Album Review: The Cult, ‘Hidden City’

Written By Lucas Jones

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British rock superstars The Cult have had a long and illustrious career that has spanned 33 years, 10 albums, and more line-up changes than a last place baseball team. Refusing to be defined, the band has bridged hard rock, post-punk, and heavy metal into a sound that relies on guitar hooks, bombastic vocals, and mystical themes. After gaining popularity in 1985 with singles “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Rain”, the band moved from post-punk in the direction of hard rock, which allowed their popularity to explode even more, especially in the US. In 2009, vocalist Ian Astbury announced that there would be no more studio albums, though he soon reconsidered that position. In 2012 the band released Choice of Weapon, and on February 5th 2016, they released their newest album, Hidden City.

The album kicks off with “Dark Energy” and “No Love Lost”, two tracks that send a statement to the listener. That statement? This is not the same band that wrote “She Sells Sanctuary”. This is a hard rocking, Led Zeppelin influenced band; just as likely to drive a song with riffs and solos as they are with piano and strings. “Dance the Night” and “In Blood” bring back hints of Cult line-ups past, but display a new kind of compositional ability by adding synth layers on top of Astbury’s vocals. In fact, that may be my favorite part of this album. Astbury sounds amazing, probably his best work vocally in over a decade. His lyrics are provocative, and his sense of rhythm and dynamics are still impressive after all these years.

Though, that is not to undermine the performances given by guitarist Billy Duffy. Big, groovy riffs on songs like “G O A T” and “Hinterland”, plus some really great solo work throughout the album help to bring this album together. Over the 12 songs on the track list, the sound varies quite a bit, stylistically pulling from almost every phase of Cult music. Duffy’s playing helps the album to feel more cohesive, rather than just a sampling of past Cult sounds.

That being said, this album suffers from way too much over production of the drums. Every other instrument has a raw edge to it, one that is both modern yet delightfully retro. The drums suffer from being too “hot”, in that every snare, kick, and cymbal crash sound slightly distorted. This trend in modern music kills me, because it has a tendency to ruin otherwise great albums. My other criticism is the 12 song length. I can very easily subtract 3-4 songs from this album and not miss anything, and I think “Heathens” and “Sound and Fury” would be the first two to go. I’m not against long albums on principle; heck, I just reviewed Dream Theater’s new 34 song concept album. In this instance though, the album can use a bit of tightening up.

All in all, this is a solid release form a band that continues to perform, well past the point where many others have reached obscurity, or worse. The production issues and “fluff” in this offering detract from what is an otherwise great album, but I feel as though they can be overlooked to enjoy some fantastic, classic punk rock.

Rating 7.5 out of 10