REVIEW: The Cult – Ceremony (1991)

Scan_20160729THE CULT – Ceremony (1991 Beggars Banquet)

Only 25 years late, I have finally acquired the Cult’s Ceremony CD, thanks to my kind and generous reader Wardy.  I somehow missed this album all those years, even though I own all the singles.  There are some songs here that are completely new to me.  Ceremony received mixed reviews when it was released, as it represented the band’s furthest move away from their roots, into commercial radio rock.  Let’s see how accurate that is.

It starts sounding more like some lost Deep Purple album, with big organ and jammy sounds.  Richie Zito co-produced this disc, and the band got a sharper sound out of the studio than they did with Bob Rock last time.  Sonically, Ceremony has more impact, more heft, more oomph than the big and echoey Sonic Temple.  The “Ceremony” in question on the title track is the rock arena, as the Cult had definitely become arena rock.  They had also been reduced to a core duo.  Jamie Stewart and Matt Sorum were gone, and the Cult used session musicians during this period.  Charlie Drayton (bass) and Mickey Curry (drums) helped the band achieve what sounds like a very sincere crack at this kind of rock.  Accessible it is, but the Cult didn’t really sell out.  Check out the frantic “Wild Hearted Son”.  Like the sound of a stampede of horses across the plains, “Wild Hearted Son” does not let up.  I think I lot of fans were disappointed that the new Cult sound wasn’t more esoteric, but that doesn’t make it bad.

Just as relentless as “Wild Hearted Son” comes the “Earth Mofo”.  One thing I had never really paid attention to before was the bass.  Drayton’s get some great bass chops.  The production of Ceremony leaves a lot of space between the instruments, so you can hear them.  Those who find Sonic Temple overproduced may dig on this, so give “Earth Mofo” a spin.   That’s nothing though compared to the powerful “White”.  Epic in scope, “White” is a massive groove with layers of acoustic instruments a-la Zep.

I didn’t see the tender sound of “If” coming, just piano and Ian’s crooning.  Not after all that heavy hitting rock.  But then “If” also explodes into something bigger, anthemic and memorable.  I’m starting to think that if Ceremony got a bad rap back in ’91, it’s because people weren’t paying proper attention.

“Full Tilt” is a great name for a rock song.  Riffed out with generous helpings of rock sauce, “Full Tilt” was reported to have knocked a picture of at least one journalist’s wall.*  Just wait until the afterburners ignite in the last minute of the song.  Strangely, the very next track is the acoustic ballad “Heart of Soul”; a good song indeed but not as great as “Edie (Ciao Baby)” was.  Back to the rock, “Bankok Rain” lacks the charisma that the rest of the tunes seem to have in common, though there is certainly nothing wrong with it’s staggering riff.  By the end you won’t care, because the whole thing  burns like fire and gasoline until all the fuel is spent.

A fascinating Cult song is “Indian”, a basic acoustic song with cello accompaniment.  As Cult ballads go, this is definitely a peak moment.  Ian infuses more passion into one line than most singers can do in a whole song.  Unexpectedly, the album moves right on to another ballad, “Sweet Salvation”, which is actually less a ballad and more a soul song.  It’s powerful, as are all these songs in their own ways.  Ian Astbury breaks out the Morrison poetry jams to kick off the ending track, “Wonderland”, a riff driven slow broil.

That’s the album, and it’s hard to gauge where it sits among the whole Cult catalogue.  Certainly, this and Sonic Temple are brother records.  They are stylistically more similar than Cult albums tend to be.  Ceremony possesses track after track of scorching rock music.  Does it make as strong an impression as the bombastic Sonic Temple?  Not quite.  By stripping the production to a more sparse and live sound, perhaps the Cult sacrificed the nuances.  Ceremony gleams shiny with amped up guitars and drums aplenty.  It is hard to find fault.  It is still a fine album.

3.5/5 stars

* That’s a true story, but I can’t remember what magazine I read it in.  The reviewer said, quote “‘Full Tilt’ knocked a picture off my wall.”

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16 comments

  1. Fair and accurate review my friend!
    For me at the time of its release I got this one and Tesla’s Psychotic Supper for my Bday (1991) and Ceremony was at the time outside the Wild Hearted Son track a album that I was expecting more from! Just like there self titled 1994 album Ceremony has grown on me over the 25 years since it’s release but at the time 1991 there was so much music out as the whole Guns and Illusion albums just sapped so much out of everything else that was out at the time.
    But my line of thought back than was this album was there…and so it was still Sonic Temple and of course Electric for me…
    Now having said all of this The Cult is one band I will not toss a 3/4’s Filler at as they always kept moving pushing forward although like you point out they somewhat stayed true to the Sonic Temple formula(kinda) here and can you blame them as you finally hit the $$$ Train playing big shows etc do u really want it to stop?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah man, I know what you mean — even on the 1994 album it’s not a 3/4 Filler. (Or, to use my style, a Turd, or for Aaron, a Quit It!) Right now I’m rocking Choice of Weapon, I record I’ve never reviewed.

      So what is the deal with the new Cult, they are calling it a trilogy, with Born Into This and Choice of Weapon as the other two? Not sure what they mean?

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      1. Yeah I dunno either…..
        The only thing I can muster up is each album has gotten stronger than the previous album…..
        I see the theme running on Choice Of Weapon but to tie it into Born Into This I don’t see yet ……
        Who knows what Wolfchild is rambling on about? Self Cult promotion to peak people’s curiosity level into getting all three? If so get marketing move in this day n age!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review, Mike – I like this one a fair bit, and can’t really disagree with anything you’ve written here (or the score).

    Can we expect you to cover Choice of Weapon soon? I only recently heard that one, but it’s awfy good. Still haven’t gotten the new one … I really ought to.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know that feeling. I’ve been listening to a few albums for a couple of weeks now – I just ain’t ready to write, I just wanna get lost in them!

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      1. I thought Choice Of Weapon was fairly cracking, so I’ll definitely be getting on this if it tops that! Not sure why I haven’t picked it up yet, to be honest!

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  3. Yay! Glad you got to hear it, after all of these years. Thanks again, Wardy!

    You know, reading this review, your choices of words and descriptions in general, I was surprised to see a 3.5 at the bottom. Based on what I read, I expecting a 4 or a 4.5!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Haven’t been listening to the Cult for ages but when I do it’s usually Beyond Good and Evil I go for. Go figure..Sonic Temple and Love where the ones I wore out.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah good review Mike glad ya liked the record. A real grower which fares far better on the ears now without the hype & expectation that was heaped upon it bacck when. Still somewhat overshadowed by its predecessor and its blatant effort at recreating Sonic Temple, Ceremony now serves as a fitting finale for the Cult’s moment in the spotlight.

    Aside from Wild Hearted Son faves are still the crooners, IF, Indian and the cool cat Heart And Soul (even if skirts too closely to Skid Row’s I Remember You).

    Thanks for reviewing for us Mike, can’t arge with a 3.5!
    Nice one cheers \m/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No sir thank YOU for allowing me to hear this finally. I find it interesting that one reason they didn’t use the same producer on this was due to the experience of Electric. They didn’t want to duplicate the magic…but they kind of went in the same direction anyway. Then when they finally did reunite with Bob Rock, they did the most different sounding album of their careers!

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  6. Great review Mike! I never got into the Cult. Not because I didn’t like them, just never enough time or money back then to give them a try. After listening to everyone talk about them, I guess I need to go back and listen.

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