Before the release of Under the Midnight Sun, Billy Duffy described The Cult‘s twelfth album as a “bluesy-free zone.” That influence does come into play here, but as Duffy also suggested, it’s a return to the darker, rawer rock ‘n’ roll of Love and Dreamtime, and on first reaction, Duffy’s guitar tone confirms as much. Singer Ian Astbury also brings his best pipes to the band’s latest, and his trademark croon—the same croon that at one time positioned him to fill the gap left by Jim Morrison and tour with the remaining members of the Doors—seals the deal.
Former Robert Plant bassist Charlie Jones brings a full tone to the mix as well as a smooth playing style, fluidly adding melodic embellishments to these songs rather than just holding down the bottom end. There is a Zeppelin-like steaminess to the power ballad “Knife Through Butterfly Heart.” There are also some slithering grooves found here thanks to former Testament/White Zombie drummer John Tempesta, who has been with the band for 16 years now, his own distinctive style of playing having helped shape the band’s music for four albums at this stage.
By “Mirror” the dark sensual core of the album’s direction makes up for the dialing back of their hard rock edge. Astbury’s smooth croon glides like velvet when the songs give him the space to do so, though largely his success as a singer is attributed to their punchier moments. This song does have a powerful dynamic shift and builds with a grandiosity that’s more interesting than merely relying on radio hooks.
“Outer Heaven” shares a similar blend of sounds that previously worked for the band, breaking out with a jam section unfolding midway into the song that seems likely to translate well live. They also break out acoustic guitars and symphonic backing for the title track, reminiscent of Nick Cave in more restrained moments. It begins to congeal two minutes in, with the dramatic vibe of a James Bond theme song. They end the album with the title track, one of the album’s strongest songs, with an electronic pulse that empowers the groove. As The Cult lean into the band’s more shadowy side on Under the Midnight Sun, they deliver something that longtime fans—including those who’ve been with them since the Southern Death Cult days—should appreciate. The Cult have more respect for their legacy than to rest on past successes, stepped up instead to reaffirm themselves as a formidable force in rock music in 2022.
Label: Black Hill