Meticulous scrutiny of the thinking man’s heavy metal – flawed but enticing.
Despite their five-decade-long presence at the crossroads of heavy metal and prog – having emerged there before these two genres got fully defined – BÖC remain an enigma. Steeped in their own mythology (or the mythos by their mentor, the late Sandy Pearlman) and not only influenced by literary sources but also influencing such significant authors as Stephen King and J. K. Rowling, the quintet created an alluring lore, especially for the uninitiated, so proper analysis of the ensemble’s songs has been long overdue. That was the situation the band’s über fan Jacob Holm-Lupo, the leader of Norwegian art-rockers WHITE WILLOW, sought to remedy, which resulted in this slim, if informative, volume, an entry in the “On Track” series.
Running through all the studio records in chronological order and leaving an outline of live albums for the last chapter, he reviews the collective’s vast oeuvre from different angles: compositional details, recording techniques, lyrical themes, external contributions – all of it is explored to a fluctuating extent, without delving too much into the group’s actual story, so there’s a logical layering to the narrative. Discoveries will be aplenty for a non-aficionado eager to understand what’s it all about, even though Jacob wouldn’t divulge the overarching concept before he gets to 1988’s “Imaginos” where many of the previously exposed threads come together in a single tapestry whose mysteries Holm-Lupo grasped from his communication with Pearlman. His contact with the ensemble seemed to be rather limited, though, and he had to rely on other people’s interviews for the players’ opinions of their catalogue. Consequently, a few questions are left unanswered: for instance, what’s a “diz-buster”?
Jacob tries, but can’t completely avoid, his personal perspective and biased perception of BÖC’s works – and this is understandable – and doesn’t gloss over the group’s misfires, while pinpointing stronger moments of “Mirrors” and “Club Ninja”: their least popular offerings. Yet he chooses to keep silent about suicidal rumors which surround “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and opts out of mentioning things like an Ellington quote in “Moon Crazy” that are too obvious. What’s not so apparent, yet must become quite evident upon going through the pages, are the links between deceptively unrelated tracks – the recurrent motifs of harvesting and reaping, often lurking beneath the surface, and Holm-Lupo highlights many of the hidden truths.
It wouldn’t take too discerning an ear to hear that the ensemble’s pieces were voiced by various band members, but casual listener may be surprised to learn that their most prominent songs – the aforementioned hit and “Burning For You” as well as “Godzilla” – were sung by guitarist Buck Dharma rather than Eric Bloom, the group’s primary vocalist whose six-string parts largely ignored. More so, following Holm-Lupo’s lead the reader will learn to recognize each player’s individual style as a writer, and see how everyone cut their own piece of the puzzle. Still, sometimes one wishes that Jacob dug deeper into the tracks’ background, instead of meaning, and revealed, for example, how Bloom’s collaboration with Ian Hunter came to be – yet Holm-Lupo doesn’t draw comparisons between their curly hair and sunglasses – whereas his musicology expertise should cater to fellow instrumentalists as opposed to punters. The latter are bound to scratch their heads at every mention of the Phrygian mode or ostinato, albeit this is just another aspect of BÖC’s hermetic science.
The book is bound to become incomplete rather soon, as the band plan to release their next album in 2020, but this will hardly be a reason for gripe. It’s worth it to prepare for the record’s appearance by giving a fresh spin to their catalogue – and Jacob’s book should prompt one to do so and see familiar songs in a new way. A valiant effort.