Review Summary: A very good tribal African themed album, with especially great percussion and singing.
Spiritchaser is often considered to be one of Dead Can Dance’s weakest albums but apart from the reason that it’s very different to their earlier work and not as ethereal, I’ve never understood why. To me at least, this sounds absolutely fantastic. I’ve heard people say that Spiritchaser lacks the ‘beauty’ and ’atmosphere’ of previous DCD albums, but I strongly disagree - the beauty and atmosphere is still here, it’s just different. In fact there’s probably even more of it than in their earlier albums.
On Spiritchaser, instead of their traditional medieval/Eastern sound, DCD show a very strong tribal African and Caribbean influence. Despite the change of ‘scene’ it still has a very recognisable Dead Can Dance sound throughout.
The album is much more percussion heavy than previous DCD albums. While on their earlier releases they would sometimes use nothing more than a drum machine, five people worked on the percussion here. The percussionists do an incredible job of creating complex and very lively tribal rhythms. Combined with the synths, it always sounds very busy, deep and dense; there is no silence and always something happening to lead the album forward.
There are some really beautiful and memorable melodies played by a variety of instruments. To be honest I don’t know what exactly is being played half the time, as DCD have a habit of using ancient, forgotten or just very obscure instruments. Saying that, there are some very un-traditional instruments being played, such as the aforementioned synth and occasional electric guitar. However, these do not break the ethnic atmosphere at all, but actually succeed in adding DCD’s own uniqueness to it and modernising the sound.
DCD had two permanent members, Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. Except for the percussion and a Turkish clarinet on one track, every instrument is played by them, and they composed all of the music. As well as being hugely talented multi-instrumentalists, they are both incredible singers. Lisa Gerrard in particular is easily one of the best singers I’ve ever heard. She usually sings in a deep and ethereal voice, but has the ability to sing in a huge
range of different styles. While it may sound a bit of a cliché, her voice really does seem to soar above the music. Brendan Perry is also great. His singing is not quite as spectacular, but it contrasts well with Lisa’s as it is more grounded and ‘ordinary’, sometimes sounding a bit like Jim Morrison.
On the other DCD albums, the songs are usually sorted neatly between Lisa’s atmospheric ethereal songs and Brendan’s (still atmospheric) rock/pop songs. On Spiritchaser however, they mix both styles together with them both singing on the same songs, usually with Brendan singing back-up vocals. The two different styles combine perfectly to create very atmospheric yet still melodic songs. There are two exceptions: ‘Song of the Dispossessed’ which is a classic Brendan Perry rock song with a strong Caribbean beat, and ‘Devorzhum’ which ends the album. While it is only a few notes being repeated for over 6 minutes, Lisa Gerrard gives a stunningly haunting vocal performance, making it one of the album’s best tracks.
Spiritchaser is not without its problems though. Usually one of the best things about Brendan’s songs is his fantastic metaphorical lyrics. On Spiritchaser he only sings in English on one track (apart from a brief spoken word section on ‘Song of the Stars’), and while his lyrics here are good they are far from his best and it is disappointing to only have them for one song. Lisa Gerrard’s singing is also held back slightly by the heavy drumming (except on ‘Devorzhum’) so isn’t quite as impressive as usual.
Overall though, these are only minor gripes, and overall the album is incredibly rich in atmosphere with some great melodies and easily worthy of many repeat listens.