Blue Oyster Cult - Heaven Forbid (1998) Oct 22, 2011 14:12:02 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Oct 22, 2011 14:12:02 GMT -5
Will the real Blue Oyster Cult please stand up...
This is a band that is really hard to pigeonhole. How do you categorize them? Hard Rock? Sure, they have definitely played plenty of hard edged rock. Heavy Metal? On occasion, they have dabbled in Metal, or used some Metal flourishes to give songs greater dynamic range. Melodic Rock? Absolutely! A ton of their songs are more melodic than hard edged. Art Rock? A lot of their stuff is the kind of thing where you get it or you don't. There's a certain sense of humor with much of their material - almost satirical - and it definitely gets into that, "Arty," mentality to a degree, not all that far removed from what Frank Zappa did.
So where do you put BOC? What genre should they get lumped in? All of the above and none. Like King's X they really are almost a genre unto themselves.
So when BOC broke their 10 year studio album silence with Heaven Forbid their fans were, understandably, curious as to what the album would sound like. Would they update their sound to incorporate the Grunge and heavy Alternative music that had taken over the 90's? Would they go back to their classic 70's styles?
From the opening cut, "See You In Black," it might have appeared that the band had gone full on Metallica inspired Heavy Metal. The song rumbles along with a riff not unlike early Metallica and would have fit in well around 1983 or so. It's an angry, fairly dark sounding song with plenty of musical muscle. It's pretty good, too. It's not quite up to the level of their best heavy songs from the 70's, but it's close. What it lacks in vocal melody it more than makes up for in attitude.
So was this the new BOC? Not so fast...
...because up next came, "Harvest Moon," a song that combined their classic 70's style with some clear 80's sensibilities. This song is loaded with the classic BOC melodies that filled songs like, "Don't Fear the Reaper." But there is also a nice dynamic edge to the song as the solo section (and pre-solo section) feature some very tasteful Heavy Metal riffing under the solo before morphing back into the main song structure. Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser takes the lead vocal on this one, giving it yet another similarity to, "Reaper." Fans of 70's era BOC should love this one.
OK, so a full on Metal song followed by the classic 70's Melodic Rock BOC style - what's next?
Well, what's next is another hard edged song that takes some of the 70's BOC Metal riffs and 'roid's them up. "Power Underneath Dispair," isn't all that removed from, "Seven Screaming Dizbusters," in it's chorus. The verse, well, that's something different altogether. The verse is fairly standard 80's Metal - not bad 80's Metal, but nothing exceptional, either. The bridge is more late 70's or early 80's sounding BOC. So what you get in this track is a hodgepodge of various different BOC styles thrown together in one song. But is it any good? Long time BOC fans may think it's better than casual fans. As an objective outsider I'm thinking this one is just OK.
Buck Dharma checks back in both as a songwriter and lead vocalist on, "X-Ray Eyes," and again the album gets a little more melodic and dynamic as a result. This song isn't terribly hard or heavy, but it does have enough energy to give it some spark. There are also some nice riffs thrown in (on nearly clean guitar, no less) for good measure. Roeser has again come up with a winner. This is good. Really good.
Blue Oyster Cult meets Joe Satriani, Megadeth, and early R.E.M. in a rather interesting and entertaining blend of styles on, "Hammer Back." It's heavy, with some serious attitude, but it's also quirky in that classic BOC sense. Clearly, these guys are going to do things their own way. And, yes, the song is pretty darned good, too. At least if you get this kind of thing.
So is BOC, "Damaged?" Well, if they are then may they stay that way if they're going to come up with songs like this one. This is melodic, energetic, somewhat progressive, and filled with complex but somewhat bouncy riffs. It's fun. It's got a great driving (and, again, somewhat bouncy) beat. This is classic. This is great. This is the kind of song that proved that there was still life left in Blue Oyster Cult.
"Cold Gray Light Of Dawn," is a little more standard style fare than some of it's predecessors, but it's classy standard fare. Musically, it's got some solid melody. This is a heavier version of the sounds heard from BOC in the early 80's. It's solid. A very good album track. On it's own it may only be good, but in the context of Heaven Forbid this mid tempo track becomes just a little better.
Acoustic (and fairly clean electric) guitar driven bayou country blues rock - that's probably the best way to describe, "Real World." Another way to describe, "Real World," would be really good. Maybe even better than that. This one flirts with greatness, again showing that talent doesn't have an expiration date. Buck Dharma comes up with yet another winner on the album. While his tracks are not as heavy as Eric Bloom's they are the better written tracks on the album overall. (Although he did co-write Bloom's songs, too.)
"Live For Me," starts off an awful lot like, "Burnin' For You," and that similarity doesn't end there. The style is unmistakable. This is BOC. Melodic, almost eerie in atmosphere, this is unlike any other band. And it's damned good. Buck Dharma is the clear star of Heaven Forbid (and he gets more than half the lead vocals). His songwriting on this album is as good as it's ever been.
By this point in the album the skeptics have had their fears assuaged. BOC was not only back, but they were back and as good as they had ever been.
Now the fact that the last song sounds a lot like, "Burnin' For You," becomes even more interesting as the next song is actually a sequel to that song. "Still Burnin'," sounds less like, "Burnin' For You," than does, "Live For Me," but that doesn't make it any less worthy. Hell, "Still Burnin'," is arguably a better song than, "Live." Both border on greatness, but this one has more of an edge to go along with some fantastic vocal melodies and some beautiful harmony vocals in the chorus. This is yet another example of a veteran band that still has a lot left in the tank.
Another interesting factoid about Heaven Forbid - it gets better as it goes along, and the more melodic tracks are noticeably better written than the full on Metal songs (although, "Still Burnin'," seems to bridge the two groups of songs perfectly).
BOC closes out the song with a live reworking of, "In Thee," which originally came from their Mirrors album in 1979. This is an acoustic song (mostly) featuring a couple acoustic guitars, an electric bass, and a Hammond organ. It's roots are clearly in the 60's, and has more than a bit of the Beatles in spots. It's good. Maybe not as good as the best songs on the album, but it makes for an interesting way to end the album.
For anyone who thought that Blue Oyster Cult was over and done after the commercial failure of their last two or three albums in the 80's Heaven Forbid is a startling rebuke. This is a band still on fire, a band still with that creative spark, and a band with a lot more to give. It's not perfect, and it's not their best album, but it's darned close.
(Although they should have stuck with the Morgan Fairchild inspired cover art rather than the horror movie inspired cover that graced the U.S. release. That cover is as wrong for the music as Uriah Heep's Abominog cover in '82 was.)