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.

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Cave Dwellers – John Fitterer of Crowned by Fire

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California metal crew Crowned By Fire breaks the mold of many bands from the LA scene with a raw blend of stoner-rock grooves, and firey blues. Veterans of the scene, they have a “not our first rodeo” approach to metal that fans of Black Sabbath, Black Label Society, Down, Fireball Ministry, Lord Dying and the early records of Soil will flock to. Recorded at Zakk Wylde’s Vatican Studios, their new EP Space Music for Cave People (Chrome Mountain) throws the kitchen sink at you in terms of fuzzed-out, badass tracks and killer solos. The band is just starting to tour outside of California now, and has promised more big things in the future. Ghost Cult caught up with front man John Fitterer to get the scoop on the new EP, covering the greats and rubbing shoulders with some metal gods on a the regular basis. You know, no big whoop.


Your band has been around for almost a decade, but the new EP Space Music for Cave People feels like a real coming out party for the band with a lot of “wow” moments. How did it all come together?

I think the EP has a lot of diversity because of how and even more so when the songs came together. This is almost entirely a B-Side album.

There is definitely a lot of groove-based stuff going on in your music and slower songs really stand out. Is there a Crowned by Fire go-to tempo?

Maybe? ha! It seems even our more upbeat/faster songs like I Spit On Your Curse, I Am The Crime and Shake The Bag off our album Prone To Destroy still have the same tempo as our slower songs, just more fills between the tempo, so maybe we do, If anything it’s the tempo of Sabbath…

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What is “space music for cave people”?

I was living up in Cherry Valley in Riverside County on 42 acres of property in a ranch style house built in 1908. At night I would sometimes walk into the blackness of the surrounding fields with my German Shepherd Elsa, a folding chair, a cocktail and just sit, look at the sky and listen to the wildlife, mostly Elsa chasing rabbits in the dark. I only had one visible neighbor and I couldn’t even see him at night. Anyway, I guess I had this sort of vision looking over all the city lights from the hilltop that we humans are still just cave dwelling folk but our caves are constructed of wood, drywall, concrete, metal, stone and that most of us are driven by the identity of music from the past and present propelling us into the future. It inspired me to write a simple song to tip my hat to the gods of thunder (rock n’ roll) and thank them for throwing me into the mix in some way shape or form.


Along with the throwback feel of the tracks, it’s cool to see a band with a song named after itself again. Do you think little things like that send a certain message to the listener about the band?

In this case yeah, Justin hit me up to sing for a band he was in because they were replacing the singer, I thought the music was really heavy and had the potential to be something special. The stuff they were doing was more balls out Slayer/Pantera-ish which showed they had chops and I was really impressed by the looseness of the guitars. I wasn’t sure if we were going to mesh at the time mainly because I was listening to a lot of stuff that was slower and darker (Goatsnake, Neurosis, Celtic Frost, Venom, Sabbath, Vitus, Cathedral, Satyricon, Bolt Thrower) and I really didn’t want to sing to fast songs.

The very first time me and Justin (Manning) jammed together in the Summer of 2006, he broke out this heavy swampy blues metal riff and I immediately started singing this thing I’d written called Crowned By Fire. The riff and lyrics came together so organically we were blown away. We both decided that this was a beast of it’s own origin and to start this band from the ground up. Never once did we play a note of the songs previously written. A month or so later we agreed that Crowned By Fire was the best name for the band.

How did you get Tommy Victor to guest on ‘Buried Away’?

Justin first met Tommy when he was working at Schecter Guitar Research. Tommy was (is?) endorsed by Schecter. CBF played a Schecter party in Hollywood that Tommy was at, he said he dug the set and we gave him a shirt and cd and whatever else we could throw at him, ha! Later Tommy asked Justin to tech for him for a few Danzig gigs. Next thing you know he’s up at Zakks per our request to do some vocals on the new EP, the rest is history. Tommy is fucking awesome and killed it in the studio, -total pro and stand up dude!

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You are very versatile vocally, more than a typical rock or metal guy. I even heard some Leonard Cohen stuff in that ballad. What are some of the not-so obvious influences of the band?

I can really only speak for myself on this, yes I’m a huge Leonard Cohen fan, I probably own 95 percent of his catalog. I was thinking I was going for more of a Michael Gira (Swans) or Scott Kelly (from Neurosis on his Blood and Time) thing there, but it was probably all three. My relationships are complicated.

As far as my influences, 60’ psychedelic rock, 70’s classic rock and FM radio, 80’s & 90’s punk/goth and underground metal, some of the decades overlap in genre but you get the picture, I believe all of the influences live and breath through me vocally.

What is Zakk Wylde’s studio (Vatican Studios) like to record in and did he have any advice for you guys?

Kinda. There were 2 actual surreal moments I experienced while recording at the Black Vatican. One was hanging in Vatican kitchen with Tommy Victor and drinking Valhalla Java Coffee while writing down a verse of my lyrics to our song Buried Away for Tommy to sing on, then watching him perform the part while Zakk frequented the room with words of sarcastic encouragement. The next was a complete Spinal Tap moment as I walked into the Vatican to lay down vocal tracks with Adam Klumpp and find Zakk throwing down about 10 takes of the lead guitar on the song Space Music For Cave People. He was schooling Justin on playing a blues lead over the tune. Fucked up thing, both mine and Justin’s iPhones were frozen in limbo uploading new IOS software (in a cell phone dead zone) in the hills of the infamous BLS compound, so none of this was documented at all, and worse yet, no thumbs up to use the boss’s lead on the album, ha!!

 

Is it a little daunting to record a cover of such a well-known song as ‘Burning for You’ by B. O.C.?

I don’t think so, we talked about doing it a certain way and did it that way. I like it when a band does a cover and you know it’s “that” band doing the cover. I’m sure we’ll occasionally catch some shit about hacking the song or whatever, so what! Scott Hill from FU Manchu once told me that some dude was giving him crap about switching the word “bus” to “Camaro” in their killer sludged out version of BOC’s Godzilla, funny shit. Sometimes people just need to lighten up. Most bands that I truly like, well they can do no wrong for the most part, they aren’t always 10’s and that’s ok with me. One of my favorite cover albums is Six Feet Under’s Graveyard Classics 2, where they cover AC/DC’s Back In Black LP in it’s entirety, total brutal genius.

Sidenote… no cowbell? Bogus! Lol!

I actually wanted cowbell on the song Crowned By Fire, I still do, ha! The first time we attempted to record it in 2006, we sent Justin in the drum room with a cowbell in hand and every time we went to record it we almost died laughing. He looked like a drunk bullfrog hitting an oil can with a flyswatter in there, it really brought out the hillbilly in him. Since then it was unfortunately never revisited..

 

Is it tough cracking the LA scene with this kind of old-school metal band these days?

No. I actually think it’s brought us more respect with the promoters because they seem to see the genuineness in what we do. We’re almost falling into the “fad” of things now, it feels like anyway. In 2006, when we started, the majority of the bands out there were playing all this technical skinny pants eyeliner metal, now you rarely see any of that shit, and actually a lot of those bands now look like they rolled out of the same smelly van as us, which is a bit disheartening.

Your video was directed by Matt Zane who is known for his distinct visual style. What was it like working with him?

Matt’s a total pro when it comes to directing, he was to the point and extremely articulate in his vision of what we could and should pull off with the resources at hand.

 

What kind of touring and gigs do you have lined-up in the near future?


In the near future, as far as shows, we’ll be at The Rail Club in Fort Worth on Friday August 15th at Ride For Dime Texas with Texas Hippie Coalition, Malone’s in Santa Ana, CA on Friday August 22nd with Gypsyhawk, Saturday August 30th at The Viper Room in Hollywood with our friends All Hail The Yeti and Lords of Ruin. We’ll probably be hitting the northern west coast this spring (SF, Santa Cruz & such).

We’re working with Black Radar Management in the UK and hope to be making plans to get to Europe sooner than later!

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KEITH (KEEFY) CHACHKES