Dead Can Dance: Anastasis
The worst word a band can be described as is “irrelevant.” That’s why any listener cannot help but feel fear and excitement in equal measure when they learn that an old favorite is working on a new release after a long time out of the game. We saw it earlier this summer with the Beach Boys and their new album, That’s Why God Made the Radio. Sure, it wasn’t the next Pet Sounds, but it reminded many people why the Beach Boys are important and therefore safeguarded them from succumbing to irrelevance. Dead Can Dance isn’t as storied ‒ or old ‒ as the Beach Boys, but Anastasis does similarly mark their first album in well over a decade. The duo of Linda Gerrard and Brendan Perry has crafted a record made up of eight dark, sprawling tracks that dabble in a variety of international soundscapes and vocal stylings. The “world music” genre is a tricky one, demanding that a band somehow incorporate a variety of diverse styles without turning the album into some uneven around-the-world-in-eight-songs exercise. Gerrard and Perry are skilled enough composers and willing enough to take risks so that the album is varied but still cohesive.
The album begins with Perry’s voice breaking out on “Children of the Sun,” a declaration that this album is unlike most you’ll hear this year. His vocals are a tribute to the Dark Wave genre that enjoyed only scattershot acknowledgement since the hey-day of bands like The Cure and Joy Division. Although his lyrics may seem superficially cheerful, that characteristic sorrow graces every word that plays over these ethereal instrumentals. It’s a strong start and asserts Perry’s vocals as one of the highlights of the album. Lisa Gerrard showcases her very unique vocal stylings on the next track, “Anabasis,” which is the first point where Dead Can Dance lives up to their worldly reputation. It continues on “Agape,” which has a certain Middle Eastern vibe to it. The song displays Gerrard’s skill as a composer (she’s collaborated with Hans Zimmer on the score for the film “Gladiator” ‒ it’s no surprise that this track, and many others on the album, have a very cinematic flair to them). The highlight of the album for me was “Amnesia,” which has an infectious piano chord coming in and out throughout the almost operatic track. The record certainly moves from the worldly nature of the first half to a grander in scope second half that at times sounds like the film score to a movie we aren’t getting to see. This can be exhausting at times, but when Perry’s vocals join in on the more neoclassical tracks on this album, the compositions are as exciting and epic as anything you will hear this year.
Older bands returning to the studio can be hit or miss. Some clearly come back with a plan in mind and an excitement to execute said plan. Others come back so that they can pay their mortgage. Dead Can Dance clearly stands in the former camp. There’s a passion to the music, even in the parts that aren’t exactly thrilling. The composition here is extremely skillful and there are some pretty intoxicating moments on this album that will surely delight old and new fans alike.