Blue Öyster Cult: Secret Treaties
Audio Fidelity AFZ5 246
Blue Öyster Cult
Secret Treaties is the third studio album and final part of the powerful early '70s trio of albums by Blue Öyster Cult. While the speed-freak adrenaline heaviness and shrouded occult mystery of Tyranny and Mutation is the watermark for the band's creative invention, it is Secret Treaties that is widely and critically regarded as the band's classic.
The album spent 14 weeks in the US album charts, Melody Maker rated it "Top Rock Album of All Time" in 1975 and in 2002 Rolling Stone magazine called it one of "The 50 Coolest Records of All Time"
At least four of the tracks from Secret Treaties are featured in every BÖC "best of" compilation ever released - that includes the mysterious lead-off track "Career of Evil" which was written by punk poetess Patti Smith, a longtime contributor to the band, the somewhat lyrically disturbing "Subhuman," the mischievous "Harvester of Eyes" and the exceptional epic closer "Astronomy."
The songs are expansive and lush in their textures. The BÖC flamboyance is all here and so are the overdriven guitar riffs, the outpouring of urban frustration, an offbeat sense of humor and an ability to rock with grandeur. While elements of psychedelia have always been a part of the band's sound, it was always enfolded in proto-metal heaviness and biker boogie. Here, BÖC created their own brand of heavy psychedelic noir to diversify their considerably aggressive attack.
Support this site by purchasing from these vendors:
Review by Rick Kosmick - January 1, 2017
Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) has had a long career and it continues to tour up to the present day. Originally forming as a group in 1971, it mainly plays hard rock (occasionally veering into heavy metal) as purveyors of music with lyrics often based on science fiction and images of mysticism/horror. "Secret Treaties" (1974) was their third album release and it is often cited as a masterwork and, in my opinion, it is a justifiable assessment.
Audio Fidelity’s SACD release includes both Stereo and Quad 4.0. It is normally my preference to listen to multi-channel as the first option and “Secret Treaties” proved to be a revelatory audio experience from Columbia Records original Quad master tapes. Although at times somewhat a conservative but discreet mix, the immersive qualities are outstanding with excellent balance in the soundfield. The focus is front-centric that includes well centred lead vocals. The rear channels have a sense of delicacy that are not overused for gimmickry purposes. As an important note, the Quad is mastered at a noticeably lower sound level so a significant increase in volume is required to take advantage of the superb dynamics in these recordings.
In listening to the SACD Stereo version, you hear the foundation for the Quad mix. The original audio engineer, Tim Geelan, also prepared the Quad mix and in effect, expanded the sound parameters based on the sound and vision of the Stereo mix. Mr. Geelan is the unsung hero for this Quad release capturing the artistic intent of the recording sessions that not only adds depth to the performances but also allows the listener to hear instruments original buried in the Stereo mix. Although the audio quality of the Stereo version is very good on it’s own, it pales in comparison to the realm of extended musical possibilities in the 4.0 Quad mix.
The segueing of album tracks on ‘Secret Treaties” adds a seamless quality to the overall intensity for the listener. As a result, the third song “Dominance and Submission”, takes on an immediacy as it starts out rapidly with an intro of overdriven guitars followed by very clear lead vocals from Allan Bouchard emanating from the front channels. As part of the BOC signature sound, twin guitars (Buck Dharma Roeser and Eric Bloom) are prominent in rear channels and the front left channel with a strong sense of playing off each other. A blazing lead guitar solo from Buck Dharma provides a conclusion to the song as sound effects are panned across the two front channels with slight reverb in the rears.
The hard-driving “Harvester of Eyes” displays the rhythmic guitar patterns employed by BOC that are under-woven by the taut bass lines from Joe Bouchard -- the bass has a well-defined, clean sound emblematic of the quadraphonic mix. Eric Bloom’s forceful lead vocals emphasize the frightful lyrics as Buck Dharma’s lead guitar moves effectively between all four channels. The finale of the song changes to a slow tempo of grinding guitars that closes out with a synthesizer imitating the sound of an organ grinder at a carnival with a distinctive treble effect noting upper extension.
The final track “Astronomy” is a timely climax and a piece of music often featured during BOC concerts. In Quad 4.0, the recording is notable for it's crisp vocals. It begins in a very slow tempo with some light piano that appear in the rear channels as Eric Bloom's vocals join in. Dharma's guitar break signals a change as twin guitars appear in all four channels along with a one word chorus of 'hey' in a shift to a mid-tempo movement that offers a swirling nature to the highly immersive sound. To wind up the last verse, the vocal line of ’astronomy a star’ is repeated as a multiple chorus adding a mesmerizing component to this song composed of several changing tempos.
The aural experience of the Quad 4.0 remix leaves the listener with one deep impression: it preserves the intent of the original stereo mix providing for clarity in vocals with superlative separation and detail to instrument placement in a well balanced surround field.
“Secret Treaties” is a scintillating album of well conceived hard rock and serves as an example of the audio benefits from a multi-channel source that handily exceeds the stereo version. In addition, the original quadraphonic master tapes retained a high level of fidelity making for an exceptional release from Audio Fidelity.
Copyright © 2017 Rick Kosmick and HRAudio.net