It is virtually impossible to adequately write about the music of Dead Can Dance. For more than 30 years the duo -- Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard -- has conjured up the sounds of a mythical past, using a variety of instruments (including Lisa's rapturous voice) that come from every corner of the world, and nearly as many eras.
Still, one listen to the band's newest album, Dionysus, out on Friday, ought to re-affirm (again) the timelessness of the group's compositions. Structured in two long sections, with multiple passages within each, the album seems even more focused than earlier Dead Can Dance releases, with each section being a journey backwards in time, to some pre-Judeo-Christian ancient world where ritual and magic ruled hearts. "Act I" sees generally bucolic passages segue into the more expansive "Liberator of Minds", the mood that of proto-psychedlic rock. As things slide into the "Dance of the Bacchantes", the tempo steadies, things rhythmically concise, even as Lisa Gerrard's voice weaves into the mix, the spirit of Dionysus and his followers made real.
As Act II begins, "The Mountain" looms. Representing a journey to the birthplace of Dionysus, the music blends both Brendan and Lisa and their powers to wonderful effect, such that fans of Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun should find so much to embrace here. Things move forward, with the the music pointing the way to the harvest festival and the journey to the underworld, the spry "The Forest" calling us into the ritual (think "The Carnival Is Over" deconstructed into more jarring fragments). Dionysus ends with the "Psychopomp" passage of the second act, Brendan and Lisa cooing and singing bits and pieces of words and phrases nearly beyond language, beyond literal meaning. An expert blend of the more subtle aspects of the approach of each player and vocalist, this is a simple and eerily beautiful way to end the album.
Raising more questions that it can answer, Dionysus may very well be the most oblique release Dead Can Dance have ever brought forward, even as it's the most thematically-focused record in their substantial catalog. The sound of ritual, fearful worship, thrall to forces and gods we'll never face, Dionysus is a wonderfully-effective record, and the sort of progression of the sound of this group that rewards long-time fans. Devotees of those earliest offerings, and those who found succor in The Serpent's Egg should find equal enrichment here as Dionysus is a fine, fine Dead Can Dance record.
Dionysus is out on Friday but you can pre-order via the link below.
[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]