The Cult Choice Of Weapon Album Review
Before I begin this review, let me state that I’m not a casual Cult fan, but a diehard devotee. So to see how this may color my review, feel free to check out my earlier post regarding the impact this band has had on me personally.
The Cult are a band that appeal to a diverse group of music fans. You have the subset who got into them when their gothic rock album ‘Love’ was released in 1985, others who were impacted by their stripped down 1987 Rick Rubin produced ‘Electric’ and the rest who were taken in by their biggest selling album to date, the Bob Rock behemoth ‘Sonic Temple’. After that their career has waxed and waned. 2 strong albums that were largely ignored by the mass media (their self titled 1994 release and their heaviest outing to date ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, both produced by Rock) are much deserving of reappraisal. Their weakest albums were 1991’s ‘Ceremony’ and their last release, the relatively anemic sounding ‘Born Into This’ (which still befuddles me. How can an album produced by Youth from Killing Joke, be so lacking in bite?). As for me, I was inoculated through Electric, made my way back to ‘Love’ and have been a die-hard ever since.
Perhaps dissatisfied with the sales and impact of ‘Born Into This’ , vocalist Ian Astbury said the album format was dead in an interview with the El Paso Times, and the band released several ‘capsules’; 4 song releases which also included shirts or short films. Fans like myself weren’t having it; we come from an era that loved albums, and we want a full body of work. So they changed their tune and now we have ‘Choice Of Weapon’, which shares co-producing credits with the aforementioned Bob Rock as well as Chris Goss (Kyuss, Queens of The Stone Age).
So after the long wait between releases, how does ‘Weapon’ compare to past glories or lackluster efforts?
Well it is above and beyond superior to ‘Born Into This’. They certainly seem re-energized and a tighter unit. This is a band that has gone through so many rhythm sections that it’s a minor miracle they have now had the same lineup since 2005. Chris Wyse is a solid bassist (and backup vocalist) and John Tempesta (formerly of White Zombie and Helmet) is the best drummer they’ve had since their original, the late Nigel Preston.
‘Honey From A Knife‘ kicks the album off, and it’s a solid starter. A gritty riff provides lift off, with Ian belting in his inimitable style. He digs into his familiar lyrical bag of tricks “My Wild Indian heart was pounding!” This is classic Cult. It’s reminiscent of ‘Electric’ melded with the grungier elements of their self titled release. Any good Cult album needs a song that risks you receiving a speeding citation while flying down the highway and this one fits the bill.
‘Elemental Light’ follows and it’s a dynamic, psychedelic number, again sounding akin to their self titled album (specifically ‘Black Sun’). A slow building verse breaks into a strong melodic chorus.
‘The Wolf’ will sound very familiar to Cult fans, both in lyrics and riffage, as Billy Duffy reworks a riff that he’s used countless times over, from ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ to ‘Love Removal Machine’. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s solid and very catchy with a cowbell driven drum beat straight out of Mountain’s ‘Mississippi Queen’. Some flatted 5th guitar notes in the verse help give their familiar style a bit of diversity.
‘Life>Death’ follows and it’s one of my favorites here. A Led Zeppelin styled verse builds to a melodramatic glam rock chorus that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Queen, Suede or Muse song, especially with lyrics of epic portent such as “You can’t destroy them, the beauty and the youth, you’ll never beat them, you’ll never hide the truth”. This has an atypical feel for them, but it’ll grow on you quickly and it’s very stirring.
‘For The Animals‘ is the first single and a damn good song too. It has a sturdy, muscular riff and one of Duffy’s best shredding solos in ages. I love the minimal repeated piano figure during the verses, obviously a nod to the Stooges ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. I love the slightly atonal notes Duffy plays in the chorus, which gives it a nice dark edge that is satisfying to the eardrums.
‘Amnesia’ shows off the tightness of the band, with another great riff from Mr Duffy.
‘Wilderness Now’ is another somber ballad, with the near 50-year-old Astbury contemplating his mortality; ‘I can’t wake from this dream, Death walks right beside me, and light shines right behind me’. This is a very ‘Love’ sounding track, with slight goth flourishes.
‘Lucifer’ was offered as a free download months back, and I’m not sure this was a great one to start promoting the album with. It’s not bad, but it seems a bit lacking somehow. It seems like they were going for a vibe like ‘The Witch’ or ‘Take The Power’ but without enough bluster to back it up.
‘A Pale Horse’ is my least favorite here. Something about it never gets off the ground. Lyrically it’s also a bit clunky ( “I’ll crush your sweet skull”) and it just falls a bit flat.
‘This Night In The City Forever’ is the official final song on the album, and it conjures the band’s Door’s obsession (for whom Astbury briefly sang for). Contemplative, trippy and atmospheric, this is the Cult that I like to hear more of. Sometimes they keep things so succinct they don’t give themselves permission to create soundscapes, so it’s always pleasing to hear something tangential from them.
I strongly recommend getting the extended release; it has several songs from the bands ‘capsule’ experiments that may have slipped through the cracks given their more limited exposure beyond the diehard Cult fan base. ‘Every Man and Woman is A Star’ and ‘Embers’ don’t set the world on fire, but the latter 2 tracks do. “Until The Light Takes Us’ (the title is in reference to the black metal documentary of the same name ) is wonderful. This was produced solely by Goss and you can tell as it has a heavy psychedelic, oppressive feel straight out of the QOTSA and Them Crooked Vultures playbook, combined with some very Jimmy Page-esque guitar slides. Dynamic and galloping, this song delivers.
‘Siberia’ is even better. This is the most gothic thing the band has done since the 80’s replete with a ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ skittering beat and bass line. This feels like it was born out of a jam and recorded fast so as not to lose the feel. It’s dark romanticism makes for one of the strongest songs the band has done in years. Speaking of, why do the Cult seem to relegate some of their best tracks as b-sides? ‘Stand Alone‘ was an extra off their last album, and it was the best song there by far. Why wasn’t that a single? And ‘In The Clouds‘ is one of their best songs period and wasn’t included on the ’94 album. Strange.
So final verdict? If you love the Cult, pick this up. It’s no ‘Love’ or ‘Electric’ but there are some strong songs here worthy of your time, and I feel the album growing on me more with each listen. If you’re someone who forgot about them post ‘Sonic Temple’ or are unfamiliar with the band and are missing some solid rock, this album has a craggy charm which may appeal to you.
Ian can’t hit all the notes he did when he was in his 20’s but his voice still has more character than any current vocalist in rock and Billy Duffy still anchors him handily. The Cult are survivors, and make music for those who truly gain sustenance from a badass rock song. And that’s why I’ll always love them.
Be sure to catch them live if they play in your town, as it is the stage where the Cult always fully deliver and are truly in their element.
Here’s the iTunes link for the special edition: