EDITOR’S NOTE: We are beginning our regular segment to recall albums that have had major influence on members of the staff, in this case Sleeve. Expect future articles to cover albums across the spectrum of music and time periods.
The 80s were closing out, and the leather, lace, and stadium style rock anthems were still in full force. No one knew that Nirvana was going to dominate the scene quite yet with their grunge and flannel: only two years earlier, Motley Crue had released their most successful album “Dr. Feelgood,” and Guns N Roses had released Appetite for Destruction. There didn’t seem to be a change coming any time soon.
Though the sound of the 80s remained largely consistent, the field of music was changing. In some cases the 80s were become less about loud, reverb-y pop rock ballads and were mixing the signature loudness with a brash style of punk and hard rock. There was less lace and more tattered jeans, less synths and more guitar solos, and the only thing that seemed to stay 100% true to form was the big hair.
Across the pond from the USA, a different hard rock revolution was occurring: a group of rockers resided there that had their own success in 1987 with an influential album called “Electric” and a number one hit called “Love Removal Machine.” This album was the third installment for the hit group of today’s discussion: The Cult.
In many ways, the group was defining the best elements of the hard rock and punk infused 80s and were showing others how to keep the sound pure: just two guitars, a bass, drums, and a killer vocal section. The sound was dynamic and energetic, yet large as life and big enough to fill a stadium full of teenagers. No longer were the hit songs consistent of cheesy lyrics and pink spandex. They had been returned to their roots, the classic rock formula of four players playing the hell out of their respective instruments.
In 1989 The Cult would outdo the hard rock revival of “Electric” with an even more diverse, sonically pleasing album. The follow up, “Sonic Temple,” couldn’t have been more appropriately titled. In a lot of ways, this record defined a whole new style of sound. It wasn’t about the glitz and the glamour discussed earlier (pink spandex?): all of experience stemmed from the auditory transcendence it inspired, a true and pure blend of tones and rhythms.
As soon as you start the record you feel as if you’re being led into the inner sanctums of rock by a spiritual guru with a bass guitar. The bass notes chime in with rolling precision to a fine cymbal wash until you hear the echo of one of the largest and smoothest guitar tones put on record. This audio shamanism continues until your ears and senses are interlaced in the tapestry of sounds, and before you know it lead singer Ian Astburry screams in his hard rock Glenn Danzig growl. It’s at that moment that the song drops, the main riff plays, and you are banging your head to the amazing realization that, for all of its tonal joy, it still fucking rocks.
This feat, that of hard rock and the inspiration for head banging, is one the group has pulled off several times. What’s different from the last record is that the witchy, alchemistic lyrics that drive the band aren’t just represented in the lyrics singer Astburry sings. They envelope the entire experience, as you would expect from a group bold enough to call themselves “The Cult.” It feels like it well may be the product of a wolf child, or the pagan rituals of an actual Fire Woman. Many times, you have to ask yourself if you’ve actually given blood to listen to this record. It is astral perfection in terms of projecting your spirit to different, mystic realms. (EDITOR’S NOTE: We have verified Sleeve is not on any drugs presently.)
Billy Duffy, lead guitarist to the group, has expanded his versatility on this record as well: while always one to know his way around six strings, he is now able to use his tones to create larger than life soundscapes through natural reverb and large Marshall amp stacks. “She Sells Sanctuary,” the main single off the album, is as ethereal as anything the group has put out. The perfectly timed delay complimented by the solid, non-deviating rhythm section doesn’t need to shred all over the neck of his guitar. They are defined enough by their melody and tone that all he needs to do is play the tunes. However, when it’s time to go Bill and Ted and shred a mean solo lick Billy is still as attitude-ridden as ever in his style of playing. “Fire Woman,” the second single, shows he still has it when crafting a legendary tune with an even more legendary and stadium worthy guitar solo.
This was the first record for drummer Mickey Curry, but he has brought something washier to the sound. This is a compliment, the drums have always been dynamic to The Cult, but Curry brought what the album needed this time: a wider array of cymbals. He makes use of a larger, Neil Peart inspired drum set that accommodates for more creative use of the kit. Jamie Stewart, the consistent bassist for The Cult, kept the rhythm in line for the drums and has kept that sound consistent for the group amidst a shakeup in drummers. He reminds us that a solid bassist is just as important to a consistent and popping rhythmic sound for the band as the actual drummer.
It should also be noted that the legendary producer, Bob Rock, was the one who helped craft this record to perfection. Bob Rock’s resume speaks for itself, boasting everything from Aerosmith to Motley Crue, from The Cult to more recent acts like 311. Rock’s surname is quite appropriate, he has helped shape the sonic landscape for over two decades. If there was anyone up for the task of making a killer rock sound, one of auditory perfection and which cuts no corners for recorded perfection, it was Bob.
Albums like Sonic Temple, along with other albums like GNR’s “Appetite,” helped pave the wave toward the 90s. As groups like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Sound garden started gaining popularity The Cult often toured with these groups and fit in with ease. Their sound was recognizably more late 80s, but it was dark enough and rocked hard enough to fit in with the dreary, hard rocking sound the new decade was inspiring.
The 90s were a complicated time for music. Ultimately, it would be bands like The Pixies and revivals of classic rock like Deep Purple that helped shape the noisy and saturated sound of Nirvana. But we can’t forget what inspired the world to rock hard with four pieces and little else. The Cult enshrined a new sound to define the coming years of music, and it seems perfectly captured in the album “Sonic Temple.” It brought the 80s to a close with a rapturous applause.