It wasn't that The Cult didn't have the natural talent as one of the best heavy metal, Gothic rock bands on the planet, but tragedy, personal demons and self-inflicted internal struggles almost consumed them.
These issues could have been their complete undoing, but instead they poured their souls into their lyrics, because the music always has been The Cult's salvation. The power of their songs always brought them back into the fold.
And since their music demands to be heard, no matter what else is going on, frontman Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy have marched on in spite of everything, surviving all of it. They've proven good is good no matter what other challenges life has had in store. For more than 30 years, these two solid musical pillars have stood tall and continued to deliver their music to their "cult-like" fans that have remained loyal through breakups and everything. Maybe there's something to be said for The Cult's attraction to mystical spirituality after all.
Astbury is and always has been a stage-commanding front man, visually appealing with the sexual essence of Jim Morrison and Freddie Mercury and the vocal ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand.
These British rockers first got together in 1983, before settling on their name in 1984. They emerged as England's leading heavy metal revivalists, fusing the Native American obsessions of the Doors, the guitar shredding sensibilities of Jimmy Page, and the "three chords and the truth" philosophy of AC/DC. Add to that a sprinkling of post-punk rock and their experimental sound became their signature. Because of it, they gained a dedicated following in their native land with mid-'80s singles like "She Sells Sanctuary," before breaking into the American metal market in the late '80s with "Love Removal Machine."
Though they managed one Top Ten hit in America with 1989's “Sonic Temple,” The Cult was plagued with off-stage tensions and problems that prevented them from retaining their popularity. The band split in 1995 following a pair of unsuccessful records, but returned on an occasional basis for new records — always anchored by vocalist Astbury and guitarist Duffy.
The origins of The Cult lie in the Southern Death Cult, a Goth rock outfit formed by vocalist Astbury in 1981. Astbury was the son of a merchant navy man, which meant he moved frequently during his youth. His family lived in Canada for a while, where young Ian became fascinated with Native Americans, who would become a recurring theme in his songwriting. Astbury eventually settled in Bradford, Yorkshire, where he joined a group as its lead vocalist and renamed it the Southern Death Cult. At only its fifth concert, the band was attracting audiences of 2,000 people.
Though the group's future was looking bright, Astbury pulled the plug on the band because he was frustrated with the articles he was receiving in the press.
Following the disbandment of the Southern Death Cult, Astbury shortened the name of the group to Death Cult and recruited guitarist Duffy. Death Cult released an eponymous EP in the summer of 1983. Later in the year, drummer Nigel Preston joined the group, but left in 1985. He died in 1992.
In early 1984, the band members decided to remove "Death" from the title, fearing that the word gave them the misleading appearance of being a Goth band. Whereas both Southern Death Cult and Death Cult had been overtly influenced by post-punk, The Cult was "rebranded" a heavy hard rock band with slight psychedelic flourishes.
Dreamtime, the group's first album, was released in the fall of 1984, accompanied by the single "Spiritwalker." Dreamtime reached No. 21 on the U.K. charts.
The group's summer single, "She Sells Sanctuary" became a major U.K. hit, peaking at No. 15. The recording of the group's second album, Love, released in the fall of 1985, continued the hard rock direction of its teaser single and became a No. 4 hit in Britain.
For their third album, The Cult shuffled the lineup and hired Rick Rubin as producer. The result, Electric, became the most pivotal album of their career. It was their hardest, heaviest record to date. The first single from the album, "Love Removal Machine," became a No. 18 hit in the spring of 1987, while the album itself reached No. 4 in the U.K. upon its April release. Later that year, Electric gained The Cult a fan base in America, and the album cracked the U.S. Top 40.
Sonic Temple, released in 1988, proved to be the band's most successful album. The hit single "Fire Woman" helped propel the album into the American Top Ten, and within no time, The Cult were seen hanging out and touring with the likes of Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith, as well as supporting Metallica on the Damaged Justice tour.
Though the group was experiencing its best sales, it was fraying behind the scenes, due to infighting and substance abuse.
Their follow-up albums failed on the charts and in sales, so the group took a break for the next three years, then disbanded in 1995. The band's catalog was remastered and reissued in compilations and box sets that sold very well.
The band reunited in 1999-2001, for the Tibetan Freedom Festival, their Cult Rising Tour that resulted in a sold-out 30-date tour of the U.S. and produced their come-back album Beyond Good and Evil, which didn't achieve the success they were hoping for. In 2000, the band toured South Africa for the first time, and North and South America, and contributed the song "Painted on My Heart" to the soundtrack of the movie “Gone In 60 Seconds.” The song was featured prominently and the melody was fused into parts of the score.
The Jim Morrison connection hits close to home because Astbury joined former Doors members Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek in the Doors of the 21st Century, later renamed Riders on the Storm. The Cult, as well as Astbury, performed on separate tracks on the Doors' tribute album, Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors, covering "Wild Child" and "Touch Me" (In 1991, director Oliver Stone offered Astbury the role of Jim Morrison in Stone's film The Doors. He declined the role because he was not happy with the way Morrison was represented in the film, and the role ultimately went to Val Kilmer.).
Astbury and Duffy reunited again in 2005, and continue to tour the world and record new material to this day. It was also during this period that The Cult relocated to Los Angeles, California, where the band is currently based. The Cult opened for Guns N' Roses on the Not in This Lifetime… Tour in 2015.
This year The Cult is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of their fourth album, Sonic Temple, with a world tour, and one of those stops is in the Edgewater's E Center on Saturday, Sept. 14. The tour is expected to wrap up in 2020.
In a recent interview, Duffy talked about the band's show set list and how songs are chosen.
"Obviously you want to make an impactful show," he explained. "There are some practical, pragmatic decisions made. If you’re playing to a crowd who are not very familiar with you, there's no point of going too deep but we do always make sure we play a new song.
"Like on the Guns N' Roses' tour, we had 50 minutes which is 10 songs all in. So, you know we just made sure that in those 10 songs we played 'Deeply Ordered Chaos' which we’re proud of and it makes a certain statement," he added. "And it just alerts people to the fact that, yes, we have made a record in the last 30 years, you know and that’s a good thing. Psychologically, that's the blood transfusion that we need. And we're very mindful, we have a very loyal fan base. We don’t pander as you well know."