Dead Can Dance – Anastasis (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
THE first album from Dead Can Dance in 16 years is an epic affair that defies easy categorisation. It’s often a journey of wonder. But it can also underwhelm.
Derived from the Greek word for ‘resurrection’ (Anastasis), the name of the album seems particularly apt for an act that have been away for so long. But while some tracks celebrate life in beautiful fashion, others take too long to wake up.
And perhaps it’s the gap in brilliance between those songs that work and those that don’t that makes the lesser moments so frustrating, for when the album comes alive, it often soars.
Opening track Children of the Sun has some wonderful instrumental arrangements and is anchored by Brendan Perry’s impossibly deep vocals that spout lyrics on ancient civilisations. It’s mesmerising and effortlessly cinematic.
And it comes as no surprise to find the album’s musical inspiration comes from the near-Eastern Mediterranean, from Greece and Turkey across to North Africa, given the sound that follows for much of proceedings.
Lisa Gerrard, whose serene vocals will be best known to anyone who has heard her provide the epic backdrop for the score to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator or Michael Mann’s The Insider, then wistfully wraps an Eastern-leaning vocal around a subtle, brooding offering called Anabasis (or journeys).
It’s beautifully achieved but actually a precursor to some of the album’s lesser moments, given that this style of delivery is employed perhaps once too often, being almost instantly repeated again on Agape (love). That said, the violin work on that track almost redeems it and wreaks of classical Greece and a certain danger underpinning the romance (perhaps in allusion to the epic romance between Helen of Troy and Paris).
On Kiko, Gerrard is at it again, albeit this time with a more guitar-based backdrop and a percussion that sounds like a march or procession – but a sombre one, given the ponderous pacing.
Fortunately, the format is broken up by former single and IndieLondon record of the week Amnesia, which provides another example of the album at its very best.
Opening amid gentle piano arrangements and another welcome vocal from Perry, it eventually assumes a darkness with a synth stab reminiscent of the dark tones of Hans Zimmer’s Inception score. It provides a wonderful juxtaposition within the track and genuinely excites and fires the imagination.
Elsewhere, Opium finds Perry yet again providing another gravelly vocal against a melody that captures the highs of the intoxicating drug at its core, while there’s almost a classic Highlands vibe attached to Return of The She-King, which underlines the album’s theme of resurrection. Again, it’s cinematic and classically leaning, with the intricate instrumentals providing a captivating, even euphoric, sense of new life (and hope).
All In Good Time, meanwhile, rounds things off in brooding, pensive, slow-building fashion but has a beguiling quality to it that’s aided by Perry’s reflective vocals and lyrics (“when you reach the end of the rainbow” etc). It’s perhaps a bit of a comedown after the celebratory tone of the track that precedes it but it’s somehow an apt finale and one that slowly comes to life, albeit with a bittersweet undertow.
Dead Can Dance’s return is therefore a continually intriguing listen, by turns astonishing and frustrating that nevertheless underlines them as an essential act for anyone seeking something a little more challenging and adventurous in their music.
And given the epic, cinematic quality of this album, fans who have booked to see them at the Royal Albert Hall later this year should be in for a real feast.
Download picks: Children of the Sun, Amnesia, Return of the She-King, All In Good Time