A Mission of Mercy
The CULT Bite Down Hard
By Todd K. Smith

“Holy war, tears of man…we’re burning out of control. War a state of mind, War our hearts are blind. War, is nature dead?”
War (The Process) The Cult ~ Beyond Good and Evil

Our association with Cult axeman, Billy Duffy, first began some four years ago on a wind-swept winters eve. Three hundred of us packed a small club in Asbury Park, New Jersey shivering to the sound of our bones rattling together. Duffy, along with Alarm founder Mike Peters were putting together a side project and calling it Coloursound. The group looked to be a star-studded call-to-arms with the intensity of the Alarm seasoned with the assault of the Cult. A dangerous rhythm section originally forging Sisters of Mercy bassist with Mission UK drummer completed the post-gothic metal makeover.

The group lived up to its name. It truly was a soundscape of ideas that sometimes work with fevered passion and decibel-numbing aggression, yet other times fell flat - and when that happened their only redemption was a blistering live show. The CD tanked almost immediately after its release. And the promised live tour never fully developed. A phone call later, Duffy was on the road with Ian Astbury and Matt Sorum for a handful of Cult dates last summer, a first since their breakup in 1996. The band stormed the eastern seaboard with press reports heralding the return of four-piston rock.

“We wanted to see if the chemistry was still there,” said Duffy upon his return to Asbury Park with the fully restored Cult tour bus and three large eighteen-wheelers rumbling in the background. “Ian and I wanted to give it a go and see who would show up. Of course our only choice on drums was Matt (Sorum-ex Guns and Roses) we just needed to sort out a bass player. I guess I’m a little surprised to see we still have such loyal fans.”

In Duffy’s hands are a dozen or so CD booklet’s all stamped with the same title, Beyond Good and Evil. The eighth or so (give or take a few “Greatest Hits” packages) Cult album marks more than the just the return of arena rock. Each of the newly crafted twelve tracks say more about the band than critics dismissed when The Cult disintegrated seven years ago. Reuniting with producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Veruca Salt) at his Maui studio, the band return to the magic and force of Love coupled with the slam of Electric. American Gothic, Take The Power and Ashes And Ghosts are the disciplined backbone of traditional Cult songwriting while War, Speed Of Light and The Saint move beyond the ‘80s and cut new ground. Only the hippy-drenched Rise and Nico regress, ever so briefly, from the otherwise stunning return to their past stature.

But the group’s true nature lies in their live set. More – much more than a swagger through a jukebox catalogue, the tattooed five-piece erode a decade worth of grit and grim to manufacture a brilliant two-hour conversation with a seething crowd. Astbury, hair cropped tight against his scalp and draped with loose fitting “jogging sweats” unleashes his signature frantic wail reminiscent of the glory days when his leather dripped with sweat. He howls over the chorus of In The Clouds yet expands his range to dissect Love Removal Machine. There is the occasional strain to reach the upper rafters (a crack or two through Edie) but all in all a worthy performance.

Duffy drives the engine with feet firmly planted as he leans pack into a wall of marshaled volume. His solos are crisp and airy leaving room for a punishing backbeat to freight train trough the hall. His scowl is only occasionally disrupted by a sea of chanting punters paying tribute to the Godfather of the Gothic riff. The man is all business when his Gibson is harnessed between his thighs. She Sell Sanctuary, Fire Woman and Sweet Soul Sister are key elements for the guitar player but when his brow narrows and his figuring embraces the intro of the Rain the house burst into flames.

We always want our heroes back with more muscle, more fight and more brash attitude than ever before…and the Cult do not disappoint. They bring twenty years of history rolled up under their sleeves. Hailing from the ashes of Southern Death Cult (Astbury) and Theatre of Hate (Duffy) the primary focus of the union has always been to administer a post-puck edge to a drifting rock market. In the beginning Dreamtime with its chart topping single Spiritwalker paved the way for 1985’s Love. The sophomore disc propelled the boys from London’s dank clubs to the much more lively theatre setting and by mid-summer full on to stadium work. Electric co-produced by Rick Rubin focused the band on a Led Zeppelin flashback packing every show with chanting headbangers. Then came the Bob Rock classic Sonic Temple the boldest statement ever to come from the Cult camp.

MTV loved ‘em and so they broadcast Fire Woman night and day until the band sold millions. 1991’s Ceremony was a mere echo, and with the onset of the ‘90s, there was an uneasy stillness from the group. There were records and the occasional solo effort, but nothing came close to a souped-up rocket ride like the real deal. So it is with great pleasure that we welcome them back to rock us a second time.

Atlantic, The Cults record label, have recently released the next batch of headlining dates for the band which should see them at a shed near you.