The Cult: Choice Of Weapon

Southern Death Cult the band which first brought Ian Astbury to the attention was an immediate connection with my heart which only deepened with tracks like Moya, Fatman, and Apache. Upon their demise and the new team of Astbury and Billy Duffy linking to create The Cult, the attraction continued into their excellent debut album Dreamtime which spawned one of my all time fav songs Bone Bag. From this point though the evolution of the band and that of my tastes went separate ways and as their sound became grander and more rock orientated the appeal and previous attraction diminished. There were still moments where we met on a mutual level but more often than not all that was inspired was an appreciative nod and only fleeting attention given.

That was until with thanks to my friend Raymond, there was an introduction to the new Cult album Choice Of Weapon.  With limited expectations but mild intrigue due to the warm words he had given it, time came to sit down with the release and see if it lived up to his acclaim. With full surprise and an overwhelmed heart the answer is yes and more. The album is wonderful a release the word impressive is almost inadequate for. Choice Of Weapon rekindles the passion and in many ways returns to the instinctive partly tribalistic sounds that first drew us together. The album is not a throwback but seemingly the result of a revitalised and creatively fresh revisit to The Cult one longed for but did not expect to return is back.

The album has a less complicated textured sound than in previous years but is still distinctively and inventively skilled a release as only The Cult can ever create. Astbury is still the enigmatic performer and presence as he ever was but with a maturity and control which makes him even more formidable a vocalist and frontman whilst musically Duffy with bassist Chris Wyse, and drummer John Tempesta, bring a harder and less flamboyant enterprise to contrast and compliment perfectly.

Released through Cooking Vinyl Records, the album captivates from the very first stroke of the guitars across the ear on Honey From A Knife. Picking up an urgency spliced with exciting riffs and the group chants behind Astbury, the song storms the senses with a punk essence and infectious creativity. The pomp and overblown soundscapes often littering their releases are nowhere in sight, the song simply a striking piece of irresistible rock n roll.

The excellent start is backed up by Elemental Light and The Wolf. The first track is a full emotive pleasure which searches out and spreads like a contagious fever of invigorating pleasure. Recalling the band at their birth and with the melodic grace of The Mission, the song touches the nerve and emotion that first pulled them to the heart in the eighties. The second of the two songs is a coarser eruption of imaginative and firm intent, its melodic craft and enflamed breath leaving deep scorch marks of pleasure. As each song plays it assumes favourite track status such the strength of all and the album though it is impossible to truly choose.

The Bowiesque Life > Death is an enveloping ballad of power and intensity whilst the rampant Amnesia lays a stomp upon the ear which is as contagious as it is intimidating, both showing the full diversity within the album and the unique Cult sound. Astbury and Duffy are immense throughout the album but that can equally be said about Tempesta and Wyse both adding a depth and addictive menace to songs. The keys especially bring a fire and enveloping atmosphere to the songs adding extra invention and craft.

As the album works though one impressive track after another all continuing to enrich and incite thoughts and senses superbly we discover the likes of the excellent hypnotic Wilderness Now prowling with an ominous air and the closing The Night In the City Forever, a shadowed song exposing the underbelly of dark lives and worlds, to great pleasure.

With lyrics dealing with things like drugs and soured relationships on the album, Astbury is as cutting and expressive as ever and though no longer able to grab those explosive higher notes of yesteryear he has found a strong and more impactful range to enhance every song. Produced and recorded alongside Chris Goss with long-time Cult collaborator and producer Bob Rock finishing off the album, Choice Of Weapon is an unexpected and welcomingly outstanding release and easily one of the best albums so far this year. The Cult I know and love has returned and arguably is even better.

RingMaster 07/06/2012

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The Stranglers: Giants

With Rattus Norvegicus the very first album purchased by my own eager pennies The Stranglers and any release they offer up always makes the heart skip a touch and the juices of anticipation seep. Over their almost forty years in existence  the band never compromised in attitude or sound, and even if some releases did not match certainly the glories of the first decade or so, the band never offered half hearted or formulaic releases. The previous two albums Norfolk Coast (2004) and Suite XVI (2006) gave strong suggestion that the band were returning to the form that saw them as consistently one of the leading punk/rock bands. New album Giants not only confirms that feeling but announces The Stranglers have returned to being again a fiercely formidable band that easily can fire up the heart.

Giants is stunning, a release that dips into the strength and elements of previous releases to manipulate them into fresh sounds, alongside this the quartet go down new avenues and ideas for the creation of an eclectic album that impresses and excites. Since the days of Dreamtime albums have to a varying extent left one feeling hungry and dissatisfied, Giants though not only feeds the appetite fully it treats it to an excess of  quality and essential Stranglers.

Not only is the creative heart of the band back to full strength so is the bass of JJ Burnel, not that it has ever gone away but that element that makes one tingle right down into the deepest corner when its throaty grumbles erupt is back to its glorious muscular strength. The album opens with the first instrumental from the band for years and an instant notification that the band still is eager to incite the senses. Like a velvet clad grater the bass crawls over the ear whilst the guitar of Baz Warne lays its bluesy fingers firmly and wonderfully around the senses ably accompanied by keys from Dave Greenfield which courts the time of No More Heroes. The track though uncomplicated captivates from first note to last and sets up Giants perfectly.

The album never lets up in giving songs which wrap themselves eagerly and effectively around the senses. Whether vibrant and light or darker and with a firmer intent the tracks satisfy deeply with honesty and genuine imagination. Freedom Is Insane opens with waves upon the beach as emotive keys float through the air, with vocals from Burnell to match the song slowly dawns before exploding into a driven energy and depth reminding of the Raven days. Jet Black as always directs with the surest and firmest of hands whilst the keys of Greenfield call to the soul under his wizardry, it has been a while since his playing and conjurations sounded this wonderful.

Two songs in and the heart is won which the likes of the title track with its nostalgic prowl and solar powered melodies against gutsy vocals and basslines plus My Fickle Resolve only go to reinforce and increase the enthusiasm and desire to fall into the albums charms. The second of the two songs sways with a confident swagger as it strolls through the ear with a vibrant mesmeric English sound. The song radiates warmth and swings with a groove which takes one by the hand to encourage involvement physically and mentally.

Giants hits the deepest and most potently on two songs especially. Lowlands is a pulsating accosting of the ear with a resonance and chilled steel right out of Black And White. It barely takes a breath in its consistent pace and energy with Burnell and Warne in fluid unison musically and Greenfield treating us to more sounds that make the senses weak at their knees. It is one of those songs where its three minutes feels as brief as a thought swiftly flickering in the head to be gone before one can fully appreciate its power, songs like this is why replay was invented. Equally impressive, though the whole album is to be fair, is Time Was Once On My Side. A rock tune with seeds in the Meninblack period it leads one into new radiant pastures and creative wells within the band. The swift Madness ska pop moment raises a deep grin to add to the glow the song has already instigated.

With all four members exploring new avenues within themselves and re-energising past influences The Stranglers show they not only retain the strength and creativity we knew they had but are just as inspirational and important as ever. Giant is without doubt going to go down as a classic, with songs like Mercury Rising with its pop/rock blend of coarse and mellow and the Spanish sung metal tango of Adios (Tango), not forgetting the quirky simplicity of Boom Boom just as startling and thrilling as those mentioned.

In many ways with no disrespect to the band the album is a surprise though the band suggested they were always able to bring something special out in the previous releases. It is thoroughly exhilarating and pleasing to the highest degree, go find out for yourselves, you will not regret it. The Stranglers are back!

RingMaster 29/02/2012

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