Dead Can Dance – Dionysus (Album Review)

In the annals of Neoclassical World/New Age music, which has long been elevated to critically-acclaimed mainstream status by groups such as Enya (“Orinoco Flow”), Enigma (“Return to Innocence”), Iona (“Songs of Ascent”), Clannad (“A Gentle Place”), and Dead Can Dance, the latter remains the most cryptic, exotic, and compelling.

Formed in 1981, in Melbourne, Australia, by Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, and relocated to London, England, in the year that followed, Dead Can Dance is inarguably the royal forebear of the music of its kind. It was able to smite enthusiasts of both traditional Classical and Alternative/Indie music—described by the Australian music historian Ian McFarlane as “constructed soundscapes of mesmerizing grandeur and solemn beauty; African poly-rhythms, Gaelic Folk, Gregorian chant, Middle Eastern mantras, and art Rock.

In their 37 years of on-and-off activity, Dead Can Dance has released eight studio albums, from 1984’s self-titled debut to 2012’s Anastasis. Now, the Neoclassical meisters are back with a new pièce de résistance, which further transcends the majestic beauty of their already stellar music!

Slated for release on November 2, 2018, on PIAS Recordings, the latest, ninth offering of Dead Can Dance, titled Dionysus, is certainly a heavyweight in the genre it swims within and even in the context of its own discography.

A cerebral sonic journey into deeply rooted mythological imaginings, Dionysus is a two-act, mostly instrumental narrative that is comprised by seamlessly connected movements. It begins with the subtle grace and undulating serenity of “Sea Borne” – hypnotic, alluring, and enticing like the proverbial wines of the spoiled and temperamental deities. From this foamy and cool expedition, Dionysus then takes the listener to somewhere dry, sandy, sunny, portentous, and eerie, as the slavish “Liberator of Minds” calls out proudly with its wails, birdsong, and Mediterranean strings. The final movement of the first act, “Dance of the Bacchantes,” is engaging and aptly intoxicating; its springy, bouzouki-sounding lead instrument and Tribal chants fit the whole plot.

Act II opens with the ominous melodrama and high fantasy of “The Mountain,” whose slow, galloping rhythm and slightly syncopated beats conjure an image of nomads mounted on their camels and horses, trekking painstakingly yet quietly onto the forbidden foot and fringes of the mountainous territory of the Appalachian. Harking to the sonic landscape of 1994’s Towards the Within (“Oman”), this is indeed Perry and Gerrard at their best. The spine-tingling “The Invocation” speaks for itself – rhythmic, ritualistic, communal, mystical, primitive, paganistic, Gothic. “The Forest” then takes the listener next to the celebratory part of the album, whose dance-y, Tribal beats; vocal and instrumental melodies; and catchy, head-swaying rhythm warrant a badge of Neoclassical Pop sensibility.

Finally, Dead Can Dance conclude their modern take on Common Practice Period music with the pendulum charm of “Psychopomp,” which ultimately features the sorely missed call-and-response vocal trademark of Perry and Gerrard’s Dead Can Dance.

In this age of digital music, musical masterpieces such as what Dead Can Dance could offer the world should make the music community realize that there will be artists who are always ready to forego commercial popularity to pursue creative expressions that are meant not really to tickle the curiosity of the musically interested, but more so to uplift the senses of the spiritually attuned. With its Latin American bird calls, New Zealander beehives, and Swiss goatherd, Dionysus, with its rich symbolism, is truly one of a kind; a certified addition to the inestimable discography of Dead Can Dance. CrypticRock gives Dionysus 5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase Dionysus:

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ALfie vera mellaAuthor posts

Born in 1971, in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella is a healthcare worker, singer/songwriter, and editor/writer. He was the frontman of the ’90s-peaking Philippine Alternative Rock / New Wave band Half Life Half Death, which released a full-length album and several singles on Viva Records. aLfie worked at Diwa Scholastic Press as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and supplementary magazines, focusing on Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. In 2003, aLfie migrated to Canada; he has since been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He works full-time at a healthcare institution, while serving as the associate contributing editor of Filipino Journal—a local community newspaper in Winnipeg—tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, and Music. aLfie has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines as well as websites. He started writing album reviews for Cryptic Rock in 2015. In 2016, aLfie published Part One (Literature & Languages and Their Cultural Significance) of his Essay Series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf?; in 2021, his first book of poetry, Pag-íhip sa Dáhon ng Kahápon [Blowing Leaves of Yesterday]. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books and listening to music. aLfie is a dedicated father to his now 13-year-old son, Evawwen; and a loving husband to Kathryn Mella, who herself moonlights also as a writer aside from holding a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Major in Sociology.

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