The Cult return to their magical best on 11th album Under The Midnight Sun

British rock grandees The Cult deliver late-career gem with punchy studio album Under The Midnight Sun

The Cult: Under The Midnight Sun cover art
(Image: © Black Hill)

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The Cult have always been defined by the push-pull relationship between singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy. The former is one of rock’s great poet-warriors, a restless shaman impervious to ridicule; the latter is a grafter, someone who relishes what he calls “cheesy popularity” of the kind his bandmate rails against. 

It’s a combination that shouldn’t work, and frequently hasn’t, but when it does, magic happens. The magic is definitely happening on Under The Midnight Sun, which is no small feat 40 years and 11 albums into a band’s career. Where their two most recent albums – 2012’s Choice Of Weapon and 2016’s Hidden City – made slightly heavy weather of the job of being The Cult, here they sound more reinvigorated than they have in decades. 

The album sounds like the work of two men who have hit a period of being completely in sync. The electronic throb of Vendetta X calls back to the Astbury-led dancefloor-grunge experiments of 1994’s self-titled album, but Duffy’s arcing guitar connects it to rock’s heartland. 

The guitarist is on stellar form throughout here, dialling back the unnecessary heroics in favour of colour and texture. He brings Kashmir-esque grandeur to Knife Through Butterfly Heart, and evokes memories of the band’s distant goth past via the spidery guitar lines on Impermanence. There are moments here that are as good as anything The Cult recorded back in their 80s heyday, not least the pulsing Outer Heaven, which finds Astbury exhorting us to ‘embrace the outer heavens’ as strings swirl around him. 

Towards the end, it shifts gear into an epic run-out. ‘As all light fades, we have to go,’ repeats Astbury, a sun mantra that brings the track to a hypnotic close. It helps that Under The Midnight Sun comprises a lean eight tracks (something more bands should take note of). And new producer Tom Dalgety has given it the same crisp, clear punchiness he brought to past clients Royal Blood and Ghost

But this is a good record mostly because the two men at the heart of it all sound like they’re actually enjoying being The Cult again. ‘All will fade in time,’ Astbury sings on the smouldering title track, amid surprisingly low-key strings. One day they will too. But Under The Midnight Sun suggests that won’t be for a while yet.

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.