Blue Oyster Cult
Fire of Unknown Origin
Released: 1981, Columbia Records
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
Classic Pick of the Month
Blue Öyster Cult? Is that metal? Have I lost it? What am I doing passing this off as a classic? Is it just because it’s older than a significant number of Metal-Rules readers? Is this album any good? Why should it be of relevance to the modern metal fan?
The answers, in order, are: fuckin’-A. Definitely. Possibly, but not necessarily. It is a classic. No; it’s old, but it still rules. Yes, this album kicks ass. And it’s relevant to the modern metal fan because you just can’t underestimate BÖC’s role in the development of American metal, and unfortunately too many people do. FIRE OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN is not one of the albums they’re primarily known for, which is all the more reason to seek it out.
The opening track – which happens to be the title track – may be a let-down for metalheads weaned on Morbid Angel, Black Sabbath, Gothenburg death or even German power metal. It may sound shallow, thin, clunky and even hokey; but this was heady stuff for 1981. As with most of the album, it’s catchy and it moves – which explains BÖC’s propensity to occasionally turn up on Billboard charts in the 1970s and 1980s – but this is definitely metal, if just barely. By this time in their career, the ‘Cult had lost their “stone-age-metal” characteristics they had in common with early 70s pioneers like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, and were evolving toward much more of a classic 80s metal sound, but they still had enough of the 70s in their groove to never go over the edge toward glam or true pop metal like Kiss. Evidence the second track, “Burnin’ For You,” probably the most famous song on FIRE OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN. It’s almost a pop song, but it’s still very interesting. Check out the very moody, subtle, but still undeniably metal guitar solo. It hasn’t been done quite that way since 1981, or at least, I haven’t heard it.
Other notable tracks on this album include “Veteran of the Psychic Wars,” with its weird, almost martial rhythm; “Heavy Metal: The Black And Silver,” which sounds like it should have wound up on the soundtrack to the movie “Dazed & Confused”; and the odd, operatic, almost overblown “Joan Crawford,” probably added as a timely nod to the movie “Mommie Dearest” (which came out in 1981) but which has emerged as sort of a sleeper BÖC classic. This whole album is like that: not the best work, often forgotten, but still very representative of a great band that contributed a lot to metal.
FIRE OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN was among the last significant stops on the down slope of the band’s career until their revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which finally introduced (or re-introduced) this great band to a new generation of metal fans. I submit that Blue Öyster Cult was the most important bridge between metal’s original founding troika (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple) and the generation of flashy and not-so-flashy workhorse bands (Motörhead, AC/DC, Kiss) that brought popular metal through the 1970s and up to the dawn of the NWOBHM era. By 1981, when this album emerged, their work in that role was basically done, so in a sense FIRE OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN showcases a band searching for a place in the spectrum. It’s an interesting time to catch their sound, and to revisit an old classic. Even if it takes you a few listens to really get into, it’s a worthy purchase. The eerie cover art alone is worth it.