When I first played Sonic Temple (The Cult's previous album) for some metalhead friends of mine, their immediate reaction was "Who the hell are these guys???" Who are these guys indeed! The Cult have led an eclectic musical career, to say the least, and their latest foray into metal, Ceremony, has met with a measure of success. From their early days on the British art-punk scene (a la The Fall, et al.) The Cult have always defied any simple classificatory scheme. In their current incarnation (reduced to two actual members, Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy) with a host of supporting musicians, The Cult have become metals' answer to Steely Dan: two talented guys and a studio full of musicians.
Ceremony shares with Sonic Temple a certain sound quality defined at its core by Billy Duffy's riff-crunching-power-chord-Marshall-Stack grunge. This is not to say the album lacks depth or breadth of sound quality, it doesn't, but rather there is a certain core sound effect generated by 10 or 15 Marshall Amps turned to 11. Make no mistake, metalheads, The Cult can kick with the best of them, but their emphasis on a sparser (sparse, not soft) song structure set them apart from the hyper-thrash of Anthrax or Megadeath. On the other hand, their sound isn't nearly as lightweight as Aerosmith (whom I like) or Guns and Roses (who I don't). If I had to classify The Cult's sound, it would have to be a hybrid of Black Sabbath, Big Country (remember them???) and AC/DC.
Their lyrics tend to be more coherent and motivated than most metal bands. By motivated I mean they have more on their minds than drugs, sex and beating up rock critics. The album opens with a fantastic intro to the ritual theme called "Ceremony", one of their best pieces yet. It is followed by "Earth Mofo", a spastic paean to the Earth Mother and part of the ceremonial theme of the album. It whirls and dips and carries you into the ritual core, preparing you to be catapulted into the next song, "White". The whole album proceeds this way, each song somehow a logical extension of the previous one, each one building on the themes of the earlier ones only to culminate in "Wonderland":
Tear the petals from this sweet narcissus
Crumbles gently in the palm of my hand
What once was inviting is dull and blinding
Once magnificent has slipped away
Serpent in my belly stomach crawlin' now
Wipe the sweat from my furrowed brow
Time's like quicksand
Soon again I'm standing naked in...
Along with the ceremonial/ritual theme of the album is an interesting leitmotif of the American Indian. On the cover of the album is a young Amerind child with ritual gear on and in the centerfold of the lyric sheet is a silhouette of an Amerind adult holding some sort of spear tipped with a cross. Very unusual. The lyrics also contain a certain degree of Ameriandian themes from the subtle (from "White"):
The hunter sits on a pure white stallion
A hawk in flight bow in hand
A deer approaches at the end of the forest
The arrow flies blood on the snow
to the outright homage (from "Indian"):
All the temples stand in ruin
Reaching out to the gods in the sky
While the Earth beats to the rhythm
My Indian lover's high high
All of which fits well with the overall feel of the album.
One final note on The Cult, there is a certain degree of postmodernism (aaaaarrrrrrrgggghhhh! Not the "P" word!) to The Cult. Their music will sound familiar even to people who have never heard them before. They have this ability to mesh together musical "feeling" if not the outright notes of a genre. Thus, there are songs that sound a bit like other bands even though there is no direct connection between the notes. I happen to like this kind of "homage", but it may irritate others so be forewarned.
But all in all, I would have to say that Ceremony is an extremely interesting, thoughtful and enjoyable album.
Phil Scarr - firstname.lastname@example.org
If - The tribes of eden are the people of the world. The different ethnic races of the world coming together in unity.
Ian Astbury - December 23/1991