Australia’s veteran pioneers of ambient post-rock neo-classical world fusion (or whatever the hell else you want to call it) return
For the benefit of the uninitiated… Dead Can Dance formed in Melbourne in 1981. Moving to the UK, they signed to 4AD, home also to kindred spirits the Cocteau Twins and Bauhaus, and between 1984 and 1996, released nine albums… not one of which ever troubled the Top 40. Perhaps part of the problem was the impossibility of pinning down exactly what it was they sounded like: look them up on Wikipedia and they’re listed as “world fusion, world folk, ethereal wave, dark folk, new age, neoclassical wave, dream pop, ambient, gothic rock, post-punk”.
Beloved of goths, art students, John Peel and classical music buffs alike, they finally called it a day in 1998. Until, as they used to say on Tomorrow’s World, now. Actually, there was a reunion tour in 2005, which resulted in some limited-edition live recordings, but Anastasis is the first full album since Spiritchaser in 1996.
So is it any good, then? From where this reviewer is sitting – and I should admit to being a long-term fan – it’s really very good indeed. It would be fair to say that they haven’t changed much… but then did we really want them to? How disappointed would aficionados have been if they’d come back with, say, a grime album? No, this is definitely Dead Can Dance in the ‘classic’ mode. Languid, subcontinentally inspired rhythms? Check. Sumptuous string-heavy orchestration? Check. Lyrics that flirt with Eastern mysticism and explore themes of harmony, discord, loneliness and redemption? Check. Perry’s rich, resonating Morrison-isms and Gerrard’s ethereal, Arab-esque wails? Check. And so it goes.
But like Soft Cell’s superb Cruelty Without Beauty in 2002, this is the sound NOT of tired old has-beens trying and failing to rehash former glories, but rather of a pair of musicians who are now older, presumably wiser and certainly more accomplished returning to show the youngsters exactly how it’s done. By turns fragile and luxuriant, it’s as finely crafted a slab of Baroque pop as you’ll hear all year.
Custom hasn’t had much chance to stale Dead Can Dance’s infinite variety, what with the 16-year gap n’ all. But it’s good to hear that age cannot wither them, either.
Verdict: A stunning comeback from a band who are a genre all by themselves