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Fan Reviews
Blue Oyster Cult - Heaven Forbid 
by Ray Boudreau

Artist: Blue Oyster Cult
Album: Heaven Forbid 
Fan Reviewer: Ray Boudreau
Released: 3-24-98

See You In Black
Harvest Moon
Power Underneath Despair
X-Ray Eyes
Hammer Back
Cold Gray Light Of Dawn
Real World
Live For Me
Still Burnin'
In Thee 

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 lyrics.

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 and fresh.

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 Cult.

Ray Boudreau

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. 


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