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Buck Dharma decodes the myriad styles behind Blue Öyster Cult's first new album in almost 20 years, The Symbol Remains

Blue Öyster Cult
(Image credit: Chris McKay/Getty Images)

It's been nearly 20 years since hard rock progenitors Blue Öyster Cult have put out an original album. But with the release of The Symbol Remains, the group are set to light cities aflame with a return to form. 

Founding members, co-vocalists and guitarists Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser have helmed BÖC’s eclectic take on rock since the Sixties. Across 14 albums, BÖC carved out a niche blending diverse styles with esoteric lyrics, while ubiquitous FM hits like (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, Godzilla and Burnin’ for You imprinted them into popular culture.  

“We’d been meaning to do something new for almost two decades,” Dharma says. The lineup of Bloom, Dharma, Richie Castellano, Danny Miranda and Jules Radino has toured successfully on their legacy since 2004. 

“In the last five to 10 years, the current lineup has really come into its own as far as having an identity beyond the original lineup. It just got to be criminal not to record it.” 

While sometimes referred to as “the thinking man’s heavy metal band,” they don’t strictly identify with the metal genre. But the bruising opening track to The Symbol Remains, That Was Me, hits like a freight train, showcasing the band’s penchant for driving, guitar-heavy rockers.

“I would credit Eric Bloom for making sure there was enough heavy stuff on the record. My songs tend to be the more melodic, mid-tempo stuff,” Dharma says. Over 14 new tracks, the band nods to their identity, but with a modern approach. Most of the album was tracked with single-coil guitars through Kemper and Helix floorboards.

“There’s a broad variety of styles, which we wanted to do because it makes an hour’s worth of music tolerable if you get different kinds of moods on the songs,” Dharma says. Box in My Head and Tainted Blood are intelligent, melodic journeys that sound like they could’ve been released in the group’s formative years. Train True (Lennie’s Song) is a bluesy twist on the life of a train conductor, and The Machine is a modern take on society’s reliance on technology.

If The Symbol Remains has a formula, it would be simply to have none. “I don’t think Blue Öyster Cult has ever really been topical or following fashion, either music or songs,” Dharma says. “Basically, we write what comes out of our heads, and because of the personalities it winds up sounding like Blue Öyster Cult.”

  • Blue Öyster Cult's new album, The Symbol Remains, is out now via Frontiers Music.