Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Exhumed: Blue Öyster Cult

Legends of Heavy Metal?

Blue Öyster Cult is widely considered to be one of the progenitors of heavy metal by non-metalheads. They have been covered by metal bands a number of times, perhaps most notably by Metallica and Iced Earth, and they introduced the metal umlaut that has been used by so many bands since (reportedly inspired by the Wagnerian aspect of heavy metal). They are also one of the first groups in hard rock to seemingly endorse the occult, adopting a suggestive name and obscure symbolism.

But why don't metalheads claim the band, even if everyone else seems to think they're one of the genre's founding fathers?

Blue Öyster Cult (1972)

Listening to this with today's ears and today's expectations, it's hard to understand how the band was ever considered heavy metal. Only "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll" could fairly be called metal. Maybe it's because their most well-remembered hits were the metallic songs. Other than that one, only opener "Transmaniacon MC" could even remotely be considered metal, and that's under the broadest definition of the term. Aside from those, you'll find plenty of decent blues-rock and psychedelic rock. While there's nothing wrong with that, most of it doesn't grab me, and it's definitely not metal. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Tyranny and Mutation (1973)

Tyranny and Mutation introduced another metal typography element: Replacing u with v, in traditional stone-carving style. But musically, there's little resembling metal on here. It's still blues-rock with electric organ, and this time around they've included hints of Southern rock and surf rock to mix it up. The metal is slightly more prevalent on this one. "Teen Archer", "Mistress of the Salmon Salt," and "7 Screaming Diz-Busters" are arguably metal, although it's still a little bit of a stretch. Songs like "Hot Rails to Hell" and the excellent "Wings Wetted Down" each have one riff that sounds metal in a song that definitely isn't. The first side of this record is utterly disappointing, but the second side is much better, earning this one 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Secret Treaties (1974)

Is it any wonder Secret Treaties is considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time? When you start as strong as "Career of Evil," throw in some awesome solos along the way ("Dominance and Submission," "Harvester of Eyes"), and end on the incredible duo of "Flaming Telepaths" and "Astronomy," you already have everything you need to make a classic. Everything else is just gravy. But metal, it's not. It may be even less metal than their second album. Although there are parts of a few songs that are vaguely metallic, most of it is, again, blues-rock, Chuck Berry kind of stuff. "Astronomy" is the closest thing, although the production robs it of the heaviness hidden in the riffs. Despite the lack of metal, I must admit this is an excellent album, especially the second side, and I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

So, they were a good band--not a great one, although they did have some truly great songs. But metal? It's really tough to see why anyone would think so.

1 comment:

  1. I love Blue Oyster Cult personally, but never really considered them metal. Hell my dog's name is Reaper. I think they are much more of a proto-metal band than a metal one. A big influence, but not actually metal themselves.

    They had some great stuff and the rarer stuff is some of their best. I love The Golden Age of Leather, Nosferatu, and Burning for You.