Saturday, November 10, 2018

Dead Can Dance's "Dionysus"

I got started down this rabbit hole after hearing Lisa Gerrard's contributions to The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices' album BooCheeMish earlier this year. Then my wife and I got into a conversation with a random stranger about Gerrard's band Dead Can Dance (and their '80s 4AD label mates the Cocteau Twins, whom a friend and I had listened to just a couple of days earlier), and we started streaming Anastasis, DCD's 2012 reunion album, their first since 1996, on which Brendan Perry's voice, from the opening lines of "Children of the Sun" (not the Billy Thorpe one) onward, hit like a fuller, richer version of his fellow Aussie Ron Peno's (of Died Pretty fame), in striking contrast to Gerrard's ethereal, keening arc. My wife was impressed by the confluence of African, Middle Eastern, Celtic, medieval, and Eastern European influences; I was swept away by the lush, cinematic torrent of beguiling sound.

DCD's new album, Dionysus, was composed entirely by Perry, inspired by an ecstatic experience he had while drumming at a local festival in Spain back in the '90s. Rather than a collection of songs, it's a unified work consisting of seven movements, divided into two acts, with instrumentation that includes Mediterranean folk instruments, others that mimic sounds of nature, and a vocal ensemble that blends Gerrard and Perry's voices with computer-generated sounds from a library of choral voice samples, singing in an invented language. The music manages to sound both ancient and very modern, ritual and celebratory, with a strong percussive element and those distinctively powerful waves of choral harmony.

"Sea Borne" opens "ACT I" with a grand flourish, all skirling melody over a captivating dance rhythm, then "Liberator of Minds" slows things down to conjure the expectant mood of a quiet forest, with a recurring three-note motif that recalls Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." "Dance of the Bacchantes" reaches the heart of the matter here, achieving catharsis through undulating rhythm and exultant vocal interjections. At the top of "ACT II," "The Mountain" juxtaposes Scottish reels (same ones Richard Thompson based his guitar solo style on, my wife points out) with Gregorian chants and Slavic-sounding scales. "The Invocation," with its droning polyphony, revisits some of the same territory Gerrard did with The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices, before "The Forest" introduces EDM elements into the mix. "Psychopomp" closes things out with a soothing but still highly rhythmic evocation of a sheltering rainforest. Dionysus is a sound world to get lost in.


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