Experimental band resurrected by new sounds and cultures
For all intents and purposes, Dead Can Dance can be described as an artifact incapable of being fully unlocked or deciphered. At their pinnacle Brendan Perry and songstress Lisa Gerrard were considered part of the art-goth movement, incorporating elements of industrial, folk and world music into the era’s other genres. Shortly after the release of “Spiritchaser” in 1996, the act disbanded with the deterioration of the duo’s personal relationship. But with a 2005 reunion tour came new possibilities, and those prospects culminated into their newest offering “Anastasis,” a long-awaited resurrection released this August on 4AD.
Since their formation in 1981, Dead Can Dance has landed inside their own mysterious realm where most dare not tread. Earlier releases harbored a standardized sound, which led to a hushed response from their Australian homeland. After relocating to London, Perry and Gerrard become part of the English goth scene, which also included labelmates Clan of Xymox, Bauhaus and This Mortal Coil. But unlike these synth-driven bands, Dead Can Dance created a purposely archaic take on the genre by using Gregorian chants, sparse guitar work and drum-driven soundscapes to showcase a soulful side of sin. The fruitful offerings from the group were consistently innovative in a universal sense, and “Anastasis” hardly proves different.
Much like Michael Gira and Jarboe of darkwave outfit Swans, Perry and Gerrard share similar styles while remaining distinct with each endeavor. Perry opts for the prophetic approach, teasing the listener with wasteland wisdom and occult references while Gerrard seems more contained but with noteworthy range. The differences between album opener “Children of the Sun” and more abstract tracks like “Agape” and “Amnesia” are noticeable; regardless, “Anastasis” is cohesive while also remaining exciting and eclectic, something for which Dead Can Dance is known and loved.
While I enjoy the element of surprise that comes with the duo’s discography, I was surprised to find myself feeling irritated at minor inconsistencies. Because the band strays from a linear path by using different music from around the world, concepts of era and environment are lost, leaving the material sometimes more apt for the enlightened instead of a more secular audience. Indian steel drums and Turkish measures filter through Gerrard’s haunting voice and bring the atmosphere of a hookah bar together with subject matter that doesn’t quite mesh with its accompaniment. It’s safe to say longtime purists who want the group to retain their apocalyptic Sisters of Mercy sound will be disappointed to be greeted with something that makes them think of incense rather than ankhs.
But while the group’s genre-hopping can be annoying at times, their willingness to dive into different aspects of existing cultures is impressive. Though a far cry from their more revered work, “Anastasis” serves as another testament to ongoing research and exploration of sound. It also fulfills its purpose as a comeback album, not only by propelling the group back into the minds of its fanbase but also by generating a new audience who will come to know them as music adventurers instead of an empty experimentation act. On the back of this success, Dead Can Dance’s return is not a mere resurrection but the beginning of another life entirely — one to add to the thousands they’ve already lived through their boundless means of expression.