Oyster Cult - Heaven
Blue Oyster Cult
Reviewer: Ray Boudreau
See You In Black
Cold Gray Light
Live For Me
On May 24, 1998,
the Oysterboys proved that they are far from a “remember when” nostalgia
band with the release of their first original studio album in ten years,
Heaven Forbid, on the CMC label. The band has been “on tour forever” as
their T-shirts indicate, gradually introducing live a number of tunes,
studio versions of which have made their way on to the CD. The album, which
band members had formerly referred to as “Ezekial’s Wheel,” showcases a
Blue Oyster Cult that still rocks with a fresh modern sound that nevertheless
draws on the same influences that informed their prior work.
Donald “Buck Dharma”
Roeser produced Heaven Forbid himself. His style can best be described
as “minimalist”. He lets the music speak for itself. And speak it
does. From the non-standard time signatures on “See You In Black,” the
Metallicaesque opening number; through the final cut, a wistful live acoustic
reprise of “In Thee” from the 1979 LP Mirrors; this album makes a clear,
though necessarily eclectic, statement of what kind of band Blue Oyster
Cult is and always has been. You will find a smorgasbord of outstanding
guitar centered rock and roll.
The band turned to
science fiction author John Shirley for lyrics on a number of the tracks.
Readers and fans may know Shirley for his strange otherworldly novels that
reflect, often explicitly, a strong B.O.C. sensibility. An obvious fan
as well as a member of his own band, The Panther Moderns, he proves to
be a good fit for B.O.C. The subject matter of his lyrics, for example
“Power Underneath Despair,” suggests that he really likes “Then Came the
Last Days of May” off the band’s eponymous debut album, and that’s all
right by me. So do I.
The CD opens with
“See You In Black”, which CMC released as the album’s first single. I like
“See You In Black”, but then, I like Metallica. A fast, hard rocking song,
it harkens back to the first three albums and that is just fine by me.
For me, those records epitomize the rock and roll soul of Blue Oyster Cult.
The band follows
up with “Harvest Moon,” which has an intro and style reminiscent of Agents
of Fortune, and even some of the later albums like Mirrors or Revolution
By Night, showing the band has not ignored everything that has happened
since “Secret Treaties.” The solo, especially, suggests Agents of
Fortune. Many people have compared this song, which Roeser penned
solo, favorably to “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”
The next song on
the album, “Power Underneath Despair”, musically probably exhibits a stronger
Metallica-like feel even than “See You In Black”, with fat metal instrumentation.
The song originally appeared in another version on the Summerdaze CD. Here,
I see some of the eighties metal influences that were present on Club Ninja
and Revolution By Night. Personally, I think they do this type of song
better here than on those two albums. Think of “Shadow of California”
and “White Flags” after hearing this, and I think you’ll see what I mean.
One of my friends believes this song is straight off Imaginos. I
don’t believe I agree lyrically, but musically his position has merit.
Highlights include outstanding metal fills on the guitar breaks.
Track four, “X-Ray
Eyes”, displays influences which appear on Cultosaurus Erectus and Mirrors
updated into a nineties idiom. It features 1950’s science fiction references
in a modern rock theme with a strong melody and hard rocking rhythm line.
Where else can you find this but in a B.O.C. album?
“Hammer Back”, the
next tune on Heaven Forbid, musically sounds almost pure nineties. Once
more “Then Came the Last Days of May” and maybe even “Golden Age of Leather”
appears in the subject matter with a driving hard beat, although the lyrics
may be a bit more concrete than those tunes. The song also has a Metallica
feel, although I’m becoming a little weary of that comparison already.
One should always keep in mind that B.O.C. has almost certainly had a bigger
influence on bands like Metallica than vice versa. However, you want to
place its origin, “Hammer Back” remains a good modern tune. Interestingly,
Bloom’s vocals are not as rough as they would be on a similar Metallica
song. This gives the song a unique vibe.
To me, track six,
“Damaged” ranks with the greatest work they’ve ever done. I believe this
could be a huge hit if released as a single. The style reminds me of the
early albums reaching back to the first LP. One of the Heaven Forbid’s
nicest surprises, “Damaged” shows a little of the Southern Rock influences
that lurked around some of those albums but the group abandoned later.
The track features a nifty little Hammond organ-like fill from guest keyboardist
Tony Perrino. A fast, jammin,’ rhythmically inventive tune, you can
drive your car real fast into a tree with this one.
The next song, “Cold
Gray Light of Dawn,” makes me think of an Imaginos tune. It reminds
me a bit of “I Am the One You Warned Me Of” and a couple of other
cuts from Imaginos like “Imaginos.” The song also has a kind of blues
feel that I like alot and a lose-your-sense-of-time-and-space guitar jam
screaming all the way from the intro through to the end. Notably, though,
this song like the rest of the album is produced rather sparsely. This
makes it not quite Imaginos, but something new.
Track eight, “Real
World” is another surprise similar to “Damaged”. The tune has a cool
beat on the verse that shows more of the rhythmic invention evident in
“Damaged” that I like a great deal. Some reviewers have even noted a Dave
Matthew’s Band-like strain in “Damaged” and “Real World.” In contrast
to the verse, the chorus reminds me of Revolution By Night and Club Ninja.
Strange as this may seem, the song works. The lyrics have a surreal quality
that conjures up Secret Treaties, Cultosaurus, Agents of Fortune, and Specters.
Roeser put “Live
For Me,” a personal song which in the Mirrors mold next on the CD.
The band has been playing this basic straightforward tune, or at least
as straightforward as Blue Oyster Cult usually gets, for a long time in
concert. I like the haunting guitar which echoes the tone of the
I hate to resort
to cliche, but when it comes to “Still Burnin,’” Heaven Forbid’s penultimate
track, what can I say but, “it rocks.” The cut has a basic rock lyric
content, but with strong imagery and a stronger melody than a similar song
which might be done by another group. Co-written with Roeser by now
former bassist Jon Rogers, it features outstanding backing rhythm guitar
and bass, including one of Rogers’ three appearances on the album.
This is a type of rock nobody is still doing anymore except B.O.C, if anybody
ever did, and the group has not only put it on an album but kept it updated
In keeping with the
tendency of many groups today to go “unplugged,” Heaven Forbid wraps up
with a live acoustic version of “In Thee” from Mirrors. What a fine
song for B.O.C. to do this with. I always felt that “In Thee” was
a beautiful tune with poignant and well written lyrics. The acoustic
guitars lend it a nice air of wistfulness. The song may be one of
the best “loneliness of the road” songs around and this version conjures
a vivid image of the writer sitting alone in a hotel playing and thinking
about his loved one left behind. I could see this being very popular
among people who may have never even heard the studio version.
Heaven Forbid, if
it misses anything, lacks some of the weird mystical sense so pervasive
in albums like Secret Treaties, Spectres, and Imaginos. Hidden references
to Conspiracy, demonic forces, the fantastic, etc., the sort of stuff that
made lyrics we couldn’t understand for years because they were singing
proper names like “Balthazar,” don’t place themselves front and center
this go around. Since Albert Bouchard and Sandy Pearlman tended to
write most of the stranger B.O.C. lyrics, in my opinion, the album misses
their influence. Shirley, Roeser and Bloom have written songs about
horror for this album, as the U.S. release cover certainly attests, but
on Heaven Forbid it is real personal horror, although a couple of surprises
lurk in this area too. Listen to Harvest Moon very carefully.
I like this album
more every time I hear it. I like it alot and not just because its
from a band I love and respect. This album would be great coming
from anyone else, and yet it could never come from anyone but Blue Oyster
Click the button to get additional information
and to hear some Real Audio samples courtesy of CD Universe, ofcourse you
can purchase the CD there also.