ian astbury

VHS Archives #78: Ian and Billy from The Cult chat about roots (and U2)

Quick clip from a 1991 interview with Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy. This was recorded off a Cult “Spotlight” on MuchMusic; the interviewer is Michael Williams.

Here, The Cult talk about rediscovering their roots and take a couple shots at U2.

REVIEW: Iommi – Iommi (2000)

“Like many projects featuring multiple singers, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag but with more gems than turds.”

 

IOMMI – Iommi (2000 Virgin)

Iommi is the first released solo album by Tony Iommi, but actually the third recorded.  The first was 1986’s Seventh Star, released as “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi”, with Glenn Hughes on vocals.  10 years later, Tony recorded another album with Hughes often referred to as “Eighth Star“, which was released in 2004 (after the drums by Dave Holland were re-recorded by Jimmy Copley) as The 1996 DEP Sessions.  Then finally in 2000, Tony took a page from the successful Santana formula book and did an album with various lead singers called Iommi.

Like many projects featuring multiple singers and assorted musicians, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag, but with more gems than turds.  The guitarist picked an interesting assortment of vocalists, mostly artists big in the 90s.  It’s telling that Tony’s good buddy Glenn Hughes isn’t one of them (though Hughes returned on 2006’s Fused).  Clearly commercial interests were most important when it came to selecting the singers and songs.

The inimitable Henry Rollins gets the enviable opening slot with “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.  Rollins sounds best with a heavy riff behind him, and this one is pure grunge.  Producer-de-jour Bob Marlette co-wrote almost every song, and there’s little doubt that this is how Iommi acquired its “modern” edge.  Rollins creates a swirl chaotic rock around him, but the riff alone would have sunk without Hank.  Iommi seldom writes such atonal, monotonous guitar parts as “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.

Skin (Skunk Anansie) is surely one hell of an underrated singer, and her track “Meat” howls.  Iommi’s solos and riffs sound much more like what comes naturally from him.  Then, it’s the unfortunate sound of 90s drum loops and samples.  It’s Dave Grohl’s tune “Goodbye Lament”.  Because as soon as one thinks of Iommi or Grohl, we think of drum loops, am I right?  Fortunately Grohl has ex-Sabbath bassist Lawrence Cottle and Queen maestro Brian May on his track.  He plays the drums when they finally do kick in.  Three of those four guys played on Headless Cross!  The drum loops suck and date the song to a certain period in time, but fortunately Grohl knows how to write good melodies so it’s not a total bust.

Phil Anselmo (Pantera) takes the very Sabbathy “Time is Mine”.  That riff sounds like it may have been later used on an actual Black Sabbath record.  The track simmers with fury, then Phil lets it rip loose.  The only way to make Sabbath heavier than Sabbath is to include a singer like Anselmo.  Drumming is Seattle legend Matt Cameron.

The expressive Serj Tankian (System of a Down) lets his pipes have their way with “Patterns”, amidst more of those annoying samples.  It absolutely sounds more System than Sabbath, which is fine since both are heavier than fuck.

The one guy that pulls off a truly Black Sabbath-sounding song is the guy you’d least expect:  Billy Corgan.  Yet his “Black Oblivion” comes closest to the spirit of classic Black Sabbath, in terms of length and epic riffage.  Billy plays bass and guitar on the track as well — what a phenomenal bassist!  (The drummer, Kenny Aronoff, knew Corgan from the 1998 Smashing Pumpkins tour on which he played, and then Aronoff went on to play on two more Iommi solo discs.)

The Cult’s Ian Astbury makes Iommi sound like — who else? — The Cult!  Brian May returns for some guitar (with Cottle and Cameron on bass and drums).  The Cult rarely employ such monolithic riffs, but the chorus is pure Cult.

“Flame On!  I used to bleed like a suicide mother,
Flame On!  And now I breath in this dirty black summer,
Flame On!  I bought the truth in the mouth of my brother,
Flame On!  I used to bleed like a suicide motherfucker.”

Shame about the damn loops, like something discarded from Chinese Democracy.  They also infect “Just Say No to Love” featuring the late Peter Steele of Type O Negative.  Like Astbury, he makes Iommi sound like his band, which already sounded a bit like a Black Sabbath parody.

The biggest disappointment on the album is second to last.  “Who’s Fooling Who” is a virtual Black Sabbath reunion, with Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward returning to the fold.  On bass is Lawrence Cottle, making it 100% Sabbath alumni, 3/4 original.  And it’s easily the most boring song on the album.  The best thing about it is Bill Ward, the first drummer who didn’t sound like a session guy.  A muffled Ozzy phones in his part, but Bill puts some effort into composing the percussion.  The best part is the instrumental burnout.

And then, a surprising finish:  Billy Idol, with a monstrous “Into the Night”.  Idol should consider doing heavy riffy metal like this more often — he’s good at it.  Though he effectively snarls his way through the slow riff, his punky side comes out when things get fast.  The contrast between riffs and tempos is half the fun.

With Iommi freshly consumed and digested anew, it’s obvious that good portion of what you heard was purposefully geared towards the nu-metal Ozzfest crowd.  The selection of musicians was clearly slanted post-80s, but it’s the loops and samples that really blow.  The blame must be laid on producer Bob Marlette, especially considering some of the loops sounded exactly like another band he produced:  Rob Halford’s Two.  The whole thing sounds like a “product”, though at least with some pretty incredible riffs behind it.

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Cult – Hidden City (2016)

scan_20161008THE CULT – Hidden City (2016 Dine Alone)

There have been a few times in Cult history when it seemed unlikely they would be making any more albums.  Thankfully, these fears were unfounded.  Thankfully, because The Cult are so damn great at making albums.

Their latest is Hidden City, and it continues their upwards trajectory.  Teamed up once again with Bob Rock, the band created a powerful recording, very Cult-like and loud.  It is a cohesive and impressive collection of songs that tend to defy individual description.  It is easy to pick our favourites such as “No Love Lost”, “Birds of Paradise” or “Hinterland” (my personal fave), but Hidden City is more than the sum of its parts.  Its components are strong compositions that highlight the strengths of the band:  Ian Astbury’s powerful and unique voice, and Billy Duffy’s unmistakable riff stylings.  Hidden City collects the light and shade and presents them as a multi-coloured hue.

Its grooves are huge but textured.  The songs reveal more hooks the more you listen.  The Cult’s performances are top notch.  The album is electrifying.  Hidden City must be considered a latter-day high water mark, an album that builds on the last few records and continues pushing forward.  The Cult rule again.

5/5 stars

This is a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge

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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.”

REVIEW: The Cult – Rare Cult (7 CD limited box set)

THE CULT – Rare Cult (2000 Beggars Banquet box set with limited 7th remix CD)

Rare Cult is a feast of rare and unreleased Cult music, for the Cult connosoir only. If you’ve been a Cult fan for a while but have struggled to find those early singles, then this is your dream box set, my friend.  They have a lot of singles and assorted rarities, and acquiring a complete set of them all takes money.  Rare Cult secures a huge chunk of that music in one package.

I’m not going to bother cataloging all the different tunes and where they came from.  They’re too numerous but I will say the following:

1. This set has an enormous number of unreleased demos and otherwise finished songs that nobody had heard before — not previously released on B-sides. The songs range from the Dreamtime era (1984) with some cool, unheard BBC performances.  Over six discs, it spans over a decade to 1995 when the band broke up (for the first time). All tracks are of very good sound quality.

2. There is a humongous (80 page) booklet inside, with complete credits and details for every single song contained within.  Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury provide commentary, and there are lots of photos too.

3. There are a lot of remixes here, as per normal for a band from this era. In fact there is an entire seventh limited edition bonus disc dedicated single remixes, called Rare Cult Mixes.  I don’t know how many copies were released with the bonus disc, but be sure of what you buy before you buy it! Personally I don’t see the point of buying this set without the seventh disc. For example, the “Fire Woman” single had two excellent remixes: The “LA mix”, and the “NYC mix”. The NYC mix is included on the Disc 5 of this box set, but to get the LA mix, if you don’t have the “Fire Woman” single, can only be had on the limited edition seventh Rare Cult disc. If you’re a collector (which I think you are, because if you’re not you probably stopped reading this already) then there’s no reason to buy the version without the bonus CD.  Wait it out and get the full package.

4. Peace. While astute fans had probably collected most of these tracks already, this box set contains the first ever official release of the Peace album, in sequence on disc 3. The Cult were working on Peace after the Love album, and even finished it, but scrapped the recordings for being too Love-like. They hooked up with Rick Rubin to revamp, re-write, and re-record the album, released as Electric. Many of the Peace songs surfaced as B-sides over the years, on singles and EPs such as The Manor Sessions.  While Rare Cult was the first release of the full Peace album, it has since been reissued as part of the Electric Peace two disc set.

5. Warning! There’s more. If you really, really, really want it all, you have to shell out for the single CD Best Of Rare Cult which had five exclusive songs not included here. Oh, marketing.  The five exclusives on Best of Rare Cult are:  “She Sells Sanctuary (long version)”, “Spanish Gold”, “The River”, “Lay Down Your Gun (version two)”, and “Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles) (original mix)”.  Some of these songs, such as “The River”, are B-sides, while some are unreleased.

6. There’s even more! Yes, there are demos here, but that’s not all of them. The masterminds behind this set cleverly left off enough demos to create a whole other box set. You’ll want to pony up for Rare Cult: The Demo Sessions (an even more limited edition 5 CD set of its own) which is interesting in its own right. Look at Rare Cult as scratching the surface.

7. Even with all this stuff available out there, The Cult liked to include live songs on their singles. None are present here. Be forewarned, you may still want to get those original singles anyway, if you care enough!  Maybe they should do a box set called Rare Live Cult.  (Are you listening Ian?)

As a listening experience, Rare Cult is long but rewarding. One thing about The Cult, they were a diverse band, and this set is very diverse. For example you’ll go from a very dancy 80’s remix of “Sanctuary” straight into “No. 13” which is more punk influenced. Regardless of what it is, or what it isn’t, I think this set is worth listening to. Even their demos are better than most bands’ album tracks.  Like many bands who released numerous single B-sides, The Cult put effort into all their songs.  Check out “Sea and Sky”, “Bleeding Heart Graffiti” and “Bone Bag” as ample proof.

The packaging is quite nice. It comes in a sturdy black box. The aforementioned booklet allows you to read through the whole history of the band up to 1995.  The first six discs are housed in three double digipacks, while the seventh disc sits in its own sleeve tucked into the box.

You might not very often have the luxury of 8-9 hours to listen to the Cult, but if you’re a fan, think hard and consider your buying options.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cult – Sonic Temple (1989)

By special request of reader Wardy!

THE CULT – Sonic Temple (1989 Polygram limited edition hologram cover)

The Cult went into 1989’s Sonic Temple with nothing but promise.  New hotshot producer Bob Rock had struck it rich with Kingdom Come the year before.  Critics raved about his drum sound and other Zeppish tendencies on that album.  The Cult themselves were following up the incendiary Electric album, a stripped back record produced by Rick Rubin.  Anticipation ran high.  Considering that Robert Plant was quoted as saying that “Led Zeppelin is being continued by The Mission and The Cult”, I think a few people expected Sonic Temple to be the second coming.

Some fans hoping for another Electric or even another Love were disappointed by the mainstream rock direction of Sonic Temple.  Mainstream though it may be, Sonic Temple burns with the same middle finger up attitude of old Cult, just with the edges sanded off and sound enhanced by Bob Rock.  Rock’s production is similar to that of Dr. Feelgood released the same year.

You couldn’t ask for a better double-whammy than the opening salvo of “Sun King” and “Fire Woman”.  Even though The Cult were able to score a major hit with “Fire Woman” it’s still a tough little song based on a killer Billy Duffy guitar hook.  Both songs have aged well, as has “American Horse”, a slow Cult stomper.  I love the interplay on the verse riff between Duffy and bassist Jamie Stewart.  Stewart, a member since the band became The Cult, departed after this tour and moved to Canada.  Here he produced a few up and coming bands such as Gut-Sonic.  I think Jamie Stewart was the underappreciated Cult member.  His grooves (with session drummer Mickey Curry*) are a part of Sonic Temple‘s drive.

The big hit ballad was the dramatic “Edie (Ciao Baby)”.  Here they really benefit from Bob Rock’s lush rock production values.  Strings and acoustics ring crisp.  Add in a howlin’ Ian Astbury chorus and you have one hell of a song.

“Sweet Soul Sister” was the third single (after “Fire Woman” and “Edie”) and another killer Cult song it is. You can really hear Bob Rock’s touch on the layered vocals for better or worse. It’s a touch that I find dated today, but the bare organ intro is magical! Unfortunately it gets dicey after “Sweet Soul Sister”.

I wouldn’t call any of the songs that follow “Sweet Soul Sister” poor or filler. None of them lack hooks or massive Billy Duffy guitars. Yet compared to the first side of the album, everything from “Soul Asylum” onwards fails to ignite like that. There are certainly lots of memorable moments, such as the breakneck “New York City” featuring an Iggy Pop cameo. It’s a good song, and so is “Soldier Blue” and the rest of the tunes…just not as good as side one. (By the way, if any song on Sonic Temple recalls Led Zeppelin, it the massive “Soul Asylum”, which is basically The Cult’s “Kashmir”.)

SONIC TEMPLE_0002

My copy of Sonic Temple is a limited edition with mirrored hologram cover. I bought it from this guy Todd, who worked at the HMV store at the mall. A buddy of mine had a crush on his sister, or something, and that’s how I knew him. He treated me right when I shopped at his store, and I returned the favour when he sold his stuff to us. That’s how I got this, and also how I got the Sonic Temple Collection 3 CD set complete with mail-away box.

I still like Sonic Temple today, but I only love side one.

3.75/5 stars

*Eric Singer played on the demos, released as part of the Rare Cult Demos box set.  Ex-Tori Amos drummer Matt Sorum appeared in the music videos and played on the tour, where he fatefully met Guns N’ Roses, and the rest was history.

REVIEW: The Cult – Pure Cult: The Singles 1984-1995

THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER

For today’s installment of THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER, Aaron and I are actually reviewing different albums.  Sort of.  He’s doing Pure Cult: For Rockers, Ravers, Lovers, and Sinners.  I’m doing Pure Cult: The Singles 1984-1995.  Same album, different versions thereof with slightly different tracklistings.  Dig in!

Aaron: The Cult – Pure Cult: For Rockers, Ravers, Lovers, and Sinners

PURE CULTTHE CULT – Pure Cult: The Singles 1984-1995 (2000 Beggars Banquet)

The original 1993 Pure Cult was great.  It didn’t need to be updated only seven years later, but given the chance to remaster and repackage something must be irresistible to cigar-chewing execs.*  The remastering ushered in a series of Cult reissues, coinciding with a reunion tour.  There was also an issue with an unauthorized UK compilation from 1996 called High Octane Cult.  That CD, which contained an exclusive new song called “In the Clouds”, was discontinued and replaced by this new Pure Cult, which re-released “In the Clouds” on its tracklist.

“In the Clouds” is a smashing song, heavy as a really heavy thing, from 1995.  It was recorded for a potential followup to 1994’s The Cult, but released on High Octane Cult when the band split up.  The sound points towards the heavy metal direction of 2001’s Beyond Good and Evil.  The hard hitting snare of drummer Garret is deliciously snappy.   Although “In the Clouds” isn’t particularly memorable on its own, I love when the Cult go really heavy.   That makes this an unsung classic.

As for Pure Cult: The Singles, “She Sells Sanctuary” still opens affairs as it did on the old Pure Cult.  It remains as shimmery as it was in the glow of the 1980’s.  Ian’s irresistible howl doesn’t remind me of Morrison one bit actually, but let’s not forget Billy Duffy and his big white Gibson.  Duffy has always been about his guitar sound, which changes from album to album.  It seems his guitar sets the tone for the album, and “She Sells Sanctuary” benefits from his echo-laden Edge-isms.


The first six songs on the CD are the same running order as the original.  I have always been fond of the Cult’s Sonic Temple period, and “Fire Woman” has aged remarkably well.  Say what you will about Bob Rock, his production has stood up on this track.  Back then, he was trashed for glossing up the Cult’s sound too much.  By today’s standards, this is a sparse production!  But if you like it basic, “Lil’ Devil” produced by Rick Rubin is excactly what you need.  The Electric period is universally celebrated by Cult diehards as a high point, and you can see why on “Lil’ Devil”.

I dig Dreamtime‘s “Spiritwalker”, but I think “The Witch” is really cool.  Produced once again by Rick Rubin but going in a completely different direction, “The Witch” brought electronic dance beats to the Cult giving them an industrial edge.  “The Witch” was released on the soundtrack to a movie called Cool World in 1992, but it received wider exposure the following year on the original Pure Cult.  Regardless of a strong chart performance for the song, the Cult chose not to go with Rick Rubin for their next album and instead returned to Bob Rock!  “The Witch” remains a cool experiment and a great song.

Love‘s “Revolution” is still one of my favourite Cult ballads, and it helps you come down from the rush that is “The Witch”.  The “Love Removal Machine” and “Rain” keep the classic momentum brewing, but this is the first deviation from the original Pure Cult running order.  “Wild Hearted Son”, a hard rocker from 1991, has been moved to the end of the album, though it originally fell after “Revolution”.  Then “In the Clouds” takes us fully into heavy modern Cult territory.  1994’s “Coming Down (Drug Tongue)” represents the alterna-Cult that responded to the grunge onslaught.  These two newer songs don’t replace any others at this point on Pure Cult; rather they are inserted between “Rain” and “Edie (Ciao Baby)”.  Ceremony‘s “Heart of Soul” follows “Edie” for over eight minutes of power balladry, but since it’s The Cult we are going to let it slide.

The song “Love” has been deleted from the running order, and we go straight into the classic “Wild Flower”.  Every bit as good as “Love Removal Machine”, these hits are still slamming today.  “Star” from 1994 is unnecessarily inserted into the track list here, a forgotten single that nobody really cares about.  “Go West” and “Resurrection Joe” from Dreamtime are flipped in order; now “Resurrection Joe” comes first.  I like the jittery early Cult, but it’s stunning how they change from album to album.  “Sun King” is an interesting choice from Sonic Temple, though I do love the song, it wasn’t that well known as a single.  “Wild Hearted Son” is dropped in here, in single edit version without the intro.  Finally “Sweet Soul Sister” closes the CD, in its music video mix which is a nice track to have since it wasn’t even on the CD single.  Unfortunately the original ass-kicking closer “Earth Mofo” has been deleted!  That is truly a shame, since it is such a rush of a rock song.

Ultimately Pure Cult: The Singles 1984-1995 has one more track overall compared to the original release.  Unfortunately I don’t think it’s quite as good.

4.5/5 stars

* This CD was followed by the release of the 7-disc box set Rare Cult (a review of which is coming this year), and a compilation called Best of Rare Cult!

Monday: QUIET RIOT – Metal Health
Tuesday: DANKO JONES – Born A Lion
Wednesday: Aaron’s Black Crowes B-sides

REVIEW: The Cult – Beyond Good and Evil (Australian bonus track)

Second of a CULT double shot!  Click here for 1994’s The Cult.

THE CULT – Beyond Good and Evil (2001 Atlantic)

When The Cult finally reunited, the rock world rejoiced.  It felt like a long time, in that post-grunge wasteland, since the world had been blessed with any new Cult music.  Not only had they reunited (with their former drummer Matt Sorum, also formerly of Guns N’ Roses) but they had also reunited with producer Bob Rock, for the third time.   Much like his last outing with the band (1994’s The Cult), this Cult album sounds like none before it.  This time, The Cult have gone full-bore ground-shaking heavy metal.  The template was a song the old band were working on before they split “In the Clouds”, from 1996’s High Octane Cult.  The resemblance is uncanny.

BEYOND THE CULT_0003“War (The Process)” invites you to the stage.  Its weight is astounding; Duffy’s guitars crushing while Sorum attacks his kit as he always has.  Duffy’s guitars have acquired a much heavier metallic tone.  Bob Rock applies them in layers, which has always worked well for The Cult.  When “The Saint” enters, your head could be blown from your shoulders.  This is The Cult at their heaviest, but Billy’s melodic sensibilities are intact, and his guitars always sound like Billy Duffy.  Ian, of course, sounds like Ian, howling at the ghosts.

The single from this album was “Rise”, which is no less brutal than the first two tracks.  Its stuttering de-tuned riff recalls Kyuss or Queens of the Stone Age. Song after song, the album crushes.  “Take the Power” is a rallying crying over a noisy Duffy arrangement.  This time, the layers of guitars form this wall of awesome that threatens to fall on you at any moment.  Astbury is delivering a lot more melody with his lead vocals than he did on The Cult.

BEYOND THE CULT_0005“Breathe” offers a respite, but it’s only brief.  It soon turns into a mid-tempo groove rocker, but a forgettable one.  “Nico” is a highlight, an “Edie”-esque beauty.  It would have been my choice for a single.  Somebody should really start asking me.

No sooner have you had a chance to relax before “American Gothic” smashes through the wall.  This is one of the heaviest Cult songs to date.  Cult bassist Chris Wyse (back in the band today) has a solid groove but is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the Duffy guitar layers.  “Ashes and Ghosts” too is groove laden and heavy as plutonium.  “Shape the Sky” has a little bit of the old Cult’s prowl, but it’s still pretty heavy like spent nuclear fuel.  Ian has a knack for a cool chorus, and this is one of them.  “Speed of Light” has a bit of that robotic pulse from 1993’s “The Witch” before it descends into a detuned metal riff and chorus.  Then, “True Believers” gives you some breathing room again, although still slammed by electric guitars.  This slow tune is a bit more about the melody than the headache.

BEYOND THE CULT_0004The final song on most editions of Beyond Good and Evil is “My Bridges Burn”.  The Cult bow out on a scorching rocker, blowing the speakers out for those who dare to follow them.   Australia received an additional song, “Libertine”, on which to close.  This song feels like a coda and is powered by an Anthrax-esque stomp.  Top that with a soaring Astbury howl and those patented Duffy guitar melodies and you have a good summation of The Cult 2001.

I think many old-school Cult fans, the kind who think they made a wrong turn on Sonic Temple, would dislike Beyond Good and Evil.  For those of us who don’t mind the Cult when they just fucking rock, I think it’s a brilliant album.  The songs are not designed to be instantly catchy.   They are designed to create a sledgehammer of an album that relentlessly powers its way into your soul.  For me, it worked.  You could listen to it once and say, “Sure, it’s heavy, but there are only a couple memorable songs.”  Keep listening.  Let Beyond Good and Evil pummel you with body blows until all you can do is let it sink in.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Cult – The Cult (1994)

First of a CULT double shot!  Come back tomorrow for another!

CULT_0002THE CULT – The Cult (1994 Universal)

This is an ugly album.  Even though a 1989 MuchMusic interview with Billy Duffy revealed The Cult would most likely not work with Bob Rock again, they did indeed re-team with the Canadian producer on 1994’s The Cult.  Duffy didn’t think the magic of Sonic Temple was something that could be repeated, based on the less than satisfactory (to him) results of working with producer Steve Brown twice.  On The Cult, however, no attempt was made in any way to recapture any sound or era.  This was brand new from the womb of 1994, and sounds very dated to that dark time.

The twisted “Gone”, unorthodox and sparse, was a shock to the system.  Once the listener gets his or her bearings, it’s actually a great fucking song.  Just a little off-kilter; enough to sound as if it’s not being played right.  It’s a whole new side to The Cult.  I wonder how much of this has to do with the new lineup, including bassist Craig Adams (The Sisters of Mercy/The Mission) and drummer Scott Garrett (Dag Nasty).  Ian Astbury’s delivery was also quite different.  Rather than simply howling those patented Astbury melodies, Ian barks, whispers and bellows.

“Coming Down (Drug Tongue)” was the first single, very different from the hits from the past two or three albums.  It had a droning, U2-ish vibe.  It’s quite a good song, but it wasn’t love at first listen.  “Real Grrrl” has a slower sway to it, and there is a lot to like about the song.  It’s interesting to hear Bob Rock using open space a lot more in his production; this is right after the supersaturated Motley Crue album.  Much of the instrumentation is very dry, but then there are Bob Rock trademarks, such as the Scott Humphrey synth on “Real Grrrl.”

Sounding much like a Superunknown (the softer side thereof) outtake, “Black Sun” is dark and quiet.  Ian sings of abuse.  The band back him with the barest of instrumentation, before the Billy Duffy solo around 3:20.  It is impossible to ignore the similarities to all the grunge bands of the time.  The basic, stripped down guitar parts and rhythm-driven arrangements speak of the time.

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There are few standouts on The Cult.  The album is more cerebral than past Cult albums, and is more about its overall direction than individual songs.  The aforementioned tracks are all great, as are a few others.  They include “Star” (also a single) which is a song that was re-worked many times going back to Sonic Temple.  Previously, it had been known as “Tom Petty” and “Star Child”, and can be found in both forms on the expansive Rare Cult box set.  It is one of the few songs that slightly resemble “old Cult”.  “Be Free” was a single (in Canada at least) given away with a case of beer.  How Canadian, eh?  (I sold mine on eBay for $10).  It too is a pretty good song.  Then there’s “Sacred Life”, a somber ballad naming Abbie Hoffman, River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain as painful losses to the world.  Album closer “Saints Are Down” is a powerful epic, and also a standout.

The Cult broke up/went on hiatus after this album.  They reunited in 1999 (with Matt Sorum on drums) and released a new song called “Painted on the Sun” written by Diane Warren (!!) from the Gone in 60 Seconds soundtrack.  This was followed by the excellent Beyond Good and Evil CD, also produced by Bob Rock.  This self-titled departure remained just that, as The Cult went full-bore metal on Beyond Good and Evil.  This album is an experiment that went unrepeated, and that is fine.  I like it for what it is, but I don’t need another.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cult – Live Cult (Marquee London MCMXCI)

 

THE CULT – Live Cult (Marquee London MCMXCI) (Reissue)

This double live album was once the “Holy Grail” of Cult collectibles.  It was originally a limited release involving a confusion of two separate discs, mail orders and bonus CDs in some versions of Pure Cult.  Whatever, it’s been reissued (both CDs, the complete set) at retail…and now everybody can hear why The Cult went on hiatus at the beginning of the 90’s.  It’s just not that good.

Like almost all live albums, this one has its pros and its cons. To me, the biggest con is that The Cult had dug themselves into this vaccuous, stiff, homogenic, generic rock/metal sound. For example, the cuts from Electic, in particular “Wild Flower”, are robbed of all their energy and groove. The rhythm section was new, but did consist of the late, great Michael Lee (later of Page & Plant). But these were not the same guys who recorded Love, or Electric, in fact they had never played on a Cult album. Perhaps that is why these songs don’t sound like The Cult that we know, but some early 90’s rock metal hybrid version of The Cult.

Another con is that Astbury was pretty hoarse that night. However in a sense that is also a pro — the liner notes proudly state that there are no overdubs or edits, that this is “as it was” on that night. And I will take a genuine live album with a hoarse singer over any overdubbed live album, every single time. In fact one entire track (“Amplification Breakdown”) is dedicated to the space between two songs while Duffy gets an amp fixed!

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The track selection was adventurous, with lots of songs from Dreamtime and Love. “Brother Wolf, Sister Moon” is played live for the first time ever, according to Ian. They threw in a B-side (“Zap City”) and only a couple songs from their then-latest record Ceremony: They studiously avoided the too-mellow singles, and opted for lesser known rocking album tracks.

While this album was important as a document of a pre-hiatus Cult, before they reinvented themselves in 1994, it is a shame that the band was sounding so generically “rock” at the time, and little like the classic Cult. Perhaps that is why Ian and Billy felt like they had to reinvent themselves.

3/5 stars

More of THE CULT at mikeladano.com:

Weapon of Choice (iTunes exclusive release) + Capsule 1 + “Lil’ Devil” (double 12″ EP)