BLUE ÖYSTER CULT — Fire Of Unknown Origin (review)

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT — Fire Of Unknown Origin album cover Album · 1981 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
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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