Blue Öyster Cult – The Symbol Remains


You’ve heard this one before I guess, but this is the first album for the band in 19 years. There was no back then, so we’ve never written a review about a new Blue Öyster Cult album, weird but very true.

For ages we’ve been listening to rumors and even reading in magazines that there was no interest from the band to release a new album and that no record company was interested in releasing a new Blue Öyster Cult album, so they were playing live spanning their amazing back catalogue of all those classic albums with two new members, Jules Rhadino (drums) and Richie Castellano (guitar, keyboard), as well as Danny Miranda and Kashim Sulton on bass.

Thankkfully, lately there’s been some interest in the band by the label that gathers several “dinosaurs” in its roster, not just for this studio album, but also for several live releases as well.

“The Symbol Remains” is better than “Curse Of The Hidden Mirror” that came before it, and that’s a relieve. Of course, a band that had spent 50 years or more recording and playing shows will not be judged by its most recent album, whatever how that sounds like. But, this one is pretty good. There might be a couple of misses, that might make you wonder why they made it on the album, at least I did, but it respects and is loyal to the band’s roots and on its biggest part is a characteristic Blue Öyster Cult album. The best song is “The Alchemist” with a chilling, scary Eric Bloom making the blood in your veins freeze with his amazing performance. Also, towards the end there is a part where the tempo speeds up, like there’s another band playing, just like on “Harvest Moon”, from “Heaven Forbid”. Probably, that’s the most essential Blue Öyster Cult track on this album.

A big surprise is that Richie Castellano takes over on vocals on three songs, “Tainted Blood”, “The Machine” and “The Return Of St. Cecilia”, and proves to be an ace in their sleeve. So, the old recipe with the multiple singers is here with somebody else than Dharma-Bloom, like they did back in the day with Allen Lanier and Albert Bouchard. Castellano’s voice might not be something special, but he does a great job in the songs he handles the lead vocals, which turn out as some of the highlights of the album.

From then on, I found “Box In My Head” pretty interesting, coming from the ‘60s and reminding me of vintage Blue Öyster Cult. So, I would add it to the classic Blue Öyster Cult DNA material. I really liked “Secret Road” with Buck Dharma on vocals, but I thought that “Train True (Lenny’s Song)” wasn’t necessary and I wasn’t impressed by “Florida Man”. I’d say “Nightmare Epiphany” was a bit peculiar, but the truth is that they always had songs like that making you think “what is this?”, even entire albums, like “Spectres” and “Mirrors”, so it shouldn’t surprise us at all. I am talking about some moments that seem that they are cut off from anything else they’ve done, but in the end they make sense in their own unique way. In the specific song, however, if it wasn’t for Buck’s rich backing vocals it might have gone unnoticed.

I liked “Edge Of The World”, which actually reminded me of early ‘80s American pop, something that’s not bad at all, with Eric Bloom at the top of his game and with a cool chorus as well.

In general, I enjoyed the album. “The Symbol Remains” is a decent album, which is not going to be put against the band’s best, that would have been something very ambitious and impossible to happen. But, what’s most important is that despite the long absence from making new music the band releases an album that’s actually good, not bad, not even indifferent. That would have been very disappointing. It also shows that there is still some creativity in the band, which we wish it develops even more and lead to another new release. It also seems that there is room for new ideas and experimenting and that’s what evolution is all about.

I’d also like to stress that the video for “The Alchemist” is outstanding. It’s very important nowadays that the flagship bands release cool music videos and not cheap shitty ones. Not even the type of the band plays a song in the studio kind of live, but something that has a story, gives out an atmosphere, is arty and is relative to the song. Kudos to the band for the whole concept. It’s also great that old pal Albert Bouchard shows up in another video playing cowbell and singing (“That Was Me”).

The only negative thing, and I’ve beens saying that from the beginning, is the cover, which is not what you would expect from Blue Öyster Cult, but looks like a copy and paste job of some Frontiers template. The colors look the same with another 10-15 releases from the company, like for example the recent album by Tokyo Motor Fist (which by the way was awesome!). At least the Cronos sign is there, but it lacks the mystery, something intriguing, a hidden meaning, something out of this world, weird, spooky… I don’t know…

But still “The Symbol Remains”, the flame still burns and Blue Öyster Cult stand the test of time. We are happy that they made a great album and we hope that this is not the last. Our favourite music needs its heroes.