Album Review: Blue Öyster Cult – The Symbol Remains (2020)

However ironic it may seem, Blue Öyster Cult is one of those groups that has a very large cult following. If you’re a casual fan, odds are you can only name three songs, those being “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” “Burnin’ For You,” and “Godzilla.” Still though, BÖC have released 15 studio albums in 50+ years, and their greatness is not limited to that trio of hits by any means. Their latest album, The Symbol Remains, comes 19 years after their previous studio release, but still retains that awesome pre-metal sound that the group was known for in the seventies.

The lead song, “That Was Me,” is a great opener that will appeal to fans of hard rock and proto-metal, with fun synchronized guitar riffs that follow each line of vocals in the verses. Featured on cowbell in the song and music video is Albert Bouchard, who played cowbell on “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” If you know… you know.

The other single releases are also fantastic; “Box In My Head” is a melodic rock ballad sung by Buck Dharma. Lyrically, the track tells of growth in a relationship, not in a lovey-dovey or heartbreak-y way, but rather one that’s uplifting and hopeful. It will appeal to anyone that enjoys “Burnin’ For You.”

Three songs, “Fight,” “Secret Road,” and “Nightmare Epiphany,” were previously released by Dharma, but only “Fight” was a final track, with the others released only as demos. “Nightmare Epiphany” is the best out of the trio.

Despite each being with BÖC since 2004, a studio album has never been released featuring drummer Jules Radino or guitarist/vocalist Richie Castellano, the latter of whom really shows his talent on the lyrically-vampiric (yes, you read that right) single, “Tainted Blood.”

The intro to “The Return of St. Cecilia” is definitely reminiscent of the fan-favorite “Transmaniacon MC” from BÖC’s self-titled debut album, while “Train True (Lennie’s Song)” seems like a bit of an ugly duckling in the track-list. The verses actually sound a bit like Golden Earring’s 1982 hit, “Twilight Zone,” but ultimately, it’s a country rock song. It’s not bad, but also seems really out of place on an album otherwise full of hard rock.

“Stand And Fight” is a great deep-cut, with a bass tone that sounds like a bear got loose in the studio (in a good way), some awesome shots, and what one can only assume to be a cult chant. It actually sounds much like something that would be recorded by the hard rock/metal group Ghost, who have received plenty of comparison to BÖC in the past. Another heavier song, “The Alchemist,” is pretty incredible; it has a nice heavy feel, great vocals from Eric Bloom, and a kick-ass guitar solo that alternates between Castellano and Dharma. It’s quite possibly the best song on the album.

Frankly, there are too many great songs on The Symbol Remains to go into too much detail about, but it would be remiss of me not to mention “Florida Man.” Yeah… BÖC wrote a song about the infamous article-headline of a character that has become a meme in recent years. Funny enough, this track actually works; it’s a great song, and ends with the chilling line, “Any fragile soul can be a Florida man.”

The Symbol Remains is a brilliant return to form for Blue Öyster Cult. It reminisces on the classic band of the seventies, while concurrently being unique in its presentation of hard rock music in the 21st century.

Overall rating: 8/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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