The roots of that strange, outlaw motorcycle band, Blue Öyster Cult, can be traced back to the smoky wisps of psychedelia, when they were known as Soft White Underbelly, Oaxaca, and eventually The Stalk Forest Group.
The brainchild of rock journalist Sandy Pearlman, they were signed to Elektra, a deal that only yielded one single. Shortly afterwards, The Stalk Forest Group’s lead singer, Les Bronstein, was replaced by Eric Bloom. He completed a line-up which also consisted of Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser, Allen Lanier, Joe Bouchard and Albert Bouchard.
Taking their new name from a Pearlman lyric, Blue Öyster Cult began to earn a reputation as a fiercely exciting rock band, propelled by Roeser’s raw chord dynamics, Pearlman’s sinister lyrics, and an apocalyptic stage presence based on Hell’s Angels imagery and the black and white symbol of Kronos (Saturn), later their trademark.
Pearlman moulded the sound and image of the band to evoke the spirit of Altamont. However, while The Rolling Stones dabbled with jet-set debauchery and satanic posturing, Blue Öyster Cult seemed like the real thing: grizzly hedonists pursuing dark thrills and meddling in the black arts with psychotic glee.
The first time album, Blue Öyster Cult (1972) remains a landmark of early 70s rock. The opening chords of Transmaniacon M.C. captured the essence of the band – tight, loud, inventive heavy metal.
On the other hand, She’s As Beautiful As A Foot, with its floating guitar solo, harked back to dreamy, off-centre psychedelia, illustrating the band’s firm grasp of rock’s lighter shadings.
The follow-up – Tyranny And Mutation (1973) – was just as good, mining the same rich veins of emotional bleakness and driving hedonism on tracks such as O.D.’d On Life Itself. Although the band refuted allegations of neo-Nazism, their third album, 1974’s Secret Treaties, seemed to readily embrace a certain cruelty of feeling.
However, the lyrics of songs such as Flaming Telepaths and Astronomy were too densely cryptic to have any simple political significance. The stand-out track was Career Of Evil, written by Patti Smith (who was Lanier’s girlfriend at the time), and the album outsold their previous efforts in the US.
As the hard rock scene lurched between endless twelve-bar boogie re-workings and sludge heavy rifferama, Blue Öyster Cult’s early albums had uncommon discipline and a clear production that was founded on fluidity and restraint.
Concert shows, in contrast, were more excessive, and burgeoning over-soloing characterised the group’s first live album, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees (1975). Walking the thin line between genuine force and empty bombast, the Blue Öyster Cult faltered for the first time, although sales remained high.
The leather-clad, S&M shock of the band was gradually starting to fade, and a subtle shift towards radio-friendly, melodic hard rock was reflected in their next, and most successful, album, Agents Of Fortune (1976).
Diluting their darker energies, it offered instead a varied selection of tuneful material (True Confessions), amidst suitably malignant biker anthems (This Ain’t The Summer Of Love).
Don’t Fear The Reaper, with its Byrds-like harmonics, offset by dark lyrics, provided the band’s defining moment, never to be repeated. This time with two tracks co-written by Patti Smith, the album belatedly broke the band in the UK charts.
By the end of the 70s, however, the band had begun a slow limp towards self-parody, sadly evidenced by Spectres (1978). If early albums traded on enigma, then R.U. Ready To Rock? was as dumb and obvious as its title suggests.
Subsequent albums, despite the occasional stand-out track – such as Death Valley Nights from Spectres, or Joan Crawford from Fire Of Unknown Origin (1981), seemed content to pander to the feeble SF and demented biker obsessions of their fan base.
Club Ninja (1985) represented a nadir of sorts. However, Imaginos (1988), was probably their strongest work of the decade. An ambitious exercise in multi-layered guitars and trademark hooks, it was bolstered by bizarre lyrics about alien cults and sundry conspiracy theories.
Suitable stuff for the band, who surfaced again in 1992, scoring the movie Bad Channels, and again in 1994, with songs re-recorded as Cult Classics, used as the soundtrack to the movie of Stephen King’s chiller, The Stand. On this last outing, Chuck Burgi joined on drums.
Ten years on from Imaginos, Heaven Forbid (1998) – BOC’s first studio album since 1986 – apparently found them in somewhat reduced circumstances; a new (small) label, less-than-pristine cover art, minimal promotion and no hype.
Only Bloom, Dharma and Allen Lanier remained from the glory days but the album resonated with the riff-laden, stripped-down boogie-evil that characterised the first three albums.
2001 saw the release of their 12th studio album, Curse of the Hidden Mirror. The album showed that BOC still had a way with an esoteric lyric and a harmony-doused chorus. Bloom and Roeser sounded anything but jaded and, pleasingly, former music journalist Richard Meltzer was still around for the odd co-write.
The stand-out track was Roeser’s breezy West Coast-influenced Here Comes That Feeling which devotees will recognise as a natural successor to 1981’s hit Burnin’ For You.
Allen Lanier died in August 2013 from complication with his COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser