Beyond Good And Evil

The group's first album in seven years, Beyond Good and Evil, confirms that the Cult is one of the most unintentionally hilarious bands ever to fly the flag for rock 'n' roll. After shedding the gothic and psychedelic trappings of earlier incarnations, the British-born and later L.A.-based band customized Led Zeppelin's Sturm und Drang, AC/DC's riffs and the Doors' mysticism for an alternative-rock audience in the1980s. They took their mission very seriously -- the word "irony" never entered their vocabulary, though "overkill" often did. While 1985's She Sells Sanctuary remains their most familiar hit due to overexposure on beer commercials, their essence was best captured in the climax of 1989's Love Removal Machine. Singer Ian Astbury howled "macheeee-eee-eee-eeen, uh, yeah-ah" just as guitarist Billy Duffy's king-sized riff kickstarted it all over again. It was a moment as potent as it was ludicrous.

But as any VH1 Behind the Music special will show you, a flame that burns so brightly can only burn half as long, mama. The band split in 1995 after two mediocre discs early in the decade. A successful reunion tour in 1999 (featuring original members Astbury and Duffy plus drummer Matt Sorum and bassist Martyn LeNoble -- since replaced by Billy Morrison) paved the way to Beyond Good and Evil, and if you're the sort of person who wants to hear a Cult album in 2001, this is exactly the album you'd want to hear.

Performing and writing with renewed vigour, Astbury and Duffy have finally figured out how to combine the retrograde rock style of the Cult's best albums, Love and Electric, with the streamlined grunge of Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots. Of course, that still makes them about 10 years out of date, but songs like Rise and Take the Power are as dumb, loud and cool as they need to be, and True Believers and Shape the Sky prove that the Cult can create strident, arena-ready anthems with the same aplomb as the revitalized U2.

It also helps that there's nothing here as risible as their power ballad on last year's Gone in 60 Seconds soundtrack, Painted on My Heart. After all, the Cult's most convincing love songs have always been written about dead celebrities. Back in the late 1980s, it was Edie (Ciao Baby), a tribute to Edie Sedgwick, the drugged-up 1960s model and Warhol superstar. In 2001, it's Nico, a tribute to another drugged-up 1960s model and Warhol superstar. Clearly, everything is as it should be on Beyond Good and Evil, especially with Duffy delivering a truckload of decent riffs.

And while the singer's pretensions are easy to ridicule, he's rarely less than entertaining. In War (The Process), when Astbury follows his question, "Is nature dead?" with a thoughtful "whoa-oah, whoa-oah!" who can argue with him?


If yet another hard rock renaissance is on the way, then the Cult - one of the few bands flying the flag back in the electropop 1980s with Electric ('87) and Sonic Temple ('89) - are more than ready. They spent the 1990s largely fighting a losing battle to advance their cause by incorporating elements of trendy musical movements like electronica and grunge (as they did on their last studio album, the critically lauded but commercially invisible eponymous 1994 release), but the pride of Bradford, England have apparently decided, like U2, that the winning new formula is the old back-to-basics approach.

Beyond Good and Evil is thus heavily slanted toward the kind of trad heavy rock that guitarist Billy Duffy has favored throughout much of the band's near-20-year existence, with the more adventurous side of the other main Cult-er, leather-lunged vocalist Ian Astbury, kept well in check. And for the first third of the album, the band (featuring new bassist Billy Morrison and, after a stint in Guns N' Roses, returning drummer Matt Sorum) rocks out with the kind of gusto and aplomb too seldom heard in this era of hackneyed sports metal. The opening track, "War (The Process)", features grinding neo-Sabbath riffs (perhaps Astbury was converted by his recent cameo on Tony Iommi's solo album) tempered by some atmospheric gothedelic touches, while the irresistible uptempo rocker "The Saint" finds Astbury commanding listeners to "hail the guitar" before going on to posit himself, with typical immodesty, as a rock and roll savior - or is it more the savior of rock and roll?

Whichever it is, the Cult do enough here to justify Astbury's pose. The exhilarating "American Gothic" lives up to its billing with brooding riffing from Duffy that recalls the band's dark '84 debut Dreamtime - especially when Astbury yowls about "Eating the cancer cells from the death machine." Not everything works, though. "Nico", yet another poppy paean to a dead Warhol superstar in the vein of Sonic Temple's (far superior) "Edie (Ciao Baby)," clunks along with way-too-obvious lines like "I watched your spirit fly/ Across the velvet sky." And when, on the formulaic power ballad "True Believers," Astbury laments, "All you true believers/ You gotta move on with your lives," it's hard not to feel just a bit puzzled. On a work so thoroughly retro, just what is Astbury really saying? After all, after a seven-year absence, without true believers, just where would the Cult be?

Johnny Walker (Black) - VH1

A quick refresher in Cult 101. Belter extraordinaire Ian Astbury and understated guitarist Billy Duffy formed the band after working in the preliminary goth/punk outfits Southern Death Cult and Death Cult, officially becoming the Cult in 1984. They released the indie Dreamtime that year. What followed was an unpredictable evolution, even by rock band standards. They released Love, an album that seamlessly blended their goth roots with Carnaby Street psychedelia and muscular hard rock. The single "She Sells Sanctuary" literally propelled the summer of '85. Then, the Rick Rubin-produced Electric stripped it all down to grit n' grease AC/DC bonecrunch, making the Cult the kings of meat n' tators, no-stylistic-additives rock. With Sonic Temple they polished it to metallic perfection, and with Ceremony (especially the tour) they played it as Spinal Tap minus the laugh track. After such a whirlwind, the released a #1 UK-only best of, and came back with The Cult in '94, which I don't even remember. Now, seven lucky years later, Astbury, Duffy, and the most famous of their numerous drummers, Matt Sorum (ya know, Guns N' Roses) are gonna see if it'll all fly just-a one mo' time.

The album kicks in with "War (The Process)," a song that works a Mountain-sized "Mississippi Queen" riff into a modern rock powerhouse, topped off with a ton of special effects courtesy producer Bob Rock, and feedback deluxe from Mr. Duffy. There's a bit of distorted vocals for effect, but mostly Astbury just belts it out in the soulful, bluesy, full-voiced splendor for which he is known. The first thing that strikes you over the head right away is that this is indeed classic Cult firing on all cylinders, but also that the guitar sound has been beefed up and fattened to a fullness not previously associated with their recordings. In fact, Duffy has always made sort of a point of playing it on the lean, razor-sharp side, hearing him lay out such meaty, heavy, low-ended riffs is uncharacteristic. Yet, it will be the hallmark by which fans identify the Cult of 2001. On the first single, "Rise," Duffy pulls a number of guitar moves at once. It starts off with a stuttering two-chord pattern that could be fuckin' Pantera, of all things. Then, a snaky, two-string paisley-stoked line, very similar to "She Sells Sanctuary," makes an appearance. Lighter, chorused open chord guitars sail overhead in stereo, and it all works together, combining most of Duffy's well-known moves in one splendid song. It is a brand new Cult that bows graciously to it's own self-created roots.

Sorum, for his part, being a drummer's drummer confident enough in his abilities to almost never show off, puts the hammer down and keeps the beat with maximum intensity. No doubt, the psychedelic and goth overtones that have always rose-tinted the edges of Cult's music are in constant evidence, yet there's no mistaking this collection for anything but a butt-kicking rock n' roll record.

There are moments of respite, such as the intro to "Breathe," in which Duffy (again) reprises the "Sanctuary" motif. Hey, when something works? Astbury croons that sonic swagger that is his alone, and it is a glorious (and welcome) sound. He turns it down a notch to return to the theme of the Warhol girls once more with "Nico," an ode to the fallen idol of many an alt rocker's Velvet fantasies. The song's crescendo, apparently symbolizing the chanteuse's fall into the depths of decline, is maybe a bit melodramatic. They nailed the theme with "Edie (Ciao Baby)" a little better, but at least someone is eulogizing these women with some respect.

Everything gets maximum overdrive (check out the sound of the bass, it sounds like a goddamn fuel injection engine) on the brooding "American Gothic." Ian belts the chorus: "Black star, white light, eating the cancer cells from the death machine." Huh? Good rock is open to interpretation, right? The production value on this one is over the top, the break downs and builds are immense.

This is a true return to form for the Cult, one that modernizes their always majestic sound, while still cherishing the signature elements of their style that were uniquely their own. It's straight-ahead galvanized hard rock with soul and confidence, dynamics, excellent production, and superb performances. It's admittedly hard to top either Love or Electric, as they were both enriched with the vitality of their freshness and newness at the time of their release. Beyond Good and Evil retains the original stylistic innovations of the Cult while propping them up in a favorable light that gives them that feeling of newness again. This is a very successful and satisfying offering from a band that didn't even really need to come back this strong to make it's point.


S.L. Duff, Freelance Writer

As if fueled by fear that anyone might accuse them of losing their edge, the Cult are back, and harder than ever. More than 15 years after She Sells Sanctuary, Ian Astbury's crew continues to earn its place in the hybrid genre the Cult helped define--between metal, new wave and punk. Hankering for the '80s? This hits the spot.

Sarah Valdez (Interview Magazine - June 2001)