Blue Oyster Cult: Fire Of Unknown Origin (1981)

Before starting this piece, I made the mistake of reading other peoples’ reviews of this classic album, a practice I’ve entirely avoided to date.

It almost ruined the entire affair for me.

From references to the movie Heavy Metal to listings of various co-writers and collaborators, so much has already been said about Fire of Unknown Origin. In so many different languages. A 15-second visit to the googleramps reveals a wide variety of reviews in everything from French, Spanish and English to this, from Strangecharm:

The only 3 which rank this largely junk-cult of previous decade hardened pop-rock trash above 1+1/2 stars, which ever really flared up enough to keep this ‘gee-wiz’ kid more than disaffectedly chill about the whole 9-yards of raw mid-glossed-over target-marketed material were the opening-salvo triad of shot, put above the usual same-old burn-out studio mixing board fare for such down-but-not-too-willingly-dirty modern swine-heardsmen & bore-huntswomen…”

(Someone’s trying a little too hard to sound like Don and Walt. But I digress.)

So I stepped away from the computer, put on my vinyl copy and got back in touch with why I love this album.

Simply put, it’s bright without being to cheery; it’s dark without being too moody; and it’s over-the-top without taking itself too seriously. The perfect balance, in my book.

At times the keyboard sounds come close to sounding dated, but still sound pretty fresh. I remember thinking how heavy this album sounded back in ’83, when I first heard it. With the technological advances in the past 30 years, it’s unfair to pull it out of context and judge it as pop. Yet, as we’ve said before, there’s really no other way to judge the timelessness of an album.

With this in mind, Fire of Unknown Origin stands the test of time pretty well if you enjoy pop (by today’s standards) hooks and tongue-in-cheek humor. And really, all things considered, it is still pretty heavy sounding.

Intended Sound vs. Actual Sound

Part of what makes this album magical for me is how I listen to it. That is to say, when I hear these songs, the soundstage is much broader in my head than what is actually being presented by the recording. The distortion, while being just fine on the record, for me is simply a respresentation of a much larger and heavier distortion; almost as if the actual recording is simply a reminder of a much more powerful recording, albeit one that has never actually existed.

For me this is part of the magic of Blue Oyster Cult; through Fire of Unknown Origin they’ve captured the spirit of something much grander than can be actually articulated.

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