Agents Of Fortune

Blue Oyster Cult

Columbia, 1976

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


Before 1976, Blue Oyster Cult was a peripheral act on the heavy metal scene with a sturdy cult (ha!) following. They flirted with the fringes of success pounding out a unique brand of straight-ahead heavy metal with a touch of dark humor and sardonic fantasy that made them come of as sort of a metalhead's Steely Dan. Their stripped down sound had a punkish quality to it that often gave them a flavor more along the lines of the Stooges and MC5 than the typical hard rock influences like Sabbath and Zep.

Yet while their quirky, esoteric tales had a strong undertone of gothic motifs that brought them strong appeal to both hard rock fans and those who liked something a little cerebral along with their power chords, they didn't reach the limelight until Agents Of Fortunemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 .

The opening track, "This Ain't The Summer Of Love," was a rather poignant comment on the post-hippie darkness of 1976. The glossy veneer of peace, love and flowers had worn off and given way to much darker times. The "Son Of Sam" was on the loose, then-president Gerald Ford had not one but two assassination attempts on him in that year, and punk rock was raising its ugly head to make an assault on the world. The chorus says a lot about the times: "This ain't the Garden of Eden / There ain't no angels above / Things aren't what they used to be / And this ain't the summer of love."

The track that really gets things going is one of classic rock's most enduring hits, "Don't Fear The Reaper" (yes, the one with the infamous cowbell). With its infectious, toe-tapping beat, creepy horror matinee imagery and strong melodic hooks, this song took over the airwaves and made a name for the band. The closing minutes are a blistering surge of synchronized power chords and perfect arena-rock excess.

The rest of the songs are eclectic and show a lot of movement into new territory for BOC, much more melodic but still featuring the same hard edge their careers had been forged on. "Tattoo Vampire" and "Sinful Love" both harken back to their earlier stripped-down sound, while "E.T.I." and the overlooked gem "Tenderloin" fill in the spaces with thick keyboards and vocal harmonies. One of the great moments, "The Revenge Of Vera Gemini," features a guest vocal by Patti Smith and is one of the strongest songs on the disc. Vocalist Eric Bloom and Smith trade death threats back and forth, backed by an eerie, rumbling arrangement that comes across with just the right flavor of dark danger, providing the signature creep factor that BOC has become known for.

One of the big changes on Agents, and I believe a big part of their move to becoming a mainstream powerhouse, was the movement to the forefront by keyboardist Allen Lanier. His greater role in the compositions moved them out of their stripped-down, punk-influenced power riffs and made them much more melodic and accessible. Stretching out beyond their traditional dual-guitar attack created a full, dense sound perfectly suited for the arenas they filled over the next few years.

Rating: B+

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© 2006 Bruce Rusk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.