“The Symbol Remains”

By Dr. Abner Mality

The drought is over, the period of starvation has come to an end. 20 years after their last effort, BLUE OYSTER CULT is back in business with a new album. And to make up for the long layoff, we don’t just get a nibble or a taste, but a full blown feast of new material. 14 songs strong.

I’ve seen these guys more than any other band and have been a big fan since 1978. Despite changes in line-up, “The Symbol Remains” remains true to everything BOC stands for. A bit too melodic to be considered metal, too heavy to be called pop, the band has found the blessed middle ground between the two and rules it with assurance. The “new guys” (who have been in the band for 15 years if not more) have integrated well with the grizzled vets, Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom. Surprisingly, guitarist Richie Castellano plays a big part in the album, basically singing lead in the position that Joe Bouchard used to. He’s got a pure AOR voice that’s easy on the ears and works well on the songs where he sings lead, “Tainted Blood”, “The Machine” and “The Return of St. Cecelia”. The rest of lead vocals are split as always between Bloom and Buck, with Buck generally handling the poppier numbers and Bloom doing the heavier songs.

I can’t say any of the songs here really break any kind of mold, but they seem to explore all aspects of BOC’s long history.  “That Was Me” is a tough, hooky rocker that seems a lyrical and musical sequel to “Career of Evil” while “Box In My Head” is a peppy Buck Dharma number. On “Nightmare Epiphany”, there’s some awesome extended lead guitar jamming from Buck. The guy remains the smoothest, best lead guitarist I’ve ever heard. A really cool song from him is “Train True”(Lennie’s Song), which is super upbeat and bluesy and Buck almost does some scat singing. “The Return of St. Cecelia” is the best of the tracks Richie sings lead on and has a lyrical concept that hails all the way back to when the band was the STALK FOREST GROUP.

It seems the middle of the album is where most of the best tracks are. “Stand And Fight” is BLUE OYSTER CULT at its heaviest, sounding almost like METALLICA with a crunchy tune not a million miles away from “Enter Sandman”. I would have thought “Florida Man” would be a breezy novelty tune, but it’s almost sad and wistful, reminding me of “Harvest Moon” from the criminally underrated “Heaven Forbid” album. “The Alchemist” is a heavier Bloom tune that frankly sounds overly familiar but it tells such a story and the playing cooks so good that you can overlook it. As usual, there’s some great lyrics and story-telling going on, with some fantasy, SF and horror overtones.

The album wraps up with three short and concise rock tunes that are not filler but not quite blow away material, either. As the long album concludes, you will have a smile on your face if you dig hard rock with class and eccentricity, which is where BLUE OYSTER CULT has always dwelled. Expect nothing less from a band of this legendary caliber.