Today, I heard that Allen Lanier died. It kind of hit hard as Blue Oyster Cult were one of my gateway bands into hard rock and heavy metal. Having an Aunt who gave me Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath albums helped, too. But BOC, they were pushing buttons with songs like "Dominance and Submission" and "Don't Fear The Reaper." So I became a fan. Loyal even through the albums like "Mirrors" and "Cultosaurus Erectus." Then, in the summer of 1981, "Fire Of Unknown Origin" arrived at my college radio station. All the detractors could then officially go to hell. "Fire Of Unknown Origin" kicked as hard as "Spectres" and "Agents of Fortune." And oddly enough, this may have been one of Lanier's finest moments with the band, as many of these songs are heavily keyboard and synth driven.
Take the lead-off of the title track. On top of one of Buck Dharma's fiery lead guitar solos, Lanier lays down a keyboard bed that was worthy of The Cars. This was, after all, 1981 and plenty of bands were playing catch up with the music of the times. But Blue Oyster Cult did so on a minimal level, relying mostly on Lanier's keys and tighter song compositions. It was those qualities that made "Burning For You," the second of only two singles to ever break the Top 40 for the band, such a marvel. Tightly wound up with a great Dharma lick to open it up, it was set up as a standard pop construction but with bigger sound.
There was an additional incentive for the band on "Fire Of Unknown Origin." They were approached by the producers of the upcoming "Heavy Metal" animated feature to contribute a couple of new songs. They responded with one of the band's best, "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars." A pounding martial drum gives marching orders to a soldier who has seen so many battles that "wounds are all I'm made of." It's a haunting and inescapable rocker, one of several compositions that band co-wrote with science fiction author Michael Moorecock (including another favorite of mine, "Black Blade" from "Cultosaurus"). The other was "Heavy Metal (The Black and The Silver)." Riding in on a squalling guitar feedback, it's a shame it wasn't in the movie, as it encompasses what the band was about from the beginning. (Although in my humble opinion, "Psychic Wars" is the better song.)
There's still more ominous story telling, like on "Vengeance (The Pact)," again a candidate for "Heavy Metal," or in the bizarrely funny and again, piano heavy "Joan Crawford" (...has risen from the grave!). "Fire of Unknown Origin" was a mighty comeback album, which was a shame as the band would start to fragment soon after, and the next album would be the generic "Revolution By Night."
RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013. Thanks for adding so much music to the soundtrack of my life.
on June 13, 2004
Blue Oyster Cult's two previous studio albums had been quite different from one another; "Mirrors" was a mostly light metal collection of pop attempts and the following "Cultosaurus Erectus" had been just the opposite, an almost stripped-down crunching guitar-dominated record. This may be why 1981's "Fire of Unknown Origin" received such a warm welcome; it sounded as gutsy and confident as their mid-70s breakthroughs, but was all the while accessible and easily enjoyable.
The success of "Agents of Fortune" been seemingly accidental; it certainly wasn't what you'd call mainstream for 1976, but it was BOC's unlikely commercial breakthrough. Its follow-up, "Spectres" saw the band trying to find another runaway hit single like they had with 'Don't Fear the Reaper,' yet still keeping their heavy metal poison in tact (the next year they would tone down the metal side). "Fire of Unknown Origin" sounds like a mix of those two albums. It has all of the blazing, dark, cryptic musical imagery of "Agents of Fortune" and their earlier works, yet there is still a catchiness to a lot of the music, making it an album fans will want to play again and again. Old friends such as Sandy Pearlman, Richard Meltzer, and Patti Smith made cameo appearances, but their contributions were mostly limited to being lyrical, as this album catches the band out-showing the outsiders. The title track is one of those BOC songs that's almost-a-ballad-but-not, an overlooked classic, while the album boasts some other classics like the crunching mystic 'Veteran of the Psychic Wars' and 'Heavy Metal: The Black and The Silver,' but the group still managed to score a big hit with 'Burnin' For You' The old imaginary sci-fi movie themes pop up often, notably in 'Joan Crawford (Has Risen From the Grave).' These two songs nicely explain the recipe for the perfect contrast and chemistry between the voices of Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and Eric Bloom as they sing their respective songs; Roeser sounds like the sincere wandering poet, while Bloom's voice is like the ghoulish captain of a phantom ship.
Blue Oyster Cult wisely decided to embrace their strengths on "Fire of Unknown Origin," as opposed to the previous two experiments. "Mirrors" and "Cultosaurus Erectus" were far from bad albums, but if BOC was looking for another hit album/single while keeping their pioneering metal sound the top priority, this was the perfect blueprint.
on January 26, 2007
I listened to this album over and over when it first appeared in the early 80's. Don't know where that original LP went to (my brother says he doesn't have it) so I bought the CD. Glad I did. "Burnin' for You" isn't even the best song -- that distinction belongs to "Joan Crawford" imho. Really there's not a single horrible cut on this record -- even "Sole Survivor" is tolerable. That said, this album is still number six on my list overall. Here are the top five: Secret Treaties, Tyranny and Mutation, Blue Oyster Cult, Agents of Fortune, Spectres.
on May 12, 2000
In the heyday of the eighties, when rock n' roll was dying down to commercially accessible and simple compositions, Blue Öyster Cult maintained their strong musicianship and writing while still reforming their sound into a hybrid of the new sound and their old rock mentality. This album is as vibrant as anything they had put out in the previous decade, still wrought with infectious hard-hitting rock n' roll that screams with passion and talent. "Burnin' for You," the only real hit off this album is worthy of the attention it received. It is a wonderful song; great lyrics, great guitar ("Buck Dharma" rulez), and a beautiful melody. "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" got its just due as another recognizable hit that was featured on the "Heavy Metal" soundtrack, although the other song on this album, "Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver" would have been a better choice (and I absolutely love the opening guitar riff to that song...let loose the wailing metal siren). But either way, "Veteran..." was yet another collaboration with sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock, and it is a brilliant song. It screams the word "epic." "Vengeance: The Pact" is my fourth favorite. This song is closest to the classic sound of BÖC than anything else on the album. The rest of the album is filled with simple arrangements, great lyrics, and a good blend of synthesizers and loud guitars. Basically what most rock bands of the eighties were doing, only BÖC were doing it much better. All hail the Blue Öyster Cult!
on June 24, 2005
"Fire..." draws the listener in with a polished, almost radio friendly production, and then kicks them in the nads for doubting the band's progression. BOC instroduces honest to God melodies and asks for no quarter. "Sole Survivor" and "Heavy Metal (black and Silver)" are the only tracks that do not really belong on this stellar effort, even though many hard-core fans love these songs, it's just my opinion. The band mines clever, hook-laden numbers like "After Dark", and "Burnin' For You" to perfection and also draws upon its unique roots (Joan Crawford, and Vengence) to give the listener a menagerie of sounds and styles. "Don't Turn YOur Back" shows the future of Buck Dharma's pop songwriting styles, and shows that this song could have been on his "Flat Out" solo LP. Don't let the more polished sound fool you, this is devilish, standoffish BOC. Pure and complex. Radio, magazine, and billboard promotions of the album and tour was "Follow the O-Cult"!
on March 31, 2005
This album was released in 1981. Produced by Martin Birch. The album sports an awsome cover done by Greg Scott. Their last few previous albums had been major disappointments and the band needed to get their fans back, so this album was a return to the roots sound for BOC. Here are my reviews of the songs based out of 5 *****:
"Fire of Unknown Origin" - Heavy galloping bass and strong backbeat opens the album. Synthesizer effects and harmonies help give it an otherwordly feel. Real colorful, sci-fi lyrics help give the song some punch and set the stage for the rest of the album. I really like this tune! Rating - *****
"Burnin' for You" - The big hit from this album. Opens with the guitar melody and some background vocal harmony followed by Buck's vocals. Sounds alot like "Don't Fear The Reaper". "Burn out the day. Burn out the night." When this song came out, I was a teenager and my mother asked me if this song was about drugs. I said "Drugs? What's that?" Anyway, a real cool guitar solo from Buck accompanied by some great bass playing from Joe. Strong synthesizer use but it doesn't dominate the tune. A great hardrock song. Fades out with a group "Ahhhhhhhh". Classic! Rating - *****
"Veterans Of the Psychic Wars" - Heavy, thundering bass drums and synth use opens the track. Has a marching, soldering feel to it. This song was on the "Heavy Metal" soundtrack. Heavy synth use along with taps like drumming. A real mellow, cool guitar solo gives the song great atmosphere and flavor. Very haunting! Great sci-fi lyrics, "Please don't let these shakes go on"! Tremendous! One of my favorite BOC songs. Classic! Rating - ******
"Sole Survivor" - Bass scaling opens this track, followed by synthesizer and Donald's vocals. Another haunting, moody tune on this song. Again, some tremendous sci-fi lyrics give this song the extra punch it needs. A nicely stated guitar solo. Another fine song. Rating - ****
"Heavy Metal:The Black And Silver" - Heavy bass and power chording from Buck. Donald really belts out the vocals on this one. A much more lively tune. Again, the lyrics really help make this song shine. Sounds like something off of "Tyranny and Mutation". A very heavy, thumping song. Awesome baby! Rating - *****
"Vengance (The Pact)" - Synthesizer opening followed by drums and bass. Another moody song. Some great vocal harmonizing from the band. I'm being repetitive, but again, there are great lyrics here! A very, mellow, airy guitar solo fits in great with the atmosphere of the song. The song changes tempo near the end, turning into a very fast, slamming pace. Galloping guitars and bass that eventually return to the opening melody and tune. Another overlooked BOC gem! Rating - *****
"After Dark" - Very fast and heavy bass opens the song. Synthesizer is very predominate. A fast tempo song that really lets Joe shine! This has a very "80's" sound to it. Sounds like "Flush The Fashion" era Alice Cooper. I really like this song. It has a great solo from Buck, he really lets fly on this one. I Love it. Sounds alot like Megadeth in the SINGING style. Rating - *****
"Joan Crawford" - Eerie piano playing opens this track. Has a straight ahead rock-n-roll beat and feel. Great bass playing from Joe and drumming from Alan. Sounds alot like something Alice Cooper would do. Cool sound effects are all over this one! "Oh no no no. Joan Crawford has risen from the grave!" Rating - ****
"Don't Turn Your Back" - Strong bass and synthesizer open the song. Sounds alot like "Moving Picture" era Rush. Great harmonizing from the band. I really like the lyrics on this song. Very cool, mellow, high feel to it. Very jazzy guitar solo and playing from the band. I love this song. Rating - *****
Overall, BOC hit a grandslam with this album. It was half concept album and half pure rockin songs. This album is chock full of great, otherwordly lyrics and concepts. The mood is very haunting and menacing. This album put BOC back in the spotlight with its fans and the critics. BOC would tour with Black Sabbath for this album (the famous Black and Blue tour)and would reach the heights of arena status once again. I recommend this album to all music lovers as this is a masterpiece of an album. One of the best albums done by BOC and one of the best albums of the '80's.
on March 6, 2000
This was the most commercial incarnation of Blue Oyster Cult's music so far, and what the band lost in eccentricity, it made up with better production, its usual attention to songwriting, and brighter lyrics.
Eric Bloom's voice sounds wonderful as usual, and on "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" and title track "Fire of Unknown Origin", he sounds like the crusader he's always been, the consummate storyteller, intelligent but also exciting. On "Burnin' for You" Blue Oyster Cult almost approaches pop, resulting in the band most un-Cult-like track, but also its biggest hit since "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". "Joan Crawford" is mesmerizing, a little creepy, but sonically stunning.
Production-wise this was the best Cult release until Imaginos, and a worthy addition to the band's catalogue or any record collection.
on May 10, 2000
Ever since I've given Blue Oyster Cult's 'Fire of Unknown Origin' album my very first listen, I've experienced one of those weird musical quandaries: is this kinda music really part of the heavy metal genre? Although its lyrics have a gothic edge to them, they tend to be sung in a much more low-key manner than, say, Alice Cooper, KISS, and just about any hard-hittin' hard-rockin' band of the time. Maybe it's because many of the concepts from this albums' songs were realized in the animated feature film 'Heavy Metal' (or vice-versa).
But, despite my confusion, I've found this CD to be one that is listenable all the way through, from the first track to the last. Although I've heard 'Burning For You' on my local rock station, when it's linked to the album's other tunes like 'Fire of Unknown Origin', 'The Pact', and all the rest, it makes for a gripping musical outing. But, all the same, I'm still not fully convinced that BOC has earned the 'heavy metal' status that the rock world has given it...
on November 5, 1998
From the opening notes of the title track, you know you bought the right record. The songs that follow ("Burnin' For You," "Veteran of the Psychic Wars") only serve to reinforce your choice. Of course, the best song on the record is the goofy, Rocky Horror Picture Show-like "Joan Crawford," perhaps the band's most compulsively listenable song to date. Other good tracks include "Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver," "Vengeance (the Pact)," and "Don't Turn Your Back." This was also the best album on which BOC integrated synths with the guitars, a cool effect most noticeable on the main riff to the hit "Burnin' For You." After piddling around with weaker albums for a few years, FIRE only served to once again remind the world who the BOC were, and what their mission was: to rock, and to rock weirdly.
on August 29, 2015
What's that noise I'm hearing? da na na duh da na na duh
I've had this on cassette since the '80s, one of my favorite BOC discs. They were really hitting their stride with this one. Joan Crawford, even with its cheesy everything and the kitchen sink synth section (Gene from Bob's Burger would definitely get a kick out of that) is so cool. I mean, who else can sing "Their eyes have turned the color of frozen meat". No no no. No no no. Don't turn your back.