Label : Pias Recording

Review by Alessandro Narcissus 

Dead Can Dance. Does Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry’s iconic musical creature really need an introduction? Well, perhaps it does, as many of the people who may love their music or any of the genres that originated from their wake were barely kids or not even born during the heyday of one of the most established and respected acts of the Ethereal scene. Dead Can Dance were formed by partners Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry in Melbourne, Australia, in 1981. Soon they moved to London, when they got signed by an alternative label and released an EP and their debut full length to great critical acclaim. In the following two decades, not only did Dead Can Dance become a legend in the Ethereal scene releasing a total of seven full-lengths which are nowadays widely regarded as classics, one studio EP, an official live album, an incalculable amount of b-sided and live-only tracks, achieving fame both in Europe and in the Unites States and having several songs featured in movie soundtracks, but they also indirectly contributed to the birth of the Gothic Metal genre itself through the early work of The Gathering, who openly cited them among their greatest influences. Now, after a brief reunion tour in 2005 and the release of five live EPs as an appetiser in the past months, Gerrard and Perry finally felt ready to get back to writing together new music for Dead Can Dance, and subsequently released their come-back full length, “Anastasis” – which fittingly means “rebirth” – after sixteen years from their previous studio album. Now, let’s get it clear from the beginning: you can put perfection into music, but putting it into words in a review is a much tougher work. No review will ever live up to the true artistic value of “Anastasis”, as this album is nothing short of the high standards of any past Dead Can Dance “classic” release. It’s a highly inspired and emotional album, a collection of eight diverse and outstanding tracks that make up an incredible experience when listened together as a whole. Generally speaking, the album is incredibly sophisticated, even if compared to the band’s past recordings. It remains true and coherent to their past and priceless heritage drawing widely from it, but is a contemporary work which gives room to the artistic maturity Gerrard and Perry achieved while working separately. Balance is the keyword of this recording: nothing is overdone and every single note of each instrument is put in the right place for the right reason, to provide an experience that will delight both the artistic and sensitive side of the listener. Indeed, what immediately catches the ear is the sense of general harmony and unity of the record, in which each track has its own individuality but, at the same time, works perfectly as a piece of a greater experience. The orchestra – a typically western element – may be identified as the guiding thread of the oriental-sounding album. There are more orchestral parts than in the past and they are used differently in that the ensemble plays an active role in the most exotic soundscapes: instead of only providing a lush background for the ethnic instruments, it often accompanies them and plays along on the oriental or tribal melodies. Ideally, this interpretation of southern and eastern sounds with typical western instruments epitomises the idea of mingling different cultural influences into something new, which has always been the main standpoint of Dead Can Dance and is done at its finest in this album. This sense of harmony is also given by the balance between the two composers’ efforts. Even in this, “Anastasis” sounds much more cohesive than most the past Dead Can Dance albums, in particular those released after Gerrard and Perry’s domestic break up – namely “Into The Labyrinth” (1993), “Spiritchaser” (1996), and most notably their live effort “Towards The Within” (1994), in which their stylistic differences were most evident and at times even clashing. Whilst Gerrard’s and Perry’s own, peculiar approaches to writing music for their creature is still recognizable and the most familiar listeners can guess from the first notes of each song who’s going to sing, the passage from Perry’s trademark art-rock songwriting and Gerrard’s ethnic fascinations is much smoother than in the past, enhancing the sense of cohesion and harmony of the record as a whole. Indeed, the soundscapes evoked by the album can be perceived as the narration of a conceptual journey throughout the Mediterranean basin: the listener gets to ideally meet different cultures within the same voyage, each one adding it’s peculiar flavour to a bigger, all-compassing experience which is – or, if you will, being a piece of one, big colourful mosaic. The orchestra is the narrator who filters the experiences, and the other instruments and styles are the characters met during the journey we’re told about. In this sense, the title “Anastasis” does not only refer to the band’s rebirth after a 16-year split, but also to a more spiritual kind of rebirth the listener would experience through an enriching journey in the cradle of our culture. It’s really hard to name some highlights from the album without ending up with a detailed and exhaustive track-by-track review, as each song is spectacular in its way. But how not to mention, for instance, “Amnesia”, chosen as the promotional single out the album, which perfectly represents the blending of exotic rhythms with Perry’s typically western songwriting? Or Gerrard’s remarkable performance in the most ethnic tracks such as “Anabasis”, “Agape” or “Kiko”, which showcase the aforementioned union of traditional instruments and tribal percussions with the orchestra, as a background for Gerrard’s trademark vocalizations and folkloric techniques? “Children of the Sun” and “All In Good Time” represent the perfect opening and closing tracks respectively, the former being some kind of “rite of passage” somehow reminiscent of past songs (in particular Perry’s from “Aion”) reworked in the current, mature style of the duo, and the latter providing a relaxing outro as remarkable as “How Fortunate the Man With None” from “Into the Labyrinth”. And finally, the two absolute masterpieces of the album, “Opium” and “Return of the She-King”. The first is a highly emotional blend of ethnic rhythm patterns with breath-taking string melodies and Perry’s melancholic lyrics and vocals bound to put a tear in many listener’s eyes; the second is a wonderful, solemn track with distinct influences from the British Isles – at times it almost sounds as if a traditional Irish melody were played by Scottish bagpipes – in which Gerrard’s glossolalia vocals unite with Perry’s in what can be considered as the two vocalist’s best duet ever. “Anastasis” is clearly not just a typical come-back album that is made just to exploit the fans’ nostalgia or the hype for an iconic band’s reunion. It clearly shows Gerrard and Perry’s need to go back to their roots and write music together, and to do so at the right time and without a hurry, resulting in a fresh and genuine work, not at all anachronistic. It’s a perfect introduction for the new generations to the priceless work of this duo, as well as the perfect reward fans could hope for after 16 years of silence. “All in Good Time”, they say, and this is undoubtfully the good time and best way for Dead Can Dance to come back.

Rating – 100/100

 

Tracklist

  1. Children of the Sun
  2. Anabasis
  3. Agape
  4. Amnesia
  5. Kiko
  6. Opium
  7. Return of the She-King
  8. All in Good Time

 

Line Up

  • Lisa Gerrard
  • Brendan Perry

 

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