Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief

Three decades of devotion with The Cult

12/20/2013


Occasionally, bands go through phases. These are natural stages in their development that might be seen, if not for the obvious sincerity of intellectual inquiry, as somewhat calculating. A passing fancy. A pose.

The dark side of reinvention is one of eternal cynicism.

It would be all too easy, arms folded all the while, to suspect that The Cult, growing through its various guises over 30 years — first as Southern Death Cult, then Death Cult, and finally The Cult — might present a series of diminishing returns with each of those successive iterations.

And yet what it’s all about, devotion, is the essence of any cult worth its salt.

It’s a faith in what the musicians do as a creative entity, faith in the spiritual inquiries of frontman Ian Astbury and where he takes the band with the lyrics he writes that has remained remarkably unshakable. Astbury’s main inspirational import, that of the imagery of Native American spirituality, suffuses everything he does with a kind of otherness that transcends the usual rock ’n’ roll tradition of excess.

Seekers of truth tend to need deeper questions than “Are you ready to rock, Pittsburgh?”

The band — Astbury on vocals and percussion, guitarist Billy Duffy, bassist Chris Wyse, drummer John Tempesta and second guitarist James Stevenson — finds itself on tour promoting Electric Peace. It’s an album that’s two parts of the same self: Peace, which was the Steve Brown-produced 1986 version of what became the Electric album in 1987 (which will be performed in its entirety at the Ventura Theater). Dissatisfied with the Brown sound, The Cult went to Rick Rubin to re-record and re-produce the recordings into an entirely different direction from the previous album, the multimillion selling Love. It was, at that point, a fairly surprising choice for a new ear, Rubin having been associated most notably with hip-hop at that point, having unleashed the Aerosmith/Run-D.M.C. “Walk This Way” fusion juggernaut into public consciousness just shortly before.

And yet it was a gamble that worked. The Cult took it on faith that it would.

This is not to say that everyone has believed in the band’s artistic choices. The parents of the Oglala Lakota Sioux boy from South Dakota on the Ceremony LP famously sued The Cult, blunting its artistic thrust for the better part of almost two years. Changes in direction of the band lost it fans (who weren’t so fanatical after all) and yet The Cult continues onward. It is a machine of belief unto itself, self-perpetuating as long as that belief holds out, break-ups and breakdowns notwithstanding.

“We attract pure votaries,” Astbury promises. A votary, a sworn adherent who’s made the commitment to a particular spiritual bent, is that special breed of fan (short for “fanatic,” another kind of votary entirely) that has stuck with Astbury through his Goth period, his rock period and this latest period of re-examination. And what are songs learned and sung by millions but rituals unto themselves?
Where other bands have burned out and faded away, The Cult continues onward like a phoenix.


The Cult will perform at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22, at the Ventura Theater, $30, venturatheater.net.

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