In our globalized 21st-century world, non-Western culture floods our musical radar, to the point where artists like tUnE-yArDs and Vampire Weekend seamlessly incorporate African influences into their sound without crossing genre boundaries. 16 years since the release of their 1996 album Spiritchaser, Dead Can Dance
–the Aussie duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard–has reacted to the changing landscape of its genre by not changing that much at all. Their music, frequently noted for its mystical grandeur and enchanting quality, continues to touch a spiritual nerve in the listener.
The core sound of the group, namely big, booming percussion and Gerrard’s tinny yangqin (a Chinese variant of the dulcimer), remains at the forefront of Anastasis, the band’s eighth studio album, and the first since they reunited for a world tour in 2005. The album’s strong ties to the musics of the Near East and North Africa shine in the waves of modal dulcimer melodies that form the backdrop of “Anabasis”, on top of which Gerrard sings meaningless syllables with quasi-Arabic ornaments.
At times, it feels like two different groups at work. Tracks with Gerrard on vocals are more ethereal and betray a strong near-Eastern influence, while Perry-led tracks like the heavy “Amnesia” evoke a general place-lessness. It doesn’t sound Turkish or Arabic, but rather simply like Dead Can Dance: a melange of dub, bass and drums, an indie rock guitar, a piano riff, and Gerrard’s dulcimer punctuating the upbeats. Lush strings suggest majestic art-rock, and Perry’s deep, reverb-laden vocals recall British shoegaze bands with a touch of Morrissey. The song’s peak, with blaring French horns and high-pitched strings providing the cathartic release of a post-rock composition.
The album isn’t wildly new, which could either please or possibly dismay dedicated DCD fans. On “Opium”, over a Moroccan beat with the sound of the otherworldly hang resonating, Perry sings, “Sometimes I feel like I wanna live behind all these memories and walk through that door.” Dead Can Dance seem happy to live in their memories; after all, Anastasis is Greek for resurrection. while the album refines the familiar sounds of their 80s and 90s heyday, they haven’t quite walked through that door to a new world.
Essential Tracks: “Amnesia”, “Opium”