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.
“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.
“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.
The 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.