BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: HEAVEN FORBID (1998)
1) See You In Black; 2) Harvest Moon; 3) Power Underneath Despair; 4) X-Ray Eyes; 5) Hammer Back; 6) Damaged; 7) Cold Gray Light Of Dawn; 8) Real World; 9) Live For Me; 10) Still Burnin'; 11) In Thee.
Say, it's a new Blue Öyster Cult album, and perhaps I'm «damaged», but I like it. It is not really a proper «comeback» album, because, as it happens, the band never truly went away — they just stopped producing new music for a while, but the original duo of Bloom and Roeser, usually combined into the original trio with Lanier, never really split, continuing to tour on a limited scale and quietly biding their time. That time finally came in 1998, with a new record deal with the indie label CMC, and a new traditional collaboration with one of the pulp fiction guys: John Shirley, specializing in cyberpunk sci-fi and other stuff that I have little interest in. I do have some interest in moderately successful career rejuvenations by oldies' acts, though, and Heaven Forbid, while certainly and predictably not on the scale of BÖC's classics, passes the test — as surprising as that is.
First and foremost, it sounds good, and that is what counts. Almost no synthesizers (gone are they together with the Eighties); healthy, grumbly, nicely distorted heavy metal tones, occasionally lapsing into pop metal style, but usually reminiscent of the band's classic sound; great drumming from Chuck Burgi; unspoiled powerhouse vocals from Bloom — I have not a single complaint about how the record has been produced. In fact, come to think of it, they haven't sounded that well since at least Fire Of Unknown Origin... hmm, perhaps even earlier. Okay, so perhaps the iron Teutonic grip of ʽHammer Backʼ pushes them a little farther into Accept territory than us conservatives would have desired, but they understand how to handle this approach, and make the song kick as much primal ass as any Accept clone would.
The songs — that's a different matter. The songs are not too memorable, and it would have been a total wonder if they were. It's not that there aren't any hooks: it's simply one of those records that may enthrall while it's on, and then quickly evaporate when it's off. But that in itself is already a sign of some progress. And then there is at least one song here that is totally on par with the classics: ʽCold Gray Light Of Dawnʼ, a grim, dusty slab of doom-laden-rock, burns with terrifying implied threats as properly as anything they'd done earlier. The "you can't hide the truth, hide the truth anymore" bit at the end of the chorus hits hard, as does Buck Dharma's soloing throughout. I sure wish they'd re-record some of the Imaginos material in the same style.
A couple other songs seem to have been written by Roeser in «heartfelt» mood as well, and I think that ʽHarvest Moonʼ and ʽLive For Meʼ, reflecting Buck Dharma's trademark «heavy lyrical» style, both have potential; at the very least, there is no denying a certain mournful nostalgic pull of ʽHarvest Moonʼ, whose verses, with Roeser recounting the imaginary losses borne by all sorts of people, are actually emotionally superior to the chorus. Then again, I guess that, as Buck Dharma grows older, his little death-and-misery fetish must only get stronger and stronger. So more songs about famine, devastation, and nuclear fallout, please.
As for such simpler, less moody, more directly hard-rocking tracks as ʽSee You In Blackʼ, ʽPower Underneath Despairʼ, ʽDamagedʼ — well, they're okay. Catchy choruses, not too catchy riffs, and an atmosphere that never gets too out of bounds ("I'm damaged, and I like it, I live for rock'n'roll" is as close as they come to «campy» here, but it's not that bad when it's taken at such a fast tempo and with such a cocky-funky attitude). Nothing to go bananas over, but nothing to seriously complain about, either.
There is some playing around with their own legacy here that we could all do without — for instance, there was no need to name one of the songs ʽStill Burnin'ʼ, as it is not even stylistically similar to ʽBurning For Youʼ (it actually sounds more like a Van Halen tribute), and the decision to finish the record on a live acoustic performance of ʽIn Theeʼ is a dubious one: it's a nice performance, but gestures like these inevitably bring on associations with creative burnout — all the more surprising since, on the whole, Heaven Forbid shows that the band, on the contrary, has somewhat picked up steam after a decade and a half of drifting around in a figurative sea of radioactive waste. But then I suppose that it is really hard to avoid the temptation to fall back upon auto-quotations when you want to remind your old fans what was it that was great about you in the first place. Even if you do stupid things in the process.
Anyway, a pleasant minor thumbs up here, and a rock-hard recommendation for the seasoned fan. Also, there are two alternate album covers for the record: the normal one features a horribly mutilated guy with a glass eye and half of his face burnt, and the ugly one features Morgan Fairchild following printed instructions on how to probe her patellar reflexes with a steel-cast female gender symbol (or so I read). Thank you, Blue Öyster Cult, for proving in such an innovative manner that «freedom of choice» remains more than an empty idiom in 1998.