in classic rock and blues, does possess a quality that is hard to define, and therefore makes them unique.

This album is obviously nowhere as accomplished as its follow-up, "Tyranny and Mutation", and especially the band's undisputed masterpiece, "Secret Treaties". However, even if not all the songs are equally memorable, there are a few gems to be found - diamonds in the rough, perhaps, but diamonds nonetheless.

Opener "Transmaniacon MC" introduces the listener to BOC's dark, twisted lyrical world (here referencing the notorious Altamont murder), as well to Eric Bloom's gruff, expressive vocal style, and the manic, supercharged guitar work of Donald Buck Dharma Roeser, one of the most criminally underrated axe slingers ever. "The Last Days of May" shows Roeser's more reflective, wistful side, his beautiful, bluesy solo enhancing the sad tale of an escape through the desert ended in death; while “Stairway to the Stars” boasts one of those memorable riffs the band have become famous for. The powerful mid-tempo of the anthemic "Cities on Flame (With Rock and Roll)" sees more textbook riffing, as well as an iconically histrionic vocal performance by Bloom. Finally, "Workshop of the Telescopes" is a clear indication of the direction the band would take on later albums, especially as regards esoteric, sci-fi-influenced lyrical themes.

BOC has its share of quieter moments, in particular album closer "Redeemed", which could be referred to as an embryonic AOR song such as the ones to be found on the band's later output. However, the unifying feature of the album lies in the lyrics (mostly penned by unofficial member and mastermind Sandy Pearlman), which range from the visionary to the downright disturbing - as in the case of "Before the Kiss, A Redcap" or the weird, fetish-inspired "She's As Beautiful As a Foot". Behind the often apparently 'simple' musical structures, lies a dark, exotic, disquieting universe - like the black, starry sky depicted by the cover.

Though BOC’s debut cannot be called a masterpiece by any means, it is nevertheless a very solid offering by the celebrated purveyors of intelligent hard rock – as well as a rather tantalizing taste of things to come.
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