A new Dead Can Dance album is a pretty major event, the cult act having just released 10 studio albums over a career stretching back to 1981. When it is accompanied with some rare live dates it is even more of an event and no surprise that show tickets including two nights in London at The Hammersmith Apollo have been snapped up pretty much instantly. Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard the muses behind this much loved outfit should really need nothing in the way of introduction. Their music may not be entirely unique but that is mainly due to a large amount of copyists and it has touched and infected almost everyone who has heard them to the point of near adoration. How to describe and genre define what they do? Well essentially this is world music where the cinematic style takes you on vast journeys to far flung places and civilisations. Their soundscapes drift and float touching far more senses than just an aural accompaniment. You can listen and breathe in the textures, sights and even scents of the places they describe so profoundly with their sounds. Their musical travelogues are the essence of life itself and transport you to other worlds, even if you have not been to the exotic places they take you, much like a Pasolini’s Trilogy Of Life or Philip Glass and his accompaniments to Godfrey Reggio’s Qasi Trilogy, their music is essentially incredibly visual and it does not take much in the way of work from the listener to bring these elements to the fore.
Everyone has their favourite albums whether it be the geographical aerial excursion of The Serpent’s Egg (1988) or the rite of passage that is Spiritchaser (1996) the album which led to the band taking a break for a number of years. It’s not really my job to try and sway personal choice here or to tell you whether this new album should now be your favourite one in the grand scheme of things. I am basically taking you through what I hear and describing what you should probably expect if you are yet to hear it.
The album is divided into two main tracks running at 36 minutes overall and further divided into acts per opus. The music flows but not without pause and points of separation. First of these odes to the Greek god of wine Act I takes us into ‘Sea Borne.’ The spray of the ocean immediately hits your face and booming timpani drums take the rhythm off with twisting ethnic pipes and a huge sense of grandeur. You could easily be on an ancient Greek galley rowing along to the beat as the heady spice of Arabian sounding musical flavours subtly take over the senses and completely mesmerise. Vocals are used like the instruments themselves, chanting like a sirens call to dash upon the rocks and the overall harmonic touch and melodies are nothing short of gorgeous. ‘Liberator Of Minds’ has the whoop of birds again exotic and far from home along with diaphanous melody and chants as rich as being fed Turkish delight in the boudoir of a mysterious belly dancer. Temptation flows all over this but again that is down to the listener and open to the way you personally perceive the images in your head. ‘Dance Of The Bacchantes’ sinuously twists and turns and the enchantment although not reaching anything resembling fever pitch flows with wild feminine whoops and even some dub laden jaunty rhythmic thrusts. It’s dark, delicious and enthralling stuff, richly engrossing if you are prepared to focus on entirely although the other option equally on a lesser level is to just go with the flow.
The second act follows and starts at ‘The Mountain’ as we adventure onwards like perhaps a filmic equivalent to a wild Herzog film charged by the mad passion of Klaus Kinski, a stranger in a strange land. Male vocals are added here but they are again more chant orientated than anything in the way of formed decipherable words to my ears and babble perfectly along to the music. I love the sound of what kind of resembles bells around the necks of goats here and have a musical flashback to various other pieces of music from the KLF’s Chill Out To Negura Bunget’s Om (again a very deeply personal point of reference.) ‘The Invocation’ sees the feminine side prevalent again and it’s totally bewitching along with the dulcimer etched music which warmly wraps itself around it. We are now in ‘The Forest’ which has a more upbeat tempo and with the male vocals and drums takes on tones of what I can best describe as Afrobeat. It’s deeply calming as is the whole album, this is not music to stir the savage brow but to delicately sooth the very soul. It’s left to ‘Psychopomp’ to finish off what feels like a vast and massive journey that has taken places far beyond the reach of 36 minutes of mere music, a gradual wrapping up of everything that has come before it and a natural evolution to the sound of silence once more…..
Although this was an album that was instantly accessible when it came to sitting down and dissecting it plenty of hidden facets unveiled themselves and that is partly the joy of Dionysus. I am sure I won’t be the only person settling down, glass of wine in hand to experience it over many listens and whether you are a Dead Can Dance aficionado or someone new to their worldly flavours this is an album I have a feeling you are going to be rapidly falling in love with.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)