It’s good to be back, and I’m going to celebrate by writing about this grievously under-appreciated hard rock band. It’s hard to believe the mighty Blue Öyster Cult seem to be remembered for only one hit song, the infamous “Don’t Fear The Reaper”, which isn’t even on this album. And maybe for Metallica’s cover of “Astronomy”, which is on this album, and is every bit as amazing as the pale shadow of Metallica’s version hints at. Although I suppose it was to be expected that from an age where giants roamed the rock’n’roll wilds (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath), one or two bands might fly a bit under the radar. Ever a man to root for the underdog, this post shall sing the praises of Blue Öyster Cult, and I hope you appreciate at least the dogged stubbornness with which I respect the ridiculous little metal umlaut which is possibly their longest lasting trademark.
Speaking of the “metal umlaut”, it is ridiculous because it is gratuitous. It’s a marketing ploy to make metal band names look more “northern”, more Teutonic, and reap the benefits of the cloud of stereotypes surrounding that particular reference. Blue Öyster Cult was the first to use the umlaut in the band name gratuitously, and it’s all the more ironic that I wouldn’t go so far as to call their music “metal”, at least not at first. Yeah, they’re part of the select group of “granddaddies of metal”, but their first albums retain an unmistakeable bluesy, rock’n’roll feel to them, which is a far cry from the more elaborate, abstract, classically-minded musings of more mature representatives of the genre, say Iron Maiden for example. The beauty of Blue Öyster Cult’s music is not in the “metalness” of it, at least not entirely, but rather the formidable premonitory range it seems to cover. There are songs on this album which sound positively punk to me (Cagey Cretins for example), others which sound like the last breath of the great psychedelic era (Astronomy, although that’s hardly the main selling point of the song), and other still which have such simple, poignant, muscular riffs that they foreshadow thrash metal (like Harvester of Eyes, which sounds to me like Metallica might have sounded ten years before their time). Now I’m sure this game of “identify the influence” is not to anyone’s taste, since it even feels stale to me more often than not, but this album is such a cool little collection of such musical teasers that it manages to stay fun no matter how many times I listen to it.
However, above all of this guesswork and retroactive speculation, there’s a wonderful coherence to this record which arches over its entire span, and which makes it such a reference point, at least in my opinion. For one thing, the songs blend into each-other seamlessly, intentionally, as if we’re dealing with a concept album (which we aren’t), welded together and seeming to escalate all the time, text-book like, from the robust beginning of Career of Evil to the meditative, spacious finale of Astronomy. Throughout the entire record, there’s this feeling of warmth, sunlight, slight grit, kept alive for so long by the likes of Slash, that Californian vibe which bands like Red Hot Chilli Peppers project to this day. Yes, to my mind, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers encapsulate echoes of Blue Öyster Cult, in spite of all the implements and add-ons. This has to do not only with the music, but also with the production. This is a record which can sound simultaneously fresh and ever-so-slightly dated, due to the occasional employ of… shall we say… obsolete sound effects, especially on the keyboards. This mix of nostalgia and modernity, of timely wear and poignant relevance is what distinguishes Secret Treaties on the one hand and Blue Öyster Cult as a musical entity on the other. There’s nothing quite like a sense of familiarity grafted on an often surprising situation to really get the mind working and the heart pumping, and I think this band is a wonderful example of that.
In any case, I hope you like this record, chosen by me as a very nice soundtrack for the last few days of 2011. It might be our last year on Earth after all, if we’re to credit the Mayans’ silence with the tremendous hype it’s being charged with. Might as well be a rock’n’roll year, a romantic, grand spectacle, show-off of a thing, dotted with occasional subtlety and backed by an unrelenting feeling of speed. Enjoy!