This was a performance I had been anticipating for quite some time. As I navigated the battalion inconsiderately formed in front of the stage by tall old white men, I casually struck up conversations with members of the audience. “Did you know that they used to be Southern Death Cult, then The Death Cult and now they’re just ‘The Cult’?” asked two middle aged women. Sadly I didn’t but it certainly made sense. Formed in 1983, the band gained notoriety with their iconic single ‘She Sells Sanctuary’. They since deviated from their quintessentially British post-punk sound which characterized much of the album Love (1985), into an admittedly painful and inorganic ‘heavy’ metal nightmare in Electric (1987) and Sonic Temple (1989). I was quite curious to see how 2016’s Hidden City, which the band have been touring in support of, compared with previous albums in light of the personal and professional struggles the band have endured.
The band began with ‘Dark Energy’. Having heard the album beforehand, it wasn’t a track I was especially looking forward to seeing a live performance of. Particularly memorable moments for me were their performances of ‘Deeply Ordered Chaos’ and ‘Hinterland’ as both are personal favourites from Hidden City. Instrumentally, both songs served as a nostalgic throwback, and the clearest attempt made by the band to move away from an Americanized Pop-Rock towards what they sounded like at their inception: a cross between Joy Division and Echo And The Bunnymen.
However, The Cult are lyrically far less adrift than they used to be. Indeed they have matured on this front in the last thirty years or so and is what grounded Hidden City. Indeed, ‘Deeply Ordered Chaos’ was written in the wake of the Paris attacks last November. In the words “a child of liberty…Defend Paris…I’m a European, violence in my head…Witnessing the fall…Syria the fall, weep for you” the song deals with the uncertainty associated with witnessing acts of terror as someone with a largely eurocentric perspective of the world, which makes for a refreshing change from the entitled response of blind, critical outrage terrorist attacks evoke from people.
This level of lyrical maturity is how The Cult have managed to remain relevant. Most musicians at least in my experience have resorted to evolving instrumentally as a way of shifting their entire sonic arrangement to move with the times so to speak. Sadly only few realise that evolving lyrically in the way The Cult have done achieves exactly the same thing. The only difference of course is that the end result isn’t so pretentious and contrived. I suspect, or at least I would like to think, that was partially the point the band were trying to hammer home with their album, and this set.
Image via Wikimedia