Review Summary: Perhaps the band's best album of the 1980's, 'Fire of unknown Origin' continued to keep Blue Oyster Cult a world beating force, but also showed their more melodic side
You know you've done something right when a Sci-fi/fantasy animation film wants the majority of your album to be featured on its soundtrack. Then again, in the case of the commercially overwhelming 'Fire of unknown Origin', this isn't really that important for the band now, but in the 80's they certainly needed this boost. It's also quite fitting that the aforementioned film is actually called 'Heavy Metal' (one can only wonder how long it took them to figure out a title that cunning), and curiously, one song from 'Fire...' is actually called 'Heavy Metal'. Of course, this is just sheer coincidence. Blue Oyster Cult had released the satisfying yet disappointingly unpopular 'Cultosaurus Erectus' a year earlier, but the band had not given up. By this time they were still touring the world alongside such successful acts as Black Sabbath and grasping contributions from Patti Smith (who worked on the title track) and Michael Moorcock (working on 'Veteran of the Psychic Wars'.
Unfortunately, the first thing that will stand out to you on 'Fire...' is its even greater 80's influence, using less of the gritty, hard rock edge of the band's guitar work, and favouring more synthesisers and pop culture than ever before. Interestingly, most of the album is very quirky and faster paced than on 'Cultosaurus...', although this doesn't mean to say that the band necessarily used their heavier material. As evident on 'Fire...', the band's sound has become even more mysterious and cunning, thanks largely to the brilliantly written lyrics and concept recurring within the album itself.
On 'Veteran of Psychic Wars' in particular, the band could not sound any more different had they fully adopted a Hip-Hop musical style. Based around the writing of Michael Moorcock, Eric Bloom croons and sorrowfully sings his way throughout, explaining that he is “a veteran of the thousand psychic wars/I've been living on the edge so long, where the winds of limbo roar”. In fact, you could link this to Hawkwind's conceptual album of 1985 that is 'The Chronicle of the Black Sword', purely for the music and lyrical content itself. This excellent use of mysterious lyrics continues throughout, as on the sorrowful 'Sole Survivor' and Creepily referenced 'Joan crawford'.
Musically speaking however, many will either be disappointed or pleased with the change in sound. The title track, 'Vengeance (The Pact)', 'After Dark' and curiously titled closer 'Don't turn your back' all favour the synthesisers to full effect, and even though this makes the songs stand out with enough quirkiness and energy to make listeners feel invigorated, it may put those who prefer the band's heavier sound off. However, it sounds as if the band love doing this. Every song here gives off the impression of a band having complete and utter fun with their instruments, and if you can get past the fact that it is more of a pop album than it is strictly Heavy Metal, you will come to love this album a lot.
There are heavier moment here however. The aptly titled 'Heavy metal (The Black and Silver)' focusses fully on each guitarist's efforts, and it certainly works well. The solos rip through each minute of the song, the riffs accompany the powerful lyrics, and some guitar licks even contribute to the effectual vocals of Eric Bloom. Even on the stunning title track, wherein Bloom seems to enjoy every one of Patti Smith's lyrics, solos serve as a fitting background to the keyboards and synthesisers contained within. As mentioned before, many will want this album to be heavier than it actually is, but you can't blame the band for wanting to take their mysterious sounds and excellent lyrics to the next level.
'Fire of unknown Origin' is generally a very good album indeed. The album would go on to peak at #24 on the American Billboard 200 and #29 on the UK album chart, both of which seem very successful for a band that had been commercially underwhelming for some time. Fact is, you will love this album for what it is if you can accept the fact that the 80's did more for Blue Oyster Cult than it did for Black Sabbath and ZZ Top. Certainly buy it if you liked 'Cultosaurus Erectus', but for those favouring the band's heavier roots, this review merely serves as a warning.