Tyranny and Mutation is probably the most overlooked album in Blue Öyster Cult’s classic era. It isn’t an obscure effort by any means, and it’s adored in many circles, but there’s no real attempt to lure in casual listeners with a “Don’t Fear the Reaper” or “Godzilla” type track. That approach could be seen as detrimental but the band didn’t seem that interested in crafting hit singles; instead, Blue Öyster Cult’s second album sees them gaining momentum by upping the ante and expelling even more energy.
While BOC never quite hit Sandy Pearlman’s vision of the “American Black Sabbath” (After all, Pentagram was a thing), Tyranny and Mutation is a much heavier album than their self-titled debut. That album is a very upbeat affair though focused on eerie but easygoing quirk rock rather than all out aggression. “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” may be a stomper, but it isn’t anywhere near the ferocity or speed of songs like “7 Screaming Diz-Busters” and “Hot Rails to Hell.”
The transformation between albums is most blatantly demonstrated on “The Red & the Black,” a reworking of the debut’s “I’m on the Lamb but I Ain’t No Sheep.” The original song is a mostly subdued mid-tempo rocker with a bit of speed toward the end but “The Red and the Black” blows out of the water with high speed drums, in your face call and response vocals, and flurries of twin guitar trade-offs in and outside the extended instrumental section.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Blue Öyster Cult if their patented weirdness wasn’t sprinkled throughout. “Wings Wetted Down” echoes the debut’s psychedelic sensibilities thanks to a focus on atmospheric guitar textures and spookily layered vocals on the chorus. “Teen Archer” and “Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quickline Girl)” also bring in some catchiness, though there’s no real sense of the band trying to make itself more accessible with either track.
Overall, Tyranny and Mutation is a strong transitional album that makes up for its relative inaccessibility with more energetic musicianship and a concise presentation. The debut may be a bit more fun, and this album’s successor repeated the formula with literally perfect results, but it’s still more than worthy of sharing their glory. It’s better suited to already-acquainted fans but once you’re there, you’ll be sure to recognize its classic status.
“The Red & the Black”
“Hot Rails to Hell”
“7 Screaming Diz-Busters”
“Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quickline Girl)”