Album of the Week 23-2014: Blue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties

At the beginning of their carreer, most notably around the time of their first three “black and white” releases, Blue Öyster Cult was often hailed the American Black Sabbath. Personally, I have always viewed this comparison as somewhat unfair. It’s also the direct cause that Blue Öyster Cult has always been mislabelled a Metal band. While both bands had a significantly darker sound than what was usual at the time, Blue Öyster Cult’s was still somewhat rooted in the psychedelic tendencies of the half decade before them, while their riffs had an unmistakable Boogie flair to them. Nowhere have both sides been better represented than on this third record – their masterpiece.

The band’s actual sound is somewhat closer to the Space Rock on UFO’s first albums, albeit much better due to the ever present intelligence in the songwriting department. To state it simply: Blue Öyster Cult was different. And while their first two albums contained a couple of fantastic songs, ‘Secret Treaties’ is where the band really gets things right. Especially the way the guitars and keyboards cooperate to create an eerie sound was unheard of at the time. Also, the guitar work by Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser and Allen Lanier is nothing short of stellar.

In good Blue Öyster Cult tradition, the A-side of the album is the more accessible one, while the B-side is a bit more experimental. However, this time, the characteristics of both sides blend more than usual. ‘Subhuman’ on side one is a dark and brooding masterpiece with a haunting melody and subdued nature, while ‘Cagey Cretins’ and ‘Harvester Of Eyes’ on the other side have the boogie swing that many of the simpler songs of the band have. Both approaches work really well; although yours truly has a slight preference for the more mysterious aspect of the band, ‘Dominance And Submission’ and ‘ME 262’ are awesome Rockers.

Closing the album are arguably the best two songs that the band has ever recorded; ‘Flaming Telepaths’ has a wonderfully atmospheric intro, but doesn’t completely drift off into psychedelic territories due to its tight structure and amazing chorus. The amazing guitar solos are the icing on the cake. And just when you think it couldn’t get better, ‘Astronomy’ follows immediately. Anyone familiar with Blue Öyster Cult beyond the obvious ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ will probably be familiar with the track, which is basically the band’s ‘Free Bird’, working its way through multiple climaxes, some of them tranquil and haunting, others intense and riff driven. Just brilliant.

Sadly, Blue Öyster Cult would fall into some sort of a musical identity crisis shortly after the release of ‘Secret Treaties’. They are still a force to be reckoned with in the live environment, but the unpretentious brilliance of the “black and white” albums was never reached again. It’s Space Rock for those who still wish to keep both feet on the ground, Hard Rock for the schooled headbanger, but without moving too far into the Prog realm. With an awesome seventies production to boot. If that’s your thing, ‘Secret Treaties’ is a must.

Recommended tracks: ‘Astronomy’, ‘Flaming Telepaths’, ‘Subhuman’

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