Header image credit: Billy Duffy
“I am alive!” is the first we hear from frontman, Ian Astbury, as he belts out the lyrics from “83rd Dream” from The Cult’s debut album Dreamtime. For me, that proclamation has always encapsulated the energy and power of The Cult. If you have ever witnessed The Cult in the live setting, you will know what I am talking about.
Dreamtime, The Cult’s debut album, was released in September of 1984, but that’s not where this story starts. We have to go back to 1981 and the band Southern Death Cult, which featured Ian Astbury on vocals. He was joined by Buzz Burrows (guitar), Barry Jepson (bass), and Aki Nawaz Qureshi (drums). The band was, however, short-lived and only released a single titled “Moya” on Situation 2 records, and a compilation album of the single, a john peel session, and some live recordings.
Next, Astbury teamed up with Billy Duffy of Theatre of Hate to form Death Cult. Duffy also played in The Nosebleeds with Steven Morrissey previously. The lineup was rounded out by Jamie Stewart on Bass, and Raymond Taylor Smith on drums. Smith was deported back to his home country of Sierra Leone and was eventually replaced by Nigel Preston who was formerly of Theatre of Hate. The band released the EP titled Death Cult and followed that up with the single, “God’s Zoo.” In January of 1984, the band dropped the death from its name and simply became The Cult.
In September 1984, Dreamtime was released. It was preceded by the singles “Spiritwalker” and “Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles ).” Many of the lyrics and themes of the songs were inspired by Astbury’s fascination with Native American issues. “Spiritwalker” and “Horse Nation” are two examples of this. The album reached the top-30 in the UK, and the band toured through Europe and England. They then recorded and released the single “Resurrection Joe,” and then took on opening slots for Big Country and The Mission during their respective tours.
In May of 1985, the single “She Sells Sanctuary” came out, and a month later drummer Nigel Preston was fired and replaced by Mark Brzizecki of Big Country. Soon after, The Cult’s second album Love was released, and the band started a long tour with new drummer Les Warner.
Love spawned two more singles, “Rain” and “Revolution.” There was a fourth single only released in Poland called “Nirvana.” After the tour, The Cult set about recording their next album, Peace, with Love producer, Steve Brown.
The band was not happy with the sound of the record and went to New York to have Rick Rubin remix Love Removal Machine. He agreed but only if they re-recorded the song as well. To the band’s record label’s dismay, the whole album ended up being re-recorded, and once completed, it was renamed Electric.
“Love Removal Machine” was the lead single, followed by “Lil’ Devil” and “Wildflower.” Electric served to move The Cult even further into the mainstream with its harder sound and riff-heavy rock anthems. They toured heavily for the record and started with a headlining tour with Guns N’ Roses opening. At this time, Guns N’ Roses were not known and their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, had only recently come out.
I was able to see this tour, and the show I was at was epic. Guns N’ Roses set was interesting but the main standout was their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heavens Door.” I also took notice of Slash’s trademark hat and Axl’s purple leather pants. It’s funny the things we remember in retrospect.
As for The Cult, they came on and established themselves immediately. The show was heavy on Electric songs with Love tunes thrown in here and there. They opened the show with “Nirvana” from Love if I recall. The performance was going as planned, and I assume when Ian Astbury noticed a security guard rough up a fan, he attacked the security guard and all hell broke loose. Astbury was arrested and the show broke out into a riot. It was quite the scene. I also heard that Billy Duffy went and played with Rock and Hyde as they were doing a show in the same area, while Astbury was being hauled off. I have seen The Cult twice after that, once opening for Metallica and then, Billy Idol, but none compare to that show. I also missed out on two shows. I had a ticket for the Love tour but my car broke down, and I was stuck and couldn’t get there. They also did a free show at a club in the mid-90s that I was in line for, but the club filled up before I got in.
The Cult followed up Electric with Sonic Temple, which to me, sounded like a hybrid of Love and Electric. The lead single, “Fire Woman,” gave me a real “She Sells Sanctuary” vibe. I would say this record was not as heavy as its predecessor. Other songs from the album released as singles were “Edie (Ciao Baby),” “Sun King,” and “Sweet Soul Sister.” This album was produced by Bob Rock, and the original demos of these tracks were done with Eric Singer (later of Badlands, and KISS). Mickey Curry was the drummer for the proper recordings, as the drummer carousel continued. This album may have been the peak of The Cult’s popularity.
Next up was Ceremony in 1991. By this time, The Cult had been reduced to Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy as the only official members. Even at that juncture, they recorded their parts separately as they were not getting along. Session musicians were used, as Jamie Stewart had left the band by this time. “Wild Hearted Son,” and “Heart of Soul” were the singles, and despite the turmoil, the album still did well. In 1994, The Cult released their self-titled album, The Cult. There were two singles, “Coming Down (Drug Tongue),” and “Star.” Sadly, the band broke up after this record.
The Cult did however reform five years later and released Beyond Good and Evil. The album did poorly and they went on hiatus again until 2006. Three more albums followed, Born Into This (2007), Choice of Weapon (2012), and Hidden City (2016). Despite being quality offerings, these albums never reached the level of prime work The Cult put out in the 80s.
The Cult continues to be active and talk of a new album is still afoot. They were scheduled to do some shows in the UK this year, but it seems to be up in the air again as of now. In my opinion, The Cult, as a band, was practically flawless over their first three albums despite the slight stylistic changes. They have had good records after that, but for me, those are the classics.
Please enjoy the video below regarding The Cult:
Be sure to check out the full archives of Surface Noise, by John Siden, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/surface-noise-archives/