THE CULT – Hidden City

the-cultAh, The Cult, the band that loves reunions. The band started out as the Southern Death Cult, a band that singer Ian Astbury formed in 1981. In 1983 he hooked up with guitar player Billy Duffy, shortened the name to Death Cult, a name that turned into The Cult in 1984 which released the albums Dreamtime (1984) and Love (1985) as a more colorful goth / punk / pop band, a style that changed to a more classic rock / AC/DC influenced kind of rock with the Rick Rubin (Slayer, AC/DC, Metallica, Black Sabbath) produced album Electric in 1987, an album that gained the band some support in the hard rock and heavy metal camps and to many fans, their finest album to date. But it was with 1989’s Sonic Temple that The Cult made it real big. The album was produced by Bob Rock (Blue Murder, Little Caesar, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Metallica) and gave the band a more slick and fatter and bigger sound, more mainstream if you will. With a bunch of hit singles and tours with Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses and Metallica, The Cult were closer than close to become a mega arena band. But what should have been The Cult’s final shot to stardom – 1991’s Ceremony produced by Richie Zito – couldn’t match its predecessor and the guys – now reduced to a duo after Matt Sorum had split to join Guns N’ Roses and Jamie Stewart had quit – were forced to take a step back. A bit weird as Ceremony is equally as good as  Sonic Temple. After grunge became the new hip thing, Astbury and Duffy tried to make it with one more time with their underwhelming self-titled album from 1994, but by then no one was interested any more. So the band split and Astbury started the ill-fated Holy Barbarians before he and Duffy decided to give it a go again, in 1999, this time with Matt Sorum behind the kit and Bob Rock once again in the control room. The album was called Beyond Good And Evil, a great record that should have been another platinum record for the band in a fair world. But instead it bombed and The Cult split again. Astbury toured with Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek as The Doors Of The 21st Century, a rather successful tour. In 2007, it was time again for another reunion. The album was called Born Into This and wasn’t bad at all, even tough it couldn’t really match their earlier efforts, but with a follow-up called Choice Of Weapon (2012) there were signs of a band finding themselves again.  After some touring it was quiet from the Cult camp when all of a sudden, a new album was not only in the works, but also had a release date. I had no clue they were even working on new stuff. New stuff is always nice and even though my interest in The Cult has cooled down throughout the years, I always look forward to hear their latest recordings. I’m also curious to hear if they can manage to keep relevant and put out music that will cut it in the long run. I still listen to Sonic TempleCeremony and Beyond Good And Evil quite frequently, but neither Born Into This or Choice Of Weapon has managed to keep my interest and I haven’t really picked them up since they came out. Maybe it’s time to give them another shot. We’ll see about that, but what I have to do is to find out if Astbury and Duffy have managed to put out anything worthwhile this time.

After the first spin I was somewhat sceptical. It sounded good, sure, but good in the way the last two records sounded good. Good while listening but without longevity. But the second spin – through my headphones – told a different story. Opener “Dark Energy” brought a massive groove with those classic rock guitars, but also with a memorable melody, a catchy chorus and a very pop influence. There’s also strings involved which adds to the dynamics. I didn’t expect this, but the song is really great. Following track “No Love Lost” is more classic Cult and brings all my three favorite Cult albums – Sonic Temple, Ceremony and Beyond Good And Evil – to mind, so it’s no surprise that I really dig the track. “Dance The Night” takes another unexpected turn. The song takes a more melodic hard rock direction, the kind you like to play in your car while riding with the top down a sunny day, singing along at the top of your lungs. It’s really catchy and I wouldn’t be surprised if rock radio picked this one up. An unusual move for a band like The Cult, but it sure damn works. “In Blood” goes in the opposite direction from its predecessor, dark, heavy and gloomy, slower but not quite a ballad. It brings Ceremony to mind and yes, it’s a really great track. “Birds Of Paradise” have a more alternative touch, not grunge but a million miles from mainstream radio rock. It’s based on piano, but quite riff happy anyway – a really good song. “Hinterland” might take a few spins to get into, but it’s a grower and when done growing, it’s a really good track. The sound is a bit noisy but still very melodic – think a mix of melodic rock and garage rock. But the chorus is very distinct and punchy and I guess this will be in their live set in the future. “GOAT” is a harder nut to crack. Yes, it’s groovy and heavy, but I have a hard time getting to stick. It’s based on heavy blues and I’m thinking this is how The Doors could have sounded had they made a hard rock / metal album. But best of all is “Deeply Ordered Chaos”.  It’s a really honest and in-your-face track lyrically. With lyrics such as “defend Paris”, “Syria the fall” and “violence in my head” it’s hard not to draw parallels to what happened in Paris last year – a very heavy topic these days. The song is dark, heavy and slow and it brings The Cult’s old gothic influences to mind. But there is also Led Zeppelin in the arrangements and the oriental sounding keyboards – another nod to the shootings? – both adds to the greatness of the song. Top that with some Keith Richards influenced guitar riffs and you have a very unpredictable tune. “Avalanche Of Light” on the other hand is a straight forward hard rocker with a nice pop feel and a very catchy melody – it’s almost sing along-ish. “Lilies” is a pure pop song based on acoustic guitars (and some Spanish ones…), strings and piano. it’s very good and with its distinct melody, I can very well imagine this being a hit. “Heathens” have a killer rock groove and a great riff and it reminds me of a mix between Billy Idol and The Doors with The Cult’s recognizable sound all over it.  The album ends with “Sound And Fury”, a ballad. It’s very laid back and based on piano, this almost sounds like lounge music. The drums go in an almost jazzy style which again makes this unpredictable – very atmospheric. A great song even though it feels like a strange and too laid back way to end an album.

Of course, it’s too soon to tell if this album will have the same longevity as their classic ones, but after a few spins, it sure feels so. The band – Astbury, Duffy, drummer John Tempesta (ex-Exodus, Testament, White Zombie and the band’s longest hired drummer, in the band since 2007), bass player Chris Chaney) – feels passionate, fresh, alive and kicking and the production, signed Bob Rock again, is superb. This album has all the ingredients to be a modern Cult classic, the same way I consider Beyond Good And Evil one. One thing, apart from the high quality songs, that I really like about the album is its diversity and unpredictability, you never know in what direction the next song will go. That said, the band never loses its identity no matter what turns the songs take – everything sounds like The Cult. This is the album I have hoped they would make since their second reunion and it just might be the one that shows the world that The Cult still got it. Highly recommended!

8/10

Other The Cult reviews:

Choice Of Weapon

Tracklist:

01. Dark Energy
02. No Love Lost
03. Dance The Night
04. In Blood
05. Birds Of Paradise
06. Hinterland
07. G O A T
08. Deeply Ordered Chaos
09. Avalanche Of Light
10. Lilies
11. Heathens
12. Sound And Fury

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