–Blue Oyster Cult: Heaven Forbid (1998)

BOC Heaven Forbid

–BLUE OYSTER CULT: Heaven Forbid (1998)

“I’d like to see you in black/It’d make me feel like your husband’s dead/I’d like to see you in black/We could make him suffer instead.”

Just ponder on that thought for a while. On “See You in Black,” the opening track to Heaven Forbid, the narrator expresses his not-so-subtle wishes for the death of a woman’s abusive husband. Is this narrator the woman’s prospective paramour, is he some sort of morbidly altruistic benefactor, or both? One fact is certain here: B.O.C’s lyrics always inspire reflective cognition, despite, or perhaps due to, their bizarreness. Their fans wouldn’t want it any other way.

Let’s face it, many of us longtime Blue Oyster Cult fanatics initially were magnetically drawn to bizarre song titles such as “She’s As Beautiful As a Foot,” “I’m On the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep,” “7 Screaming Diz-Busters,” and “Harvester of Eyes.” Upon delving deeper into the band’s lyrical themes, we discovered challenging stories and riddles; poetic mysteries gilded in coats of esoteric quirkiness. One may have often had no clue what B.O.C. was getting at, but that never stopped us from trying to figure it out. Musically, the band was equally enigmatic and unpredictable. Whether they were bludgeoning us beneath the hard-rock stomping foot of “Godzilla,” or soothing us with the gorgeous pastoral mellowness of “Then Came the Last Days of May,” or making us pound our rocking chests in the triumphant glory of “The Marshall Plan,” B.O.C. was impossible to pigeonhole. Yet their music was always immediately recognizable as the inimitable and brilliant Blue Oyster Cult. It’s like an amorphous blob of sound that frequently changes form but somehow retains the same genetic structure.

Of course, by the late ‘90s the rock scene had transformed drastically multiple times, and B.O.C. was no longer a household name in hard rock and heavy metal. If anything, popular culture and classic-rock radio had relegated them to cult (not an intended pun) status or as a “few-hits wonder.” Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom’s cameo in the terrible/awesome B stoner flick The Stoned Age was a hoot, if an obscure anomaly. By 1998, key band members and songwriting contributors Joe Bouchard (bass) and Albert Bouchard (drums) were long gone, and the days of loyal support from major labels such as Columbia (their erstwhile home) were history. That said, these flaming telepaths still had a bit of creative fuel left in their wetted-down wings.

Enter CMC International Records, a new independent player on the hard rock/metal scene, to help resuscitate B.O.C.’s career. The label had become the standard bearer for once-popular hard rock and metal bands that had fallen into the dark nadir of the alternative ‘90s. For Heaven Forbid, their first studio album in 10 years, B.O.C. joined storied bands such as Dokken, Warrant, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pat Benatar, and Iron Maiden on CMC’s roster. The remaining creative core of Bloom, Dharma, and keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Allen Lanier turned their energies toward making an inspired B.O.C. record. Whether it came as the result of the change of label scenery, or a resurgence in personal inspiration as musicians, Heaven Forbid is a fantastic though unsung benchmark in the B.O.C. catalog.

While Heaven Forbid may not feature the high-minded fantasy lyrics of a Michael Moorcock, or the hauntingly esoteric mysticism of an “Astronomy,” it does contain 11 solid, entertaining, and pretty damn inspired hard-rock tunes. One would be remiss to review this album without focusing on its second track, and masterpiece, “Harvest Moon.” The tune is a pristine and mellow trip through the figurative peaks and valleys of a bucolic landscape; it also remains the lone “hit” from the album and a returning staple of their live performances. Buck Dharma, who also sings lead on the track, opens the track with a contemplative clean-guitar arpeggio atop a driving mid-paced rhythm. The vocal melodies and harmonies are gorgeous throughout, yet the music and lyrics co-mingle to create a singularly melancholic slice of nostalgia. At the instrumental break, the band launches into a double-time rhythm before Dharma unleashes a typically fluid and memorable solo, not so dissimilar to the iconic lead section in “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Then, it’s a return to the beautiful tale of a historic family farm that has seen the passing of generations, wars, and ghosts of murdered souls. Yes, this tune is more dramatic than meets the ears. The final result is one of the best B.O.C. songs to come about in at least a decade.

“Heaven Forbid” the rest of the album was a letdown, but thankfully that is not the case. O contraire, the disc kick starts with the straight-ahead groove rocker, “See You in Black.” The palm-muted guitar chug and catchy chorus open this new B.O.C. chapter nicely. A slow, bluesy groove carries the verses and pre choruses of “Power Underneath Despair” until a brisk-double time beat lends some urgency to the chorus. As has been the case throughout the band’s career, well-placed diversity is Heaven Forbid’s hallmark; “X-Ray Eyes” is a fairly typical bluesy hard rocker, lifted by a tasty guitar solo and great vocal harmonies, while “Hammer Back” increases the heaviness factor in a “Godzilla”-style hard rocker sang by Eric Bloom. “Damaged,” with its galloping, slightly funky riffs and inspirational lyrics, stands tall as one of the highlights. “Cold Gray Light of Dawn” evokes the bluesy, somber mood of a Robin Trower, albeit wrapped within trademark B.O.C. mysticism. “Live For Me,” another of the album’s mellower tunes, is almost good as “Harvest Moon.” Featuring Dharma’s inimitable smooth vocals and plaintive lyrics, “Live For Me” soars with searing leads and an uplifting atmosphere. This is music reigning supreme in the spiritual realm.

On Heaven Forbid, B.O.C. proved they were “Still Burnin’” for us all. Dig this one out sometime and give it another spin, won’t you? —Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 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


~ by jonnyboyrocker on June 24, 2016.

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