- The use of umlauts in a band name – How many rock bands did this before BÖC? I can count on a closed fist. How many did it after? Couldn't count on all the fingers in the world.
- The band's name itself – taken from a poem by manager Sandy Pearlman referencing a group of aliens who secretly control Earth's affairs.
- The band's logo – taken from an alchemical symbol denoting lead (the heaviest of metals).
- The (unsubstantiated but hopefully true) rumor that, during the early '90s the band's popularity had plunged to the point where their show guarantee was $200. I've seen bands play living rooms and get paid more than that. Meaning, that at one point in time, it was conceivable that Blue Öyster Cult could have played your living room. They didn't. And probably wouldn't. But it's closer to the realm of possibility than with many comparable bands.
Alchemy? Aliens guiding mankind's destiny? Umlauts? I'm actually surprised this record hasn't gotten any coverage on Illcon before. Theirs is a weird shadow world, a world of Satanic biker gangs (“Transmaniacon MC”), of drug deals gone fatally wrong (“Then Came The Last Days Of May” - apparently based on the murder of three of singer Buck Dharma's friends [and let's consider that name for a minute – how many rock and roll frontmen had a name that was a play on words regarding the transcendence of several religions' concept of universal harmony and balance? It's fucking brilliant in a way that such showbiz rechristenings pretty much never are]), of the power of music as destroyer (“Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll”) and redeemer (“Redeemed”). And then along the way a few detours into bondage-inclined Canadian Mounties, astrological/alchemical musings, and what seems to be a paean to violent foot fetishism.
It can be difficult to understand how to take this weird cross-pollination of ideas. It could be that they were simply trying to move past the initial era when rock and roll had to mean something (maaaaan), before the conceptual side of the music that had started so innocently bloated up into prog rock's worst excesses. But I like to think that there was a more unified vision at work, a manifestation of the dark turn that the era of peace and love had taken by 1972. Perhaps not exactly a literal representation (though much of the drug-related material seems to have had some basis in the tangible world) but an extrapolated vision of star-crossed losers, the ones who had cast their lot with the aspiring world-changers and had come up radically short. It's an almost Pynchonian narrative, a nebulous cluster of ideas in which connecting lines are not drawn for the listener, one that might seem like a forced, inchoate melange of weird-for-weird's-sake iconography if it weren't for the fact that it's treated with some degree of gravity.
Not this. Never this.
While BÖC was intended to be the American Black Sabbath, rarely did their debut album indulge in that kind of heaviness (“Cities On Flame...” is about as close as it comes). Instead, the band showcases a musical versatility that their later albums lack. There are a few musical detours, some jaunty, syncopated lounge jazz rhythmic devices, some lead guitar work that almost sounds like it could've come from a Buck Owens song – but the real heaviness is a sort of slow and eerie atmosphere that sounds like the sonic equivalent of a lava lamp and a black light, Sabbathian only in the sense that it's not far removed from “Planet Caravan.”
So let the good name of Blue Öyster Cult be clearly understood. Scour the dollar bins for copies of this record (but don't pay more than five dollars, if you do you're almost as foolish as somebody who doesn't own the album at all). Let rock and roll raze our cities and let the messages of lust and derangement guide our puny lives as our alien overlords had so obviously intended.