Review Summary: A bit of a Dead Can Dance clone, but a good Dead Can Dance clone. Very atmospheric dark ambient/neoclassical music, with influences from medieval music.Dead Can Dance
is commonly considered to be the best band in whatever genre they are pigeonholed into with their unique atmospheric sound and influences from gothic rock, dark ambient, neoclassical music, medieval music and in their later albums, world music.
With ‘Inner Pale Sun’, Swedish band Arcana threaten to take Dead Can Dance’s throne. While they can easily be criticised for being a complete rip-off of Dead Can Dance, focusing on the neoclassical and dark ambient elements of Dead Can Dance’s earlier medieval influenced albums ‘Spleen & Ideal’ and ‘Within the Realm of a Dying Sun’, Arcana are so good at it that the lack of originality becomes very easy to ignore.
Like Dead Can Dance, the sound here mixes old with new using an assortment of modern and obscure instruments. Strings, occasionally supported by drums, provide the backing as chimes, bells, guitars, dulcimers and all sorts of obscure instruments play sparse and usually quite simple melodies. While this formula is simple, it always works very well. The melodies are always incredibly atmospheric and beautiful, bringing to mind thoughts of the medieval world the music is influenced by. With it’s hypnotic melodies, timpani echoing in the background, rolling drums and sweeping strings, Arcana manages here to create an impressively haunting and dark and sound with a genuine medieval atmosphere.
Where Arcana separates from Dead Can Dance is the vocals. While Dead Can Dance’s music is dominated by Lisa Gerrard’s unearthly, ethereal soaring vocals and Brendan Perry’s more grounded yet still powerful Jim Morrisonesque singing, most of the music on ‘Inner Pale Sun’ is instrumental.
Most of the time when vocals do come in they are chanted simply to enhance the albums. Vocalist Peter Petterson, who amazingly plays nearly all of the instruments actually sounds slightly like Brendan Perry, but slightly lower pitched. It’s not that noticeable though, especially as he only sings on a few tracks or just does chants. The singing is decent but not as strong as that on Dead Can Dance, which is probably one of the reasons it’s used only to enhance the atmosphere. Occasionally he is supported by female backing vocals provided by Ann-Mari Thim, though these vocals are only ever chanted. The lyrics aren’t as impressive as the music and are often quite simple, but fit the dark themes fine.
While ‘Inner Pale Sun’ is fantastic if you are in the right mood to lose yourself in it’s dark atmosphere, the slight lack of variety could get dull if you are not. Dead Can Dance manage to balance the atmosphere and ‘pop’ in their music well with short catchy songs by Brendan Perry and longer, more meandering Lisa Gerrard songs, while Arcana seem to focus much more on the atmosphere, so it becomes less gripping than much of Dead Can Dance’s work. While the melodies are all very strong they sometimes lack a certain catchiness that would help the album remain interesting for much longer. As the album is only 38 minutes long though, this doesn’t become much of a problem.
So has Arcana managed to snatch Dead Can Dance’s crown with ‘Inner Pale Sun’? Not quite, but they are certainly good enough for any Dead Can Dance fan, or any fan of atmospheric music, to enjoy.