Blue Oyster Cult -- _Heaven Forbid_ (CMC International)

Is it any surprise that "the thinking man's metal band" in the 1970s, the Blue Oyster Cult, would have Ithaca ties? Those connections have weakened a bit now that bassist Joe Bouchard is no longer with the band (and I haven't heard vocalist Eric Bloom refer to himself as "the Rock King of the Finger Lakes" recently), but the band is still on flame with rock and roll and its first album of original material in a decade, called "Heaven Forbid."

The opening salvo of lead single "See You In Black" immediately reestablishes the influence and thundering relevance of the band, the hard rock forefathers of groups like Metallica, Bush, and Radiohead. (And just because the lyrics start with "I'd like to see you in black/ It makes me feel like your husband's dead," don't assume that you know what the song is about, because you're probably wrong.) Their melodic instincts also remain intact, with winners like "Harvest Moon" and "Live For Me" reminding listeners of past Oyster Cult classics like "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Burnin' For You." Most of all, the strength, intelligence and integrity that characterize all their previous work are unabated: From the aggressive "Power Underneath Despair" to the late '90s vibe of "Hammer Back," the breezy, bluesy coolness of "Damaged" and the sweetness of their live, acoustic "In Thee" (a hit for the band 20 years ago), they prove themselves both modern and timeless, still burnin' after all these years.

With a purposeful grimace and terrific sound, the Oyster boys are swimming now. "Heaven Forbid" is more than just a good reunion effort, it is a strong album by any standards, ready to conquer the modern rock crowds who may only know the Blue Oyster Cult by the bands they influenced.

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