Review Summary: The elusive spirit has been caught. Now it burns for the god of wine.
It was 1996 when Dead Can Dance, the duo formed by Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, decided to enter a long hibernation period that would freeze the project for a total of 16 years. Spiritchaser
was the album created to send off the band's successful career after almost two decades of existence. It was an album that conveyed their most spiritual expression, dissociating them with the neoclassical darkwave style of their origins. It wasn't until 2012 that a long due and unexpected reunion would take place.
An album called Anastasis
(meaning "resurrection" in Greek), was the flag bearer of said awaited return. The 8th album of the band encompassed all their influences into an hour-long piece of music. From the early post punk of their debut to the soundtrack-friendly epics of past albums like Into the Labyrinth
, the band recovered their distinctively exotic sound, as well as the unmistakable voices of both Gerrard and Perry. Where Anastasis
served as a reflection on their legacy as Dead Can Dance, the band may have realized that the direction they had set with Spiritchaser
hadn't been explored further, being only a scratch on the surface of what could transcend if they would fully embrace the ethnic character of their pre-hiatus album.
Five years has been the time that Dead Can Dance have needed to create Dionysus
, the band's 9th album and a rightful successor to Spiritchaser
. Where the latter feasted on African roots, using a wide variety of percussion and rhythmic patterns derived from the southern continent, Dionysus
brings their music towards the middle and southern east parts of Europe. Dead Can Dance’s last release is an album impregnated with everything that the duo has experimented through their previous musical endeavors, but also a step forward in their ceaseless search for new and fascinating sounds.
, as the name clearly states, is a work centered on the life of the Greek god of festivities. It's divided in two acts, with each track serving as a tiny window into the life of the god and the nature of his cult. Hence, the opening track "Sea Borne" may represent the believe that Dionysus was captured by pirates when he was only a child. "The Mountain" could refer to Mount Nysa, the place where some beliefs place his upbringing, while "Psychopomp" could be his portrayal as the guide of mortal souls to the underworld.
It's not strange that an album about the god of wine would sound as festive as Dionysus
does. The joyous chants of dancing "maenads" and the entrancing clatter and jangle of erected satyrs playing unfamiliar instruments frolic freely through the album's first act as a procession for the deity, while the second act gently winds down the celebration with a serene, meditative tone. Through my research of the instruments used in Dionysus
, I came across unusual names like the zurna, a sort of flute used in Algerian music or the bowed psaltery, a not plucked zither of German origin. Both are examples of Brendan Perry’s unrequited love for extraneous instruments. Furthermore, field recordings and even bird calls are also used in Dionysus
to enhance the feeling of presence across the seven tracks that form the duo's latest adventure. On the other hand, Lisa Gerrard's singing also departs in some moments from her classical temper, showing a more primal approach in songs like "Dance of the Bacchantes", where the celebratory tone reaches one of the album's most hypnotic climaxes.
The androgynous nature of the Greek god could also be mirrored in how Perry and Gerrard have approached their singing in Dionysus
. While the crooning of Perry is still present in songs like first single "The Mountain", Gerrard's blessed voice soon joins him, creating a jaunting dichotomy that echoes the god's seemingly ambiguous sexuality. The schism that gave them their own space in one of their most emblematic albums, Within the Realm of the Dying Sun
, fades with grace in Dionysus
in favor of a more intertwined vocal scheme. In a lighter sense, each one of them still have their moment under the spotlight: "The Invocation" features Lisa Gerrard prominently, her soulful voice shining with a dim light in a way that feels ancient and almost motherly. "The Forest", on the other hand could have been included as it is in Spiritchaser
. Brendan Perry's vocals channel a nurturing, foreign melody in the familiar but still unknown language of Dead Can Dance.
, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard seem determined to celebrate. It doesn't matter the reason why; it may be the fact they are still making wonderful music after all these years, or just because the god of wine so demands it but the history of Dead Can Dance has a new chapter, and it's up to you to join or not their rapturous parade.