Under the Midnight Sun

The Cult

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Under the Midnight Sun Review

by Thom Jurek

Under the Midnight Sun is the Cult's first album in six years. After five albums with producer Bob Rock, the band changed things up by bringing in Tom Dalgety (Ghost, Pixies). This band's catalog has traveled through goth rock, post-punk, hard rock, psych, and glam metal since they started out in the '80s. Throughout, their core sound has featured Ian Astbury's melodic baritone voice and quasi-mystical lyrics atop Billy Duffy's dazzling, reverb-drenched guitar playing. (The latter never gets enough credit for being a true stylist.) Throughout their history, traces of every musical place they've traveled remains on each subsequent recording. It's as if they don't want listeners to forget, and that proves both a blessing and a curse on Land of the Midnight Sun.

"Mirror" offers Duffy's single-line riff breathing atop Grant Fitzpatrick's bass throb. Astbury is in self-reflective mode as the music travels through the belly of edgy post-punk. "A Cut Inside" recalls the sound of Love. It has power and bite, but also space and mystery as Astbury quizzically sings: "No heathens in Heaven/No sweet surrender...." while Duffy overdrives the band in supporting him. Astbury responds with the resonant roar he perfected on Sonic Temple. "Vendetta X" is hard-rocking post-psych complete with swirling synths, doubled drums, layered backing vocals, and Duffy's narcotic guitar set to stun. Astbury falls under his silvery narcotic sway, repeating the chorus of "sucking on a dirty blade" as drums crack, the bass rumbles, and synths pulse. Single "Give Me Mercy" follows suit as the music sprawls, saunters, and propels itself into a swirling orgy of post-hippie communion. "Outer Heaven" offers thrumming tribal drums, synth, strings, vocal effects, and pure, distorted power chords from Duffy who, with Astbury, constructs a bridge from the sonic maelstrom to a unifying, fist-pumping anthem. "Knife Through Butterfly Heart" is a raucous dirge, with Duffy's bluesy power riffs atop an atmospherically plodding tempo set by strings (sounding like a bad seed ELO), keys, bass, and a taut drum kit as Astbury sinks into his lyric. "Impermanence" threatens to explode at every turn but never quite does as the singer intones, "Shooting arrows from shadows/broken and beautiful in flight.....The blood of roses/fallen and risen/the bones of this life...." Duffy choogles, flows, then bursts over the droning bassline and clattering snare. The closing title track crosses a dramatic AOR ballad with a spaghetti western score amid roomy, post-psych production. Under the Midnight Sun is solid but also has a real shortcoming: It lacks musical diversity. Too many of these melodies are similar enough that they're indistinguishable from one another. On balance, jams such as "Outer Heaven," "Impermanence," and "Vendetta X" solidly reveal that this band still has plenty of creative dazzle left in the tank.

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