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Blue Öyster Cult

Cultosaurus Erectus

Review by John Pierpoint

Blue Oyster Cult's career could be considered by some to have hit the doldrums after the (perhaps counter-productive) phenomenal success of hit single “Don't Fear The Reaper.”  Many fans cite their original three “Black and White” albums as their finest work, and it would be difficult to refute that subsequent albums seemed to lack the vital spark of energy that pervaded that trilogy.

1979's Mirrors was a definite step in the right direction though, setting the stage for what was to be a welcome renaissance at the start of the 1980s. Both the following albums Cultosaurus Erectus and Fire of Unknown Origin hit new highs in power, musicality and originality. The two albums could be considered as a matched pair, sharing a great deal in sound and style. Unfortunately, this run of success didn't last too long, as original drummer (and key contributor to the song writing) Albert Bouchard left at the end of this period, and the group went into a decline. (Historical note: I was there at Monsters of Rock, Donnington Park, England on the day he walked out! The drum roadie had to fill in for the gig, which was a terribly disappointing affair. There was a great photo in Sounds of a somewhat peed-off Eric Bloom jumping up and down on the commemorative plaque with which he was presented). One can only imagine what they would have gone on to achieve if the original line-up had remained intact. Cultosaurus Erectus is perhaps one of the finest albums this group made. It is a superb mix of what makes BOC stand out from their peers: a heady mix of great guitar riffs, wonderful instrumental virtuosity, artful song-writing and arranging, and some of the finest (and most disturbing) lyrics ever committed to vinyl. Add in the strong science-fiction, fantasy and occult themes, and you have an intoxicating brew. Whereas previous albums flirted with numerous musical styles, this album has an internal coherence which leaves a lasting impression on the listener. That coherence is due in no small part to the production by veteran British metal maestro Martin Birch, which gives this album a harder, heavier sound to the Sandy Pearlman produced albums that preceded it. The package is completed by the breathtakingly strong and memorable cover artwork: a modified version of “Behemoth's World” by Richard Clifton-Dey, which shows an unfeasibly large dinosaur-like creature, seen from the air by a passing “Flash Gordon” rocket ship. As those of us of a certain age are often heard to comment: the CD version just doesn't do it justice.

There's no disguising that the target market for all this was the American teenage male metal fan, sat in his comic- and book-strewn bedroom, partaking in smoke created chemical mind alteration and fantasising about being a guitar hero, space adventurer, or axe-wielding warrior. The original vinyl version even had a large poster of the cover art, ready to join the inevitable Motorhead, Van Halen, Sabbath and Dark Side Of The Moon pyramid posters looking down from the wall. This is not to say that the band took all this too seriously. The dark and demonic subject matter is offset by a healthy self-parodying nature, that is seen in the album title itself, the sleeve notes (a mock article about the fictional dinosaur in question, with cheeky references to older BOC songs), and some of the music and lyrics.

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Track by Track Review
Black Blade
The band waste no time, steaming in with one hell of an opener – possibly the best track on the album. The song was co-written by cult-favourite English author Micheal Moorcock (who had previously collaborated with BOC on the "The Great Sun Jester" on "Mirrors"), and features perhaps his most famous literary creations: the albino anti-hero Elric, and his demonic sword Stormbringer. Eric Bloom vocalises Elric's inner monologue, as he agonises over his unholy relationship with the soul-sword, which he knows will only end in the destruction of all he holds dear, and an early death. The track begins with an electronic effect that implies the sword cutting through the air, followed almost immediately by the whole band firing on all cylinders. Then almost as soon as a groove is developed, it drops down to subdued staccato guitar riffing behind Bloom's flanged vocals. In fact, swift and frequent changes are the essence of this big, operatic piece. The sheer number of individual sections that they effortlessly squeeze into a relatively short (6.30) song is impressive, and shows excellent command of writing and arrangement. Big organ chords loom up behind the key lyrics and choruses, and there are nifty Roeser guitar solos interspersed with punctuation from the opening sword-swing effect. A doomy yet crisp bass solo gives brief respite, before the next change which brings in swirls of synths in a fog of FX with a languorous lead synth melody over the top. The music then drops down to an airy church organ backdrop, over which Bloom's flanged, strained voice bemoans his fate. The last chorus repeats and builds up the intensity, before cutting to a final biting, sequenced synth riff. Vocodered vocals represent the diabolical mutterings of the sword itself, gloating over its plans, gleefully describing the torments it will visit upon its "master,” before tailing off into evil laughter.
The sound of distant explosions introduces an angular, speedy guitar riff. This song mixes science-fiction and psychological thriller. The lyrics are again in the first person, as Bloom relates how his thrill-seeking gang steal a ship and head off into the unknown for adventure. But they have brought evil in their midst, as the gang start to take an unhealthy interest in the girlfriend of one of their number. A slick sax solo appears in the instrumental sections, over a walking bass. In the second instance this is accompanied by the sounds of the revelry and fighting on board the ship. The chorus when it finally arrives follows a burst of King Crimson-esque rapid noodling and a short oasis of calm scattered with choice piano frills: a repeated playground chant of “Monsters” behind which Buck Dharma works his fretboard magic. The final lines in the lyrics are ambiguous, so I leave to the listener to work out how the story ends. The music ends with a final sax flourish.
Divine Wind
Easing off now, this one manages to be both laid-back and a rocker at the same time. It's a powerful piece of music, with suitably unsettling and threatenening lyrics, delivered with suitable menace by Mr. Bloom. Upfront bass and drums establish swing version of a Sabbath-like 4/4 beat. Roeser's guitar howls and swoops between the lyrics. Great controlled yet ethereal Roeser solos appear midway through and at the end.
A jaunty tune with bright chirpy synths and bouncy bass line gives a false sense of security. Once again, the lyrics describe dark goings-on. The disturbing lyrics are given gloss by slick Roeser vocals, and more of his excellent guitar punctuation between the lyrics. The tune (and side one, in vinyl days) ends on a repeated dark, brooding chord.
The Marshall Plan

Side two begins with this bizarre and refreshingly different song. For once, there are no daemonic allusions. A sturdy and workmanlike riff with Hammond organ introduces a Cinderella story about a young rock fan (yes, that aforementioned fan in his bedroom – now finding his way onto the record!) who takes his girl to a rock concert, only to lose her to a flash musician in a limo. Embittered and driven, he decides to become a rock star himself. At this point the music has a break where you can hear our hero's first faltering steps on a cheap guitar and weedy practice amp – including a shaky attempt at “Smoke on the Water!” Then the scene cuts to canned applause and a starring guest spot on the Don Kirscher show (including an introduction from the man himself), as our hero becomes all he ever hoped to be. The last lines seem to indicate that all this was just a daydream – there he is at the show, and his girl is still nowhere to be seen. Well, that's Rock'n'roll!

Hungry Boys
This song about drugs has a driving, relentless bass and piano beat that mirrors the insatiable hunger of the boys in the title. The guitars intertwine around these, while Albert Bouchard's manic, falsetto vocals depict a world of hedonism and excess. Brief flashes of syndrums punctuate proceedings. There is another biting Roeser solo in the middle, and again at the end, as it fades out.
Fallen Angel
Here is another cut about demons – or maybe bikers, as it seems to be describing some kind of road-trip. The tune is driven by a fantastic upbeat synth lead melody. Joe Bouchard's gritty vocals are well suited to this song. Mid-track, it cuts to an elegant (but all too short) guitar solo. The piece fades out on another solo (which seems to be a characteristic BOC pattern).
Lips In The Hills

An unrelenting tour-de-force, a rapid repeating hammer-on guitar riff introduces a massive monster of a riff. Bloom's vocals drip acid, with tons of echo and reverb. Everything is big on this tune: a big massed vocal chorus, and a big guitar solo. It sounds like all hands to the pumps on the guitars: Roeser, Bloom and Lanier (almost no keyboards on this track), in traditional BOC style. The track fades out to eerie, electronic animal sounds, linking in to the album closer.

Unknown Tongue
A song about a teenage girl's unhealthy obsession with death, the demonic and vampirism, ominous deep piano chords predominate the verses. A chirpy bar-room piano breaks the gloom, then an interlude with clanging church-bell, sounding like something off an Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western soundtrack is heard. Bloom's vocals tail off on the last “Reveal to me” line, sounding more desperate and less sane with each repetition.
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