Album review: BLUE OYSTER CULT – The Symbol Remains

BLUE OYSTER CULT – The Symbol Remains

Frontiers [Release date 09.10.20]

Born of the time of Covid, Blue Oyster Cult’s first album in 20 years, “The Symbol Remains”, announces the band as born again survivors. And indeed survivors who, thank god, haven’t neglected entertainment for the sake of their rock’n'roll art.

The competitive drive of original members, Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom, ultimately overcame two decades of studio inertia. Face to face conferencing and long distance technology allowed the tracks they had laid down before the virus to be completed. They were subsequently mixed and mastered by Tom (Stones/Gabriel/Manson) Lord-Alge.

For those who don’t know the band (maybe been leading a subterranean existence for the last 50 years), this bunch has seen it all and done it all, several times. Even the new boys, Richie Castellano, Jules Radino and Danny Miranda have been the band’s rock solid rhythm section for many years now.

And what the twanging, clanging, macho swagger of openers ‘That Was Me’ and ‘Box In My Head’ tell you is that the evolution of BOC’s rock has always been impervious to outside influences.

The arching melodies, the endless panorama and ambition of their lyrical landcape… it’s all intact. It’s no coincidence that the dusty, country boy rock of ‘Lennie’s Song’ obliquely references Steinbeck. And while ‘The Machine’ sucks us in to the cultural vacuum of today’s technology, ‘Stand And Fight’s grubby hybrid of rock and metal suggests they’re up for the idea of primal responses to today’s realities, rather than intellectual ones.

Key track, ‘Tainted Blood’ goes a step further, upping the drama, building to a Nouvelle Chanson theatricality. The intensely poetic lyrics of this and other tracks – ‘Nightmare Epiphany’, ‘The Alchemist’ – still remain a unique approach in the world of classic rock.

They may be treading familiar ground, but there’s a welcome freshness here. Often, this new music seems like a series of hi-def colour photos compared to the monochrome snapshots of … “The Curse Of The Hidden Mirror” and “Heaven Forbid”, their last 2 studio albums.

For a band who survived the hedonistic, life shortening heights of fame, a seen-it-all, done-it-all mindset would have been understandable. But the fact that they are still going strong, writing and recording truly great rock music is cause for quiet celebration. *****

Review by Brian McGowan

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