Review Summary: With Aion they created what was quite possibly their masterpiece. Reaching back further and further until eventually hitting the Renaissance, they settled around there as the basis for the music of this album. A surprising success, given the very differen
You know, I must say that I'm disappointed in some people here. Given the musical diversity and penchant for obscure brilliance that I've recognized in so many of you I was somewhat shocked to find that there was not even a band page made for Dead Can Dance.
Definetly musically diverse, not to mention obscure and brilliant, Dead Can Dance (composed of just two band members, Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry) pushed the limits of popular music, until eventually stepping out of them altogether.
With Aion they created what was quite possibly their masterpiece. Reaching back further and further until eventually hitting the Renaissance, they settled around there as the basis for the music of this album. A surprising success, given the very different sounding nature of this album, Aion went on to become what I believe is their best-selling album (it's been a while since I glimpsed the numbers).
But let me say this now, in order for me to justify the rating I have to first and foremost say that this is by no means a rock band and this is by no means rock music, so be wary. Fans of Godspeed You! Black Emperor might feel right at home with some of these tracks (bear in mind that I did say some, not all), but this is the closest real comparison that I can make without going into Renaissance music, of which I, admitedly, know very little of. Still, I would like to emphasize that in my opinion the music is not weird so much as different. It has precedents, those precedents just happen to be several hundered years old.
Enough of that though, I'm not trying to scare anybody. This music is not necessarily as hard to "get in to" as with other bands, at least, again, in my own opinion. That said, before moving on to the review, I'd like to state one more thing. Reviewing these tracks by a numerical basis is just not in me. They are too varied, and each has it's charms and nuances. Due to these reasons, however, I will do a track-by-track.
The Arrival and the Reunion starts things off very nicely. The music is very epic sounding polychoral work. Much faster than conventional chant though, with Gerrard's signature glossolalia moving at a very rapid pace near the beginning, before slowing down near the end. This is one of the religious sounding ones, but keep in mind that there aren't any real lyrics in it, so if you're offended by being "preached to" in your music, then you don't have to worry about this one. This is one of my favorites, so don't be put off by the short run time.
Next is Saltarello, a reworking of a traditional piece of music. It's actually pretty catchy, with a nice Irish jig feel to it, and I get it stuck in my head quite frequently. No vocals in this one, not that they would really be necessary.
Mephisto isn't really meant as a separate track so much as a bridge. It's just a short line of melody that repeats over and over again, fading in, then out almost a minute later. Surprisingly enough, I kinda like it, and have been known to listen to it on repeat on occasion (but that's likely just my own weirdness further shining through).
And then we come to The Song of the Sybil, my personal favorite off of the album. This one is very religious sounding, obvious given that it's a reworking of a traditional Christian chant. It has a somber and mysterious sound to it, which I love. The lyrics seem to be actual words this time around, though not in english, and are about the apocalypse. Like I said, awesome.
Fortune Presents Gifts Not According to the Book (I love that title) is next. This is the first song track on here sung by Perry and the first with english lyrics (in fact's it's really one of the only two that can really be considered a song). The lyrics are taken from a poem of the same name written some time in the 15th century. This one is the most Renaissance-y of the lot, with some very nice guitar work. At six minutes it's also the longest.
After that comes As the Bell Rings the Maypole Spins, the second longest track (about 5:16). Gerrard is back on vocal duty this time, with her glossolalia back into it. This time, however, bagpipes join the fray, and there's a nice beat to this one as well. I regret to say that I really don't listen to this one all that much, but many fans hold it in very high regard. Either way it's a great piece of music.
The End of Words is a very gloomy sounding piece, with a bell ringing in the background while voices (male and female this time) chant over it. This and the next two tracks are often grouped together by fans, and I can see why (here's a hint: they're not exactly the most upbeat things you'll ever hear, unless, of course, you, like me, love the concept of the next track as much as I do).
And what better concept for a song than the end of the world? Yes, with a title like Black Sun, you might have guessed what this beauty was about. Steady timpani with brass parts over it, and Perry's vocals of the end of days (this is one of the two actual songs that I mentioned earlier) all serve to illustrate man's oncoming demise. Alright, you might have noticed that I take a giddy pleasure in this, but you might very well find it depressing, I guess it depends on your personality. Oh, and watch for that brass part at a bit over two minutes or so in, it gets me every time. Another of my favorites, in case you hadn't noticed.
And then, to round out the doom and gloom, comes Wilderness. This one goes back to the chant format, but it's just voices this time, so it's kind of like the Arrival and the Reunion (alright that one had some quiet drums, but you get the point), but not as exciting. It's by no means bad, but I don't listen to it all that often. Still, it's perfect for the two tracks it surrounds.
Which brings me to The Promised Womb, which, apart from having one of the worst song titles I've ever run across, is actually an extremely good piece of music (both, again, my opinion). Very somber sounding strings play while Gerrard sings over them. The strings bring to mind Godspeed to some extent, while still maintaining the more antiquated sound of the album. Another of my favorites.
The Garden of Zephirus is much like Mephisto in that it's a short repeating line of music used mainly to tie tracks together. There's some nice forest sounds in the background, but there's not much more I can say about it except that, oddly, like Mephisto, I like listening to it.
And last comes Radharc. This one is very arabian sounding, with traditional drums playing with interjections from strings and Gerrard's voice. Definetly a must-have for the soundtrack of your next arabian desert expedition... anybody? Well, I'd imagine CD or mp3 players probably wouldn't work very long in the desert anyway, but if they did this would be one to bring along. And though I might be slightly biased by my love of things arabian or arabianesque, I think this is a great way to end the album.
- Great if you're into Renaissance, World or otherwise less mainstream music.
- Consistant quality and diversity (aside from the predominant glossolalia) on the tracks.
- When the end times come, you'll be ready with back-up music.
- Very short as an album, not even forty minutes.
- You might be turned off by the glossolalia (I love it, but am well aware that that might not be everyone's opinion).
- The Promised Womb's song title. Seriously, what would compel people to...?
Recommended Tracks (by track order):
1. The Arrival and the Reunion
4. The Song of the Sybil
8. Black Sun
10. The Promised Womb