Wolves, wilderness, life and death combine for The Cult’s stunning return.

With claims from singer Ian Astbury, that the album format was dead, there appeared no more chance of another Cult full length record than the Wolfchild settling down to a pen pushers dream job. Yet after working with UNKLE and Japanese noise rockers Boris, plus two Cult EPs, Astbury soon had other ideas. He and guitarist Billy Duffy headed in to the studio, along with Masters of Reality’s Chris Goss as producer, and started work on Choice of Weapon.

Having been ahead of the game with Love and Electric, The Cult were soon caught up by other players, and further Cult offerings lacked invention. The creative war between the Earth Fofo and his mystic woo woo stylings failed to ignite when struck against Duffy’s pure rock aesthetics, leading to the 90’s albums where the band lost its footing atop Mount Rock and took an indefinite break.

Come the turn of the century Beyond Good And Evil showed the Astbury/Duffy axis could still lay down an album of rock menace. Although a powerful set of songs it gained The Cult no ground, and another hiatus began. A shorter, shoutier album took five years to arrive. Born Into This showing a stripped back Cult could still land punches in a hard rock bout.

A further five years on and Choice of Weapon presents a depth and breadth of musicality on an expanding canvas never dreamt of in the cock rock of yore. Orchestration and piano infiltrate a Cult camp previously inhibited by guitars, drums and bass. Moments of theatre echo Bowie’s Ziggy aftermath, letting six strings share the spotlight with Ian’s baritone.

A buzzsaw chord with a pressing drumbeat announces the arrival of The Cult’s ninth LP. The raucous backing vocals consolidate Astbury’s call to arms with Duffy’s garage riffs displaying an urgency that flows through the album.

Elemental Light shows The Cult are still aiming for a big arena sound, proving a success for Bob Rock, who added to Goss’s earlier production work. Having birthed Sonic Temple, Rock aims at the same target this time. But The Cult’s intelligence and experience, allied with confidence, allow them to bravely tread a few steps away from their ground zero.

With a settled line up completed by Chris Wyse and John Tempesta, The Cult’s sound is breathing new life into the bloated rock corpse of 15 years ago, yet without abandoning the windmilling arms and swinging microphones so beloved of rock fans.

Titles like The Wolf and Wilderness Now give credence that rock’s newest renaissance man still sees himself born of nature and not of tight leather trousers. Life>Death show the subtle touches previously obscured from the view of a casual listener as the cowboy hats got in the way. The abrasive attack of Lucifer is highlighted by some squealing guitar work from Duffy. A Pale Horse reminds listeners of Dreamtime era titles but Astbury sings of love and death hiding in the shadows on this bar room rocker.

Choice of Weapon is laced with meanness, panic and violence as Astbury considers the world around him. He worries about humankind’s frailty and where we’re going. He’s causing us to think. Billy Duffy’s first class guitar work throughout serves up the musical platform for Astbury’s concerns, and stops them becoming soap box bluster of an earnest rock star. His playing resonates with the singer’s fear, allowing his guitar to further elaborate the anxiety.

It’s been a long time coming but perhaps now the public’s perception of the 80’s rock behemoth is not as neanderthal as once believed. But Astbury has always taken a more earthly viewpoint and hoping that all the tribes can get along. At the same time Duffy has played his White Falcon turned up to 11, drawing the listener away from deft musical touches. Same Cult, New Cult? Well, the combination may still be the same, but the outcome is surprisingly new.

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