BLUE ÖYSTER CULT — The Symbol Remains (review)

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT — The Symbol Remains album cover Album · 2020 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
voila_la_scorie
So here we have a classic band of the seventies whose fortunes declined in the eighties, who were in disarray throughout most of the nineties, tried to get back in gear in at the turn of the century and who then carried on mostly as a classic rock band playing their classic tunes. Then after 19 years of silence from the recording studio, Blue Oyster Cult drop a new release. The title, "The Symbol Remains" seems less like a victory shout and more like confident statement made through weathered and grim lips with a knife edge of a smile. "It's 2020. BOC is still here."

I was curious. I had never been a huge fan, but my musical travels brought me to BOC Base on a few occasions, allowing one or two more albums to nestle into my collection. My recent reacquaintance with the much-derided "Club Ninja" exposed me to the new album's cover. Somehow, I felt it had to be good.

Of the original line-up, only the two guitarists and principal singers, Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom remain. That's something important though as what defines a band's sound is mostly in the vocals and lead instruments, as well as the songwriting. And to my delight, I feel that this is very much a Blue Oyster Cult album!

The band's familiar heavy side opens the album with "That Was Me", a song that I thought was a reflection back on a "career of evil". At this age, I think this song is very suitable and it is executed in the familiar style of Blue Oyster Cult.

The next two, "Box In My Head" (about his brain), and "Tainted Blood" (a vampire song) continue that familiar sound and style. Obviously, the two legendary members are that much older and the sounds of the instruments and recording is very modern, but they deliver songs worthy of the legendary band name.

I'll confess, though, that partway through the album, it begins to sound more like a generic old dudes' rock album. While at the start I felt it was without a doubt a BOC album, by the middle I thought had I heard this without knowing who it was, I don't think I would have even suspected that I knew what band it was.

Fortunately, once we reach "Stand and Fight" we know who put out this platter. It is actually a heavy tune, perhaps in the sense of classic heavy metal of the seventies but again with a modern sound. "Florida Man" is pretty good, but "The Alchemist" is totally a Blue Oyster Cult track with the heavy guitars, some piano, and an epic tale of fantasy and a quest. Had the album ended here (and I expected that it would as I was listening while walking and not looking at the track list), I would have applauded the band.

However, there is yet another track, and another, and another. It became a game to guess if I had heard the final track yet. I would think, "Now there's a great conclusion to a song and a great way to finish up the album." But then another track would begin. Not that the last five tracks were bad or dull. There are still some very good ones there and some even better than those in the middle of the album where I was wondering if I would recognize the band. I suppose after 19 years, the band had enough material for a 60-minute album. But I personally feel the album could have been more cohesive and more like a BOC album if some of the songs - three or four - had been relegated to CD/download bonus tracks that were separate from the rest of the songs.

My impression is that Blue Oyster Cult have released a surprisingly good album for a mature band. They keep the BOC flame burning for us with songs that both musically and lyrically are congruent with the classic sound of the band.

Any disappointments would be in two or three tracks that could have been either left off or come after the main album track list. I think the album would have had more of a wow impact at somewhere around 10 or 11 tracks.

Overall though, it's a solid release!
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