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Aggressive themes set to a pummeling soundtrack

Cult_Choice of Weapon cover.jpg

On its new album, Choice of Weapon (Cooking Vinyl), The Cult is working with what might seem like a diminished arsenal from the band’s heyday.

Ian Astbury‘s distinct, bellowing voice sounds a bit aged and weathered. Billy Duffy‘s guitar is cranked up plenty, but his licks and solos aren’t so prominent. The disc is largely lacking in the somewhat sleazy, sex-charged swagger that the band rode to prominence on a string of well-regarded 1980s albums full of hard-rock anthems about fire women, li’l devils and love removal machines.

That said, Choice of Weapon — which sees core Cult members Astbury and Duffy reconvening for just their third full-length release since the mid-1990s — is a worthwhile addition to their catalog. In some ways, it is also one of their most impressive efforts, for even as it shows that their songwriting and sound clearly have changed over time, it also finds the band (rounded out these days by bassist Chris Wyse and drummer John Tempesta) sounding hungrier and more cohesive than they have in some 20 years.

As the disc’s title might suggest, there are broad themes of aggression, brute force and violence sprinkled throughout, with a pummeling soundtrack to match. The album’s opener, “Honey From a Knife,” might as well be Choice of Weapon‘s musical mission statement: Seemingly a chronicle of a chaotic, drug-addled bender on the streets of Manhattan, it is appropriately set to crunching, in-your-face layers of guitars.

Elsewhere, Duffy’s powerful squalls drive the back-to-back blitz of “For the Animals” and “Amnesia,” with the latter featuring one of Astbury’s catchiest hook lines: “Save what you learn, suspicion is sure to return.” Lean, mean rocker “A Pale Horse,” meanwhile, is grounded in a riff-heavy boogie that would make it a natural fit on a classic Cult disc like Electric or Sonic Temple, while the slow-burning ballad “Elemental Light,” laced with the band’s familiar tinges of goth and psychedelia, is a showcase for Astbury’s still-impressive range.

But for every moment that recalls the band’s past, there is a lyrical reminder of just how different a Cult disc this really is. Where Astbury once made his bones with lines like “Do all those things that you do to me,” now he offers up musings such as, “I’m a lover but I been known quick to strike,” while stanzas like “I’ll crush your sweet skull/Yeah you don’t stand a chance” and “We’ll weave a golden noose/And hang you from the stars” sum up the fierce tone.

In this post-MTV, ultra-fragmented music landscape that can be unkind to veteran rockers, it’s been quite a while since most of mainstream America has been exposed to new music by The Cult, and much has changed within the band itself in that span. They may not fully resemble their old selves — and to their credit, this is not the work of a nostalgia act. With Choice of Weapon, Astbury and Duffy at least fire a loud warning shot to announce that they’re still here, armed for the fight.

— By George Henn