Blue Oyster Cult – Fire Of Unknown Origin
Released June 22nd, 1981 on Columbia Records
Produced by Martin Birch
Peaked at #24 U.S. and #29 U.K.
“Burnin’ For You” (#40 U.S., #76 U.K.)
Blue Oyster Cult were always an enigma, a dichotomy of hard rock in the disappointing days of the 1970s. Their first four albums are classic slabs of period rock ‘n’ roll, but they were at once too proggy to be biker rock and too hard-bitten to be dressed up in a tux and set alongside an orchestra. In 1976 they struck gold with the mysterious “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” which hit the Top 40 and made the band a constant presence on rock radio forevermore. By 1981, though, they had nearly run dry. 1977’s Spectres featured the Guitar Hero stomper “Godzilla” but seemed content to tread water. Mirrors, their farewell to the Seventies, sold poorly compared to the last two records and tried to repeat past crossover success without replicating the good songs that got them to that point. Fire Of Unknown Origin represents the last gasp of the band; drummer Albert Bouchard left the band during the tour behind the album and afterwards the swirl of inter-band tension combined with waning fan enthusiasm and half-baked attempts to keep up with the changing style of the time led to their decline.
As a last gasp, however, Fire Of Unknown Origin performs admirably. Many of the songs that appear on the album had originally been written for the soundtrack to the cult film Heavy Metal, including “Vengeance (The Pact)” and “Heavy Metal: The Black And Silver.” Ironically, the only BOC song that ended up on the soundtrack was “Veteran Of The Psychic Wars” which wasn’t written for the soundtrack. It was, in fact, one of the band’s several collaborations with contemporary SF writer/steampunk pioneer Michael Moorcock. The songs on here feature thick riffs and big stomps, hallmarks of the band’s best work. The single “Burnin’ For You” was the equal of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in terms of BOC ballads but featured a knotty riff that is one of the great rock radio earworms. Alongside those meaty riffs were a lot of synthesizer patterns; the band were one of the few hard rock leftovers from the early 1970s who got how to build synths into their sound without making it seem tuneless or forced. The relatively fresh style made them one of the biggest artists on the early days of MTV; they even got one of the first banned videos, when “Joan Crawford” was censored for being sexually suggestive. Those were more innocent days.