ALBUM REVIEW: Blue Oyster Cult – The Symbol Remains

After nearly two decades spent exclusively on the live circuit, Blue Oyster Cult returns with their fifteenth full-length album, The Symbol Remains (Frontiers Records Srl). In a way similar to the recent releases by fellow Seventies Rock legend Alice Cooper, the band opts for a kitchen sink songwriting method. The fourteen tracks play out like a career retrospective of sorts, exploring a variety of moods between classic-minded rockers, synth-heavy AOR numbers, and atmospheric occult excursions.

A similar style was seen on their two releases before it, 1998’s Heaven Forbid and 2001’s Curse Of The Hidden Mirror, but the execution has more character behind it this time around. The production job plays an especially big part in that, giving some extra crunch to the more driving tracks as well as grand fullness that allows the glossier hooks to shine. It’s especially apparent on ‘Stand And Fight,’ whose vicious bass-heavy chug may be the heaviest thing that BOC has ever released. It also gives an extra hit of relevance to the particularly old school-oriented tracks like the opening ‘That Was Me’ and ‘The Return Of St. Cecilia.’

On top of that, this album has the most stirring commitment to atmosphere since 1988’s Imaginos. ‘Tainted Blood’ and ‘Edge Of The World’ are particular highlights with memorable hooks that are presented with polished yet ominous textures. ‘The Alchemist’ is the album’s biggest showstopper, offering a theatrical structure that feels like the climax of a Lovecraft-themed Broadway musical with a Classic Metal speedup that seems to wink at ‘Astronomy.’

It’s even more impressive when you consider that many of these songs were written by guitarist/keyboardist Richie Castellano on his first-ever studio appearance with the band. The sadly departed Allen Lanier is certainly missed but it’s great that his successor seems to understand what makes them tick. One must also give props to the remaining founders Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma for holding down the fort so well fifty years later.

Their quirky side is also out in full force, which results in some of the album’s spottier outliers. The sudden Country transitions on ‘Train True (Lennie’s Song)’ make for a particularly disjointed number as one wonders if the band should’ve just a full style commitment. Elsewhere, ‘Box In My Head’ and ‘Florida Man’ counteract their rather pedestrian structures with some amusing lyrics while ‘The Machine’ falters in a similar attempt with its boomer-friendly “phone bad” theming.

Overall, Blue Oyster Cult sound very much like themselves on The Symbol Remains. Fourteen tracks might be a few too many for a true modern classic status, but it’s refreshing to see the band offer a blend with catchiness and atmosphere through their signature eccentricity. It’s certainly not at the heights of such favorites as Secret Treaties or Fire Of Unknown Origin, but a similar spirit can be felt throughout. As great as it would’ve been to see them come back with something like this earlier, I’ll be glad they took their time.

Buy the album here:

8 / 10