The Cult Sells Sanctuary (and Riffs) at the Neptune Tonight
The Cult thunder into the Neptune Theater tonight, and they will rock. It’s a given, what with Billy Duffy’s Hammer-of-Thor guitar riffs and Ian Astbury’s larger-than-life rock star charisma leading the way.
But what stands out most in my mind about ‘em–way more than the nostalgia attached to their longevity (nearly thirty years in action, if you’re keeping track)–is their status as trailblazers. Don’t laugh: As far as I’m concerned, you can partially thank the veteran outfit for the way hard rock sounds today.
Back when The Cult started out in the early 1980s as part of Britain’s goth scene, their devotion to the Almighty Riff in all its chugging glory alienated them from their eyeliner’ed and black-hair-dyed brethren. And when frontman Astbury had the cojones to embrace his inner hippie for the band’s 1985 breakthrough album Love, the band caught major shit from the British rock press. Fans, conversely, begged to differ: The soaring brilliance of the record’s flagship single ”She Sells Sanctuary” propelled Love to the English Top Ten and inspired rabid idolatry on the stateside college charts.
Just when the world started to get comfortable with a pack of goth hippies, though, The Cult stripped down and cranked up, morphing into a loud, lean hard-rock band with 1987’s Rick Rubin-helmed Electric. The shift inspired even more incredulity at the time, despite the fact that Astbury’s penchant for flower-power lyrical detours stayed consistent. But the mammoth awesomeness of the resulting mix put The Cult on the top of the charts for the last half of the decade.
The Cult fell out of favor in the Clinton Years, toiling through a series of ho-hum records and an extended split just when other musicians started taking cues from Love and Electric. Bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Pantera proffered a style of hard rock that eased up on the wheedly guitar solos, injected traditional heavy metal with doses of psychedelia and goth, and employed singers who could sing at a lower register than metal’s customary police-siren wail. It’s easy to take such a sonic template for granted today, but The Cult were one of the few bands this side of Danzig to toy with it years before it became common musical language.
A lot of The Cult’s set tonight is sure to pull from their most famous ’80s efforts, but the fact that they’re touring behind a respectable new long-player, Choice of Weapon, counts as a bonus. The record strikes a nice sweet spot between Love’s psych-punk leanings and Electric’s animal crunch, vividly showcasing Astbury’s grandiose vocalizing and Duffy’s epic guitar work. Even so, it’s the band’s old goth-metal chestnuts that’ll be packing the house this evening. The Cult are still selling sanctuary, and plenty of people–yours truly included–are still ready to buy it.
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