Dead Can Dance
Into the Labyrinth


3.0
good

Review

by Nash J. CONTRIBUTOR (39 Reviews)
September 5th, 2014 | 37 replies


Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I believe in a way of long ago...

Ok, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: the Middle Ages are awesome! Seriously, what’s not to love about them? The valiant knights, the fair maidens, the tyrannical kings, the gruesome warfare, the epic myths...it’s no wonder that people are still inspired by the Medieval Period to this very day in terms of literature, cinema, fast food restaurants, and music. One band that seems to be firmly rooted in this time period are the Australian minstrel duo Dead Can Dance. While the band’s sixth release, Into the Labyrinth, shows more ethnic influences than ever before and can be considered a bit of a stylistic departure from their previous works, it is nonetheless a passable entry into the neo-medieval folk genre despite its strange and overindulgent tendencies.

When it comes to the Medieval era, the type of music that tends to be associated with it are grandiose, orchestral scores that makes the listener feel like a knight in chain mail armor (e.g. the Skyrim soundtrack). Yet, interestingly enough, Into the Labyrinth is about as far from that as one can get. Dead Can Dance take a minimalist approach to their songwriting. Although many exotic instruments are used throughout the album, the majority of songs are carried solely by the vocal work of the two members, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. For instance, the a cappella track “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” stands as the most powerful and haunting song on the album; a gorgeous display of vocal talent and melancholy imagery. In fact, melancholy imagery is without a doubt the main focus of Into the Labyrinth. While the music at hand is still undeniably inspired by the Middle Ages, Dead Can Dance seem to have turned their focus away from the tales of bravery and swordplay, instead focusing on the more somber aspects of the era. Although the lyrics of opener “Yulunga” are basically gibberish, the track’s dance-like rhythm and ethnic melody recall music that may have been prevalent in poor, Middle-Eastern villages on a scorching summer’s day. Likewise, there is such an underlying sadness to Perry’s vocals on “The Carnival Is Over” that the song’s upbeat melody creates an extremely mournful atmosphere. Since the musicianship of Dead Can Dance isn’t particularly impressive, the instrumentation itself is always secondary to the vocals. “Saldek,” for instance, has nothing of value going on musically other than maraka shakes, but the song itself holds its own due to Gerrard’s insane vocals. This formula doesn’t always work, but when it does the result is usually quite breathtaking.

Although Into the Labyrinth remains a unique portrait of poverty in the Middle Ages, the album’s flaws prevent it from being as gripping of a vision as the band was likely striving for. Perhaps the most blatant flaw is how damn strange the music can be at times. This isn’t to say that any of the songs are unconventional for this genre; rather, the album’s production does not work at all with the music at hand. To put this into context, Into the Labyrinth was the band’s first release on a major-label. As such, the album’s production is crisp, fine-tuned, and clearly high budget. Not that there’s anything wrong with crystal clear production; but in the case of this album, it does the music no favors. Take “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” for example. The sound quality of each instrument is perfect but the dynamic levels between them make little sense, with the drumbeat and some of the milder textures remaining rather quiet and bouncing from ear to ear until becoming so discordant that the song begins to sound like two entirely different tracks being played at once. While this mixing issue is practically unnoticeable during the opener and the more minimalist songs such as “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” and “Emmeleia,” the production nevertheless detracts from the album being as atmospheric and conceptual as it had the potential to be. Arguably though, the most bizarre quality of Into the Labyrinth is the band’s infrequent use of electronics. For a band with such a massive assortment of instruments at their disposal, the use of electronics adds relatively nothing to the album that couldn’t otherwise be better accomplished with an instrument that reflects the time period in which the album is so stubbornly set. Furthermore, when the electronics are used for texture like in “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove,” they end up sounding dissonant and unfitting with everything else going on in the song. Sadly, the often questionable songwriting takes away from the album as a whole, but luckily does not prove detrimental to the more thought-out tunes.

As previously stated, this is a downright depressing album. The tone of Into the Labyrinth never ceases to be powerful and sincere, but is unfortunately too constant. Every song on this album is sad in one way or another; excluding the opener and “Towards the Within,” which break the formula by being whimsical and exciting. Even the harpsichord-driven “Tell Me About the Forest (You Once Called Home)” is sad in its own right, telling the story of someone leaving everything they love to wander alone. No track is noticeably weaker than the last, but if Dead Can Dance had been more imaginative and tried something other than bumming the listener out, the individual impact of songs would have been much greater.

Honestly, Into the Labyrinth is a difficult album to recommend. The idea of mixing Medieval and world music with a focus on gloomy imagery is undeniably interesting, and by no means do Dead Can Dance execute this idea poorly. Yet, with the obvious exception of the masterful vocal performances (especially in regards to Gerrard’s beautiful a cappella and haunting glossolalia), there is nothing truly outstanding here. The bleak tone is hard-hitting at first but is dragged-out too long, and although there are certainly some unique instruments at hand, the duo’s musicianship ranges from ”good” to ”meh.” Still, if you can overlook its flawed production and strange songwriting, nothing about this album is particularly “bad”, especially if you’re into the whole neo-medieval genre of music or are just fascinated by the Middle Ages. And for those of you who are: Into the Labyrinth may not be as compelling as living in a castle or slaying mythical dragons, but when all is said and done, I’d take it over a Medieval Times restaurant any day of the week.



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user ratings (127)
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3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
September 4th 2014


5983 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Finally found the time to write a review, so here ya go. Been working on this one for the better part of a month now so I hope it turned out ok.

This review is for Judio's Review A Random Album Game by the way. Special thanks to Judio for doing such an awesome job arranging the game this year and IN NO WAY procrastinating on the album he was assigned!

Digging: Aphex Twin - Syro

ExplosiveOranges
September 4th 2014


2816 Comments


In which Judio makes his paragraphs way too fucking big because the internet.

Digging: Electric Wizard - Time to Die

Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
September 4th 2014


5983 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This ain't nothing bro. Have you even read my Mercyful Fate reviews?

ExplosiveOranges
September 4th 2014


2816 Comments


Oh shit, you're right. Review is good, though. Probably will pass on this one.

ScuroFantasma
September 4th 2014


1923 Comments


Great review Judio, this sounds like my thing, yet anotheer album I need to check out.

Digging: Eluveitie - Origins

laughingman22
September 4th 2014


1724 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

knew Judio was going to be disappointed with this album after reading that first paragraph, this isn't really the knight in shinning armor kind of medieval

Oranges don't skip out on this band, they're great, just bit too strange for most people

Digging: Throbbing Gristle - Part 2: The Endless Not

Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
September 4th 2014


5983 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Thanks guys

@Scuro If this sounds like your kind of thing, go for it. Haven't listened to any other of their albums but I know they have some really highly-rated stuff that I'm gonna check out soon so you might want to give them a shot as well.

ExplosiveOranges
September 4th 2014


2816 Comments


Alright laughingman, I trust you.

Gestapo
September 4th 2014


728 Comments


this band rules never heard this album tho

Digging: Motionless in White - Reincarnate

deathschool
September 4th 2014


8426 Comments


Great review, man. Super concise. Probably won't listen to this. Mental pos.

Digging: Look What I Did - Atlas Drugged

ComeToDaddy
September 4th 2014


261 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great review, would pos if I could. The album is great, you pretty much nailed the problems with it

@ Oranges, if you haven't checked this band out, definitely do. Within The Realm and Serpents Egg are excellent albums, this is only their 3rd or 4th best

Digging: Spectral Lore - III

emester
September 4th 2014


3537 Comments


"the Middle Ages are awesome! Seriously, what’s not to love about them?"

No indoor plumbing, Church owns your life, mom and dad are likely dead, meals of mud on stale bread, nobles being obnoxious
assholes, you have tapeworms are a daily occurrence etc

Digging: Godflesh - A World Lit Only By Fire

Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
September 4th 2014


5983 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Wow you must be real fun at parties

emester
September 4th 2014


3537 Comments


imma real charmer

so I heard this sounds like the new Empyrium, so Im pretty sure I would hate it. great review as always tho :D

titanslayer
September 4th 2014


1779 Comments


I heard their first album a few weeks ago and have been meaning to check out the rest of their stuff. Good review judio

JohnnyOnTheSpot
September 4th 2014


890 Comments


I think I'd prefer Medieval Times

Sweet rev Judio

Digging: Godflesh - A World Lit Only By Fire

Keyblade
September 5th 2014


14886 Comments


Not one of their best, but still very good. Good to see this reviewed

manosg
September 5th 2014


6133 Comments


Good to see this reviewed [2] and particularly by Judio. Gonna read the full text later.

Digging: John Coltrane - Ballads

Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
September 5th 2014


5983 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Thank you everyone! :]

ScuroFantasma
September 5th 2014


1923 Comments


I listened to 'The Carnival is Over' and while it wasn't what I was expecting there was something about it I really liked.



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