Many groups are essentially the principals and an ever-revolving cast. In The Cult's case, the core is vocalist Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy. Throughout the group's volatile history a number of musicians either came from or went to notable bands. Drummers Mark Brzezicki (Big Country), Les Warner (Julian Lennon), Eric Singer (KISS), Michael Lee (Thin Lizzy), John Tempesta (White Zombie) and Matt Sorum (Guns N' Roses/Velvet Revolver) and bassists Martyn LeNoble and Kid Chaos all did a stint in The Cult. Given the list of players, it's probably not surprising that the group never managed to have the same line-up for more than two years.
Another curious point about The Cult was Astbury's peripheral yet recurring connection to The Doors' frontman, the late Jim Morrison. Both had an appreciation for Native American culture and mysticism. In the early '90s when director Oliver Stone was looking for someone to play Morrison in his movie The Doors he talked to Astbury about the role. Not liking how Morrison was going to be portrayed in the film, Astbury turned Stone down. And then there was Astbury's stint with The Doors Of The 21st Century (D21c) while The Cult was on a hiatus. This group had two founding Doors, guitarist Robbie Krieger and keyboardist Ray Mazarek. As might be expected, this outfit rolled through The Doors catalog with Astbury filling in for Morrison.
Twenty years earlier, Astbury was on a different track. A Brixton (rough part of London) native, Astbury formed Southern Death Cult in '81. This band did some recording but eventually mutated into Death Cult around the time Duffy joined two years later. Moving away from any Goth connotations, they became simply The Cult in early '84. The change served them well. Signed by the indie label Beggars Banquet, The Cult released the single "Spiritwalker" which went to #1 on the U.K. indie chart. Second single, "Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles)" also did well. But despite this success, the group's debut album was only distributed in the U.K. Later, it received a much larger distribution.
"She Sells Sanctuary" cracked the U.K. Top 20 in '85, then re-entered the chart the next year, staying active for 41 weeks. It became the group's signature song. Their sophomore effort "Love" led to a worldwide tour. The group's initial Punk leanings gave way to psychedelic influences (shades of The Doors again). While the singles "Rain" and Revolution" charted in the U.K. they did little damage in the U.S.
The Cult returned to the studio but were unhappy with the results. Traveling to New York, the group enlisted producer Rick Rubin to remix "Love Removal Machine." He would only help if they re-recorded the track. Eventually, he was able to persuade The Cult to make another run at the album. Though worried about budget, Beggars Banquet was impressed with the initial tracks and let the project proceed. "Electric" outsold "Love" and kept the group's fortunes on an upward trajectory. They toured the U.S. with a then relatively unknown Guns N' Roses as the opening act.
Touring has a nasty way of draining a band. And for The Cult it took a heavy toll with band members barely speaking to each other as the trek drew to a close. Astbury and Duffy fired Warner who then initiated several lawsuits over his dismissal and royalties owed. As all that wound out, the group moved to L.A. But their '88 album, "Sonic Temple" was recorded in Vancouver. "Fire Woman" was another Top 20 U.K. effort and the group spent a chunk of '89 opening for Metallica. Following yet another tour in '90, Sorum left for Guns N' Roses and Astbury organized A Gathering of Tribes Festival in L.A. The list of performers included Soundgarden and Iggy Pop. The event drew 40,000 and was seen as the inspiration for Lollapaloza, which was founded the following year.
Next up for The Cult was "Ceremony." Recording this album proved to be a particularly difficult process. Astbury and Duffy were rarely in the studio at the same time and when they were there wasn't much communication. As a result, the album's reviews were tepid and sales dropped way off. A self-titled set in '94 did little to reverse the group's sinking fortunes. A South American tour, already underway, was scuttled and the group disbanded. Over the next few years Astbury pursued other projects and recorded solo albums.
In '99, Astbury and Duffy revived The Cult for a Cult Rising reunion tour. Over the years, Beggars Banquet had regularly released Cult compilations of studio material and live recordings. To take advantage of renewed interest in the group, the label issued the "Rare Cult" box set in '00 that featured outtakes, demos, broadcast appearances and b-sides. It was at this juncture that The Cult and Beggars Banquet parted company with the group moving to Atlantic for '01's "Beyond Good And Evil." This too turned out to be an unpleasant experience but this time the troubles were external.
Astbury described working with Atlantic as a "soul destroying" experience. The label wanted lyrical changes, modify the cover art and select the singles. And even though "Rise" peaked at #2 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart, the album sales were well below expectations. Astbury felt the album was overproduced. "We just went too far with it," claimed the singer. "It took about a year and a half to make (and) an exorbitant amount of money." The Cult went on hiatus again.
Astbury joined the Doors Of The 21st Century (later changed to Riders On The Storm, for legal reasons). Duffy signed-on with Cardboard Vampyres. Sorum, who'd returned to the fold, found a new home with Velvet Revolver.
The Cult put itself back together (yet again) for an '06 world tour. With the trek completed, Astbury served notice to Riders On The Storm in February, '07. Later in the year, The Cult released "Born Into This" on Roadrunner Records. The album represented a change of direction for the band featuring a more 'real' and 'economical' approach.
"The Capsule EPs" dropped in '10 and were followed by the full-length "Choice Of Weapon."
The Cult added guitarist James Stevenson for their Electric 13 tour - so named because the group played the "Electric "album in its entirety. Stevenson, no stranger to The Cult, he toured with them in the mid-90s, replaced Mike Dimkich who'd left to join Bad Religion.
"Obviously, 'Electric' is very much a two-guitar album, one rhythm and one lead, so with Mike moving on, we've decided to welcome Stevenson back into the fold to play rhythm for the tour," said Duffy. "As a Cult alumni, James was the obvious choice."
Next, The Cult delivered "Hidden City." The '16 album, the fifth produced by Bob Rock, was viewed as the final part of a trilogy that began with "Born Into This." The band also hired bassist Grant Fitzpatrick to replace Chris Wyse. The Cult played their first show with Fitzpatrick at Stubb's Bar-B-Q in Austin, TX.
1989 Sonic Temple
1994 The Cult
2001 Beyond Good And Evil
2007 Born Into This
2012 Choice Of Weapon
2016 Hidden City
Catch The Cult on the rise. Their Wave Metal, with psychedelic overtones, is in full force on "Love." Though the follow-up, "Electric" sold more copies it doesn't quite measure up. "Love Removal Machine" is great but the cover of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" comes off as forced. John Kay's droll delivery on the original gave the song its lethal cool. Here Astbury and Duffy try to add muscle to a song that doesn't need it. "Dreamtime" is a potent start and next in line.
Later albums are hit or miss. Attempts to right things prove futile. Skip the '01 Atlantic effort and go straight "Born Into This."