Born out of the ashes of the UK post-punk scene, The Cult evolved to become one of the most influential and controversial rock bands of the late 20th century, selling millions of albums, headlining arenas and stadiums around the world, infusing innovative possibilities into the worlds of music and art, and quickly ascending through the ranks of the indie music world to achieve global status. As early as its first American tour in 1984, The Cult became one of the handful of important bands in the U.S. post-modern and hard rock communities. The band was embraced by the lost children of The Doors and Velvet Underground, and a generation that was waking up to the influence of 60s and 70s rock icons like Led Zeppelin, The New York Dolls and David Bowie.
Formed in Brixton, London in 1983 as Death Cult, The Cult’s music transformed from punk rock to post-punk, psychedelia, heavy dance music, and transcendental hard rock. As one journalist noted, “Using a few simple riffs and images, The Cult creates an entire environment, one more exciting and stimulating than our own.”
And that may just be what separates The Cult from other artists. Imagery is all-important to vocalist/lyricist Ian Astbury, imagery in the music and in the art that accompanies the Cult’s projects. Astbury is attracted to words and the image that each word creates. He is engaged by the power of nature, folklore, the concept of destiny, animal power symbols, the survival of the species, spirituality, and certainly the Native American myth and culture, a subject of many of The Cult’s songs.
The constant core of The Cult is Astbury and guitarist/composer Billy Duffy. Attitude incarnate, the chemistry between these two vastly different artists – equal-parts genuine affection and palpable tension – remains the source of their long-standing partnership. Duffy grounds Astbury’s esoteric side with a hard rock perspective, and there is no doubt that at all times, these two have each other’s backs.
Following a string of EPs and singles in the U.K., The Cult signed to Beggars Banquet Records and released its debut album, Dreamtime, in 1984. They were immediately booked by famed indie champion Ruth Polsky to perform at the legendary Danceteria in New York City. “We arrived in New York in July 1984,” remembers Astbury. “As soon as we landed, I knew I was home.”
In 1985, the band recorded the Love album with producer Steve Brown, experienced its first high-profile success with the classic track “She Sells Sanctuary” that won a CMJ Award for Song of the Year, presented to the band by Yoko Ono. The Cult was then quickly signed by Seymour Stein to Sire Records, home of Madonna, Talking Heads and The Ramones. To support Love, The Cult embarked on its first major world tour that took them throughout the U.K. and Europe, to the U.S. and Canada, first-time concerts in Tokyo and Osaka, and a booking on “Saturday Night Live.” “Touring was a major part of our lives,” said Astbury. “We never seemed to be home during the 80s, and that took its toll upon our psyche.”
Following the breakthrough success of Love, The Cult solicited producer Rick Rubin in 1986, originally to assist in finishing its album Electric; but eventually, the band re-recording the entire album with Rubin as producer at New York City’s Electric Ladyland Studios. “We couldn’t believe it at first,” remembered Duffy, “but we finally realized that he was right. He was tough on us in the studio, making me come up with whole new riffs for song, but it was worth it. We got the album we wanted. It’s got the power of the bands that first made us want to be in rock ‘n’ roll.”
The Electric album was released in 1987, and while it went on to be featured in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die,” it polarized critics and audience members. Regardless, Electric peaked on the U.S. and U.K. charts at #38 and #4 respectively, became the band’s first Platinum album, and was supported by a world tour with Guns N’ Roses in the opening slot for the North American leg. Beginning in January of that year, The Cult headlined arenas in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Australia, opened select dates for Iggy Pop and David Bowie, returning at the end of the year to sell out Wembley Arena and Brixton Academy in London. The pace was intense.
After nearly seven years of non-stop touring and recording, The Cult moved to Los Angeles in 1988 and began work on Sonic Temple, setting up shop in Vancouver with Bob Rock. This was to be a watershed moment. The band was at the top of its game, and Sonic Temple became The Cult’s second album to achieve Platinum success when it was released in 1989. Sonic Temple featured some of The Cult’s most popular songs including “Fire Woman,” “Sun King,” “Edie (Ciao Baby),” and “Sweet Soul Sister,” and the band achieved critical and commercial success as the album attained the #10 spot on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. Additionally, the band’s promo videos were a fixture on MTV’s main rotation, and The Cult was the first band to appear on the legendary “120 Minutes” and “Headbangers Ball,” simultaneously. The Sonic Temple tour was an unprecedented success, but took its toll mentally and physically on the band members.
Nineteen-ninety-two saw the release of Ceremony that rose to #25 on the Billboard charts and was well-received by the band’s core audience. The Cult went on to perform to its biggest crowds yet, with Lenny Kravitz signed on as an opening act. The tour wound up in a glorious celebratory night at the Los Angeles Forum.
Again, Rick Rubin entered the picture, producing ‘The Witch’ as part of an eclectic soundtrack for the movie “Cool World.” The band then forged ahead and began working with producer Bob Rock on its fifth studio album simply titled The Cult. The album, stripped down and raw in its lyrical content, reached #1 on the UK charts.
Performing at Australia’s “Big Day Out” in early 1995 alongside Primal Scream, Ministry and Hole, the cracks were evident with Astbury’s performances becoming more and more erratic. After a particularly adrenaline-fueled show, Astbury left the tour and the band on Rio de Janeiro’s Copa Cabana Beach. “I sat in a hotel room in Miami and got my head together,” confessed Astbury. “I decided I wanted to explore another direction.”
Astbury recorded two albums in the space of three years, Holy Barbarians and Spirit Light Speed, that was produced by Chris Goss, while Duffy, along with the Alarm’s Mike Peters, formed the group Colorsound.
In 1999, The Cult returned with a heralded, sold-out seven-night stand at the House of Blues on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, renamed the “House of Cult” for the run. A new record contract with Lava/Atlantic Records quickly followed. However, no one could have predicted what was about to take place in America, much less the music industry, when 9/11 happened. Although the band’s sixth studio album, Beyond Good and Evil, proved to be prophetic with songs such as “War” and “Ashes and Ghosts,” the Time Warner/AOL merger essentially left the band without a functioning label. Recalls Astbury, “When we arrived in New York City about a month after 9/11 for a gig at Madison Square Garden with Aerosmith, the mood was subdued, it was heartbreaking.”
In 2007 The Cult launched the “Return To Wild Tour,” signed a new deal and in 2007, released Born Into This, produced by lauded British producer Youth, and acclaimed by fans and critics. The UK’s Mojo called it “a wholehearted, utopian and irrefutably exciting record.”
In 2011, The Cult – Astbury, Duffy, drummer John Tempesta and bassist Chris Wyse – recorded Choice of Weapon, the band’s first new studio album in five years, and was released on May 22, 2012 on Cooking Vinyl Records. Long-time Cult collaborator and producer Bob Rock put the finishing touches on the foundations that were laid by producer Chris Goss. The album’s 10 tracks, reveal the band at its rawest and most visceral, encapsulating cinematic visions and themes of love, revolt and redemption.
The Cult released their tenth studio album of their stellar career on February 5th 2016 with the epic ‘Hidden City’, produced by Bob Rock and written by Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy. It’s the final part of a trilogy that has witnessed the rebirth of the band, beginning with ‘Born Into This’ (2007), which evolved into ‘Choice of Weapon’ (2012), and arrived fully formed, kicking and screaming with the seductive ‘Hidden City’.
The sonic assault of ‘Dark Energy’ is the perfect intro to this startling new album. Peel away the layers of this 12 track master class in space and time, and you will discover a band in their absolute prime. Which comes as no surprise, as the Cult have existed in the shadows and wild spaces since their inception.
According to Astbury, “We don’t have fans, we have devotees. You either need it or you don’t. You either get it or you won’t. There is nothing casual about The Cult.”