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Buyer's Guide: The Cult

From goths to indie kids to riff-packing rock heavyweights, The Cult produced some big-hitting classic rock.

They may have come from the ‘alternative’ ghetto, and were goth mainstays for the first few years of their career, but by the mid-80s The Cult made rock fashionable again, arguably for the first time since punk, almost singlehandedly allowing the names of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC to be dropped without fear of being jeered at by legions of shambling indie kids and preening new romantics.

It’s hard to believe that The Cult, as they mostly will be remembered – Billy Duffy, all leather trousers and legs akimbo on stage, his oppo Ian Astbury’s glorious mane topped with a skull-adorned stetson, howling at the moon – began life as Southern Death Cult, quintessential black-clad post-punks essaying a new form of alt.rock that soon earned the soubriquet ‘goth’. But listening to early SDC tracks such as Moya and its skeletal tribal rhythm, and the darkly mesmeric Fatman, you can hear a connection between the two entities. Still, SDC had about them an ascetic air that would be difficult to square with the all-drinking, all-shagging rock monster that The Cult became.

It was a chance encounter between Duffy and Astbury in 1983 – when the guitarist was still playing with Theatre Of Hate – at a Southern Death Cult gig at Keele University that changed everything.

“Ian came on with his mohawk and moccasins, his bells and self-made chaps, doing that weird little dance across the stage that he used to do,” Duffy recalled of Astbury’s Native American shtick. “And when he opened his mouth it was the loudest thing I heard in my life.”

First as Death Cult, then as The Cult (they changed their name before an appearance on Channel 4 music show The Tube), Duffy, Astbury and a Spinal Tap-rivalling array of bassists and drummers proceeded to make a lot of noise throughout the 80s, with the Love, Electric and Sonic Temple albums. The band – who once had Guns N’ Roses as their support – never quite managed to achieve their maximum potential, due to the usual potent cocktail of rampant egos and excessive indulgence. They entered the 90s, as they had the previous decade, as a cult band with a loyal following, as opposed to a globe-straddling behemoth. Once a cult, always a cult. But for a brief, shining moment they were up there with the gods.

ESSENTIAL - Classics

Electric, Beggars Banquet, 1987

It was originally going to be called Peace, until producer Rick Rubin became involved and the original sessions got scrapped. On their third album, The Cult’s metamorphosis from alternative chart minnows to mainstream beasts was complete.

Rubin gave their sound the requisite hard-rock lustre, perfectly framing Billy Duffy’s riffs and allowing Ian Astbury to unleash his inner wolverine. He also gave them permission to indulge their Zep and AC/DC fantasies on King Contrary Man and Lil’ Devil. Love Removal Machine’s rewrite of the Stones’ Start Me Up was less a sign of a dearth of inspiration, more sheer chutzpah. Electrifying.


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