Under The Midnight Sun

Black Hill
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Mirror
02. A Cut Inside
03. Vendetta X
04. Give Me Mercy
05. Outer Heaven
06. Knife Through Butterfly Heart
07. Impermanence
08. Under The Midnight Sun

A perennial square peg in the ever-changing world of rock 'n' roll, THE CULT have been in excellent form in recent times. Their last album, 2016's "Hidden City", was a glorious return to the kind of top form that put the Brits at the forefront of all things brash and heavy back in the late '80s. Despite one or two lackluster records over the years, THE CULT's creative duo, guitarist Billy Duffy and singing shaman Ian Astbury, have never been less than authentic, and have nobly nurtured their unique songwriting partnership across the decades. On "Under The Midnight Sun" it is more obvious than ever that THE CULT are still striving to provide Astbury's outlaw poetry with the most potent backdrop possible.

It would be easy for THE CULT to trade on past glories. Their debut, 1984's "Dreamtime", is a post-punk classic: the follow-up, 1985's "Love", even more so. They mastered raw, stripped-down hard rock on "Electric" in 1987, and then took it into orbit on the globe-conquering "Sonic Temple" two years later. None of those albums exerts undue influence on "Under The Midnight Sun", although this is an endeavor that shares a little sonic DNA with the band's first two records.

Instead, THE CULT's 11th studio album imagines a new strain of muscular rock, where psychedelic string sections, the desert-bound twang of Duffy's guitar and prosaic but gripping melodies drift in and out of the motoring throng. There is a buzzing, analogue warmth to it all, too, as if the production ambitions of the '80s have finally been realized. "Under The Midnight Sun" is epic. It's gorgeous and it's uplifting, but it's also wonderfully strange: big, ballsy arena rock fed through a slow-spinning kaleidoscope.

"Mirror", "A Cut Inside" and "Vendetta X" are the upward ascent toward cosmic enlightenment, and a blissful showcase for this liberated, widescreen incarnation of THE CULT. "Mirror" is a downbeat but insistent entry point; "A Cut Inside", the effortlessly cool and charismatic consolidation. "Vendetta X", in particular, is an instant classic; Astbury's ever-unique delivery buoyant on waves of crystalline, goth-tinged power chords. "Give Me Mercy" is a pure-bred goth rock anthem, with Duffy in guitar hero mode and presenting a rumbling groove that refuses to quit. "Outer Heaven" is simply astonishing; those aforementioned strings bursting through a brooding wall of sound and lifting Astbury's vocal to a higher plane of lushness and melodrama. "Knife Through Butterfly Heart" defies its title with restraint and gentleness. A languid, six-minute trip, it winds and winds towards a seemingly endless Duffy solo, a false fade and an endearingly shambolic ending. A skewed but incisive rocker, "Impermanence" is perhaps the only song here that fulfils, rather than exceeds, expectations, but Astbury is still an irresistible presence. The closing title track seals the deal: a dark, sonorous ballad with spectral shades of late '60s Scott Walker, it's cinematic, otherworldly and curiously intimate. It is also one of the finest songs THE CULT have ever written, and it is not alone on this deep and mesmerizing piece of work.

Author: Dom Lawson
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