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Zarko 08-11-2009 09:33 AM

A Passage In Time - Dead Can Dance Reviewed
Dead Can Dance

Brendan Perry
Lisa Gerrard

This is the ‘in’ thing to do yeah? Grab a band, and review their discography and hope everyone lavishes praise on them like you do. Thought this would become a pet project when I can’t be bothered finding some obscure album to review. Either way, within this thread I plan to navigate my way through Dead Can Dance’s discography, as well as some live/bootleg releases and possibly Perry’s and Gerrard’s work after the band disbanded. ‘A Passage In Time’ is both a song of theirs, as well as the name for their first official compilation album.


In 1981 an aspiring Melbournian quartet of musicians, Brendan Perry, Lisa Gerrard, Simon Monroe and Paul Erikson, joined together to form a band to be known as ‘Dead Can Dance’. Perry had previously replaced Marlon Hart as bassist/guitarist in an unsigned punk rock band ‘The Scavengers’ located in Auckland-New Zealand, taking over the vocal role in March, 1978. In 1979 the group migrated to Melbourne, Australia, and in 1980, they renamed themselves as ‘The Marching Girls’. They still failed to get a record contract, and in late 1980, Perry left the group, and it disbanded for all intensive purposes. Perry went on to experiment in electronic music for a short time before he announced his intentions in 1981, gathering former band buddy in Monroe, and adding vocalist Gerrard and Erikson. The group saw little promise in remaining in Melbourne, and decided to relocate to London, England, however, only Garrard and Perry made it across, Erikson and Monroe deciding to remain in Melbourne.

Whilst in London the now duo were signed onto 4AD, a popular label for underground musicians including Bauhaus, The Birthday Party, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and other alumni. The pair adopted a gothic rock style and sound in the early days, not uncommon in the era with The Cure/Joy Division/Clan of Xymox attacking the genre in similar ways, before branching out into various other genres such as classical, folk, medieval, electronic and world.

Their music stemmed from exciting and beautiful rhythm and percussion, poetic lyricism and the sublime vocals, the smooth and melancholic baritone voice that Perry had inherited and Gerrard’s powerful and breathtaking contralto vocals. The band was also ‘famous’ in a way for their amazing live performances, which not only emulated the intensity of the studio releases, but were also made up of a large percentage of unreleased material, meaning each show was unique beyond the performances. If you attended a Dead Can Dance concert, and were hoping for their most ‘widely acclaimed’ 4-5 tracks and the rest of their new album, you were going to be disappointed.

The pair disbanded and went their separate ways in 1998 when their ‘personal relationship’ turned sour, after 17 years, 7 studio albums and countless bootlegs and live recordings. Perry released his lone full album in 1999, ‘Eye of the Hunter’ and has since remained ion relative solitude in his Church-cum-home in Ireland, whilst Gerrard moved back to Australia, and has since released some solo work in ‘The Mirror Pool’ and ‘Silver Tree’, as well as many collaborations and soundtracks, including various collaborations with Pieter Bourke, Patrick Cassidy and Hans Zimmer.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the mystical journey, and I hope you at least appreciate the majestic performances, the morose lows and the awe-inspiring highs that define Dead Can Dance.

Dead Can Dance (1984)
Spleen and Ideal (1985)
Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (1987)
The Serpent's Egg (1988)
Aion (1990)
Into The Labyrinth (1993)
Spiritchaser (1996)

Best of Dead Can Dance... Part 1
Best of Dead Can Dance... Part 2

Bulldog 08-11-2009 11:05 AM

I've had Into the Labyrinth sitting on my EHD all lonely and not-listened-to, so cheers for the reminder. All the best with this thread too - you're already off to a great start with it, so methinks this'll be a good 'un.

Schizotypic 08-12-2009 12:36 AM

Pretty good band from what I've listened to. Unfortunately, despite that I have the discography, I haven't listened to anything of theirs. Looking forward to this a lot, maybe it will inspire me. Good start by the way, hope you keep it up.

Zarko 08-13-2009 01:14 AM

In February of 1984, the duo released their first full studio album four years in the making, the self titled ‘Dead Can Dance’; the album is unique in the DCD landscape in that there is a clear and heavy goth-rock/post-punk influence that is taken out of the equation until much later in their career, and even then it is only used in small doses. They very much fitted into the 4AD mould of that time, as well as garnering attention from ‘The Cure’ fans, and other bands of such ilk. Throughout is littered aspects of experimental ethnic fusion, enough to warn of possible future changes, but none too direct. The album art is of a tribal mask to represent the idea of the dead dancing. From, “The mask, though once a living part of a tree, is now supposedly dead. Nevertheless, it has, through the artistry of its maker, been imbued with a life force of its own.”

The album begins with ritualistic fervour with The Fatal Impact, an explosion of sound leading into a basic guitar riff, giving way to an interesting to and fro between two groups of ‘vocalists’, almost like a lead singer imploring the crowd to get behind him in a concert. The Fatal Impact holds off on introducing the duo too quickly by being a purely instrumental track.

Stage right, Perry stands up and takes notice, leading a melancholic ‘goth pop’ vibe with The Trial. He doesn’t attempt anything special, his warm tones kept to a dull drawl. The instrumentals leave a bit to be desired, the drumming almost sounding like they could/have been done on a drumming machine. This isn’t inherently bad, but an interesting note nonetheless. “All my senses rebel” stands out lyrically on the album, nothing spectacular on its lonesome, but its vivid imagery is fascinating.

Stage left, Gerrard joins in the procession as Frontier acts as a symbol for where the band would soon head, metallic and harsh tribal drumming and percussion infused with her angel like vocals. The pace of the instrumentals and vocals in conjunction is wonderful. Fortune signals the return of Perry and his rock style. The comparison between the two artists style is quite wide-ranging on the self-titled, but what’s even more amazing is the difference production-wise, which doesn’t make too much sense. Perry’ vocals seem to be hidden behind not only a veil of ‘sound fog’ but also the instruments and percussion. It doesn’t lend itself well in contrast to Gerrard’s songs. Perry sounds mechanic and processed, whilst Gerrard shines through naturally.

The balance between the two artists is key to the albums success, and in Ocean Gerrard once again has the scene to herself in the most stunning vocal performance on the album, Gerrard releasing a lush vibrato sound with her singing, accompanied by only minimal chiming and guitar. The use of glossolalia is a huge factor in the sensation the song causes. Glossolalia refers to the use of syllables fluently to create a ‘language’ of sorts that has no literal meaning. From Greek, the word translates into ‘speaking in tongues’.

(Old 1986 footage, poor quality, best available unfortunately)

Perry’s East of Eden is unlike his previous work in that the pace is calmed and instead of aggression shining through his work is a song of stillness and reflection. Threshold fuses the more goth-rock sound present in Perry’s side of the album with Gerrard’s vocals to create a fine crossroads between the two in another album standout. These reviews namesake, A Passage In Time, doesn’t offer too much of interest, and is rather skippable once you've heard it once or twice.

Perry’s best composition on the album comes with Wild In The Woods, despite still suffering from poor production. It is simple but a tad more experimental aurally in comparison to the rest of his work, and his tonal work is just superior in my opinion. Musica Eternal offers a fabulous finale, and who better to lead the procession that Gerrard, though Perry is more influential than in her other pieces, only offering a ‘hum’ but his warm and deep basic tones are unmistakable. The song threatens to take off, but its attempts are futile, being anchored to the earth in a tease.

With the distinction between two artists especially present on their first release, it is often difficult to believe that the pair actually thought they would fit together in a band aspect. Each leaves theirs own individual brand on the album, and sometimes with great results. Production, however, leaves a lot to be desired, with Perry’s work particularly hindered by its poor quality. The two ‘faces’ of the album often feel too separate, each side pulling in vastly different directions which of course destroys any sense of balance until late in the album. Still, there are some gems on the album, particularly Ocean. The album was re-released in 1994 with their 1984 EP ‘Garden Of The Arcane Delights’ attached at the end.

(Alternate version of Frontier)

The Fatal Impact (3:21)
The Trial (3:42)
Frontier (3:13)
Fortune (3:47)
Ocean (3:21)
East Of Eden (3:23)
Threshold (3:34)
A Passage In Time (4:03)
Wild In The Woods (3:46)
Musica Eternal (3:51)

In a Few Words: Not necessary, but an interesting look at the beginnings. If starting out, look elsewhere.
Best tracks: Ocean and Threshold
Running time: ~36 minutes/~51 minutes with EP 'Garden Of The Arcane Delights'
Favourite Lyrics:
"All my senses rebel
Under the scrutiny of their persistent gaze.
It took a lifetime to get here,
A journey I'll never make again."

Rating - A solid 6/10

NOTE - I just learned that DCD are one of the unlucky bunch who get anally raped by WMG on youtube. Apologies.

Schizotypic 08-13-2009 03:49 PM

A good start to what, if finished, will be a well-written and precise discography review. I'll be re-reading this when I finally spin this album enough to clash my thoughts against yours. What's your rating for the album by the way?

Zarko 08-13-2009 05:51 PM


Originally Posted by Schizotypic (Post 719298)
A good start to what, if finished, will be a well-written and precise discography review. I'll be re-reading this when I finally spin this album enough to clash my thoughts against yours. What's your rating for the album by the way?

Can't decide what I'm going to do with that... Might save it for when I've done all of them so the marks are comparative rather than one off on its own sort of thing. Will brew on it today.

Zarko 08-18-2009 06:06 AM

1985 signalled the release of the bands second album, ‘Spleen and Ideal’, with a little more fanfare than the S/T release. At just their second album, Dead Can Dance had evolved their sound that bears little resemblance to the first album save through the vocals and name. Rather than the goth-rock style with a hint of tribal, the sound now reflects greater levels of ethnic fusion, intense neoclassical framework and a greater level of experimentation in general. The title from the album is from an 18th century poem, and it refers to “the conflict between sinning flesh (spleen), the struggle to realise the idea.” The albums lyrics were based on poetry by Charles Baudelaire and Thomas de Quincey.

De Profundis (Out of the Depths of Sorrow), even its name, represents the passionate and haunting lyricism that is present throughout the album. The listener, abused by a wall of sounds created by a classical choir and organ combination is directed into Gerrard’s performance, a majestic one partially relying on glossolalia and some words. The album could not possibly get off to a better start. The song speaks for itself.

De Profundis (Out of the Depths of Sorrow)

The listeners are given a little treat in Ascension, with a horn/brass based instrumental with a smidgen of choir work in the second half, creating a atmosphere of melancholy that matches the album beautifully. Nothing amazing, the song is perfect for its place in the album.

We knew that Gerrard could produce a stunner; however, the real question was how it would be followed up by Perry. Needless to say, he has stepped up his game big time. The undemanding songs and poor productions are replaced with Perry becoming the focal point carrying a sense of grace and civility, evident in The Cardinal Sin. He is supported by a neoclassical brass backing mixed with a basic beat from the drumming with the occasional burst of keyboard.

The demeanour of the album changes from melancholic to menacing for a short time with the beginning of Circumradiant Dawn, string instruments resonate a harsh and squealing pitch. Gerrard’s beautiful tonal work is once again present, stretching her voice to the point of breaking time. Mesmerism is another Gerrard focused piece, and it picks up the pace considerably, a tribal rock fusion sound dominating proceedings. Her ability to not only match the pace but improve upon it is sublime. With only a short amount of lyricism, the balance is unique and fragile, and she pulls it off. The line “For you have been… mesmerised” is particularly fitting for the bands work in general, sung over a dramatic and powerful beat, making it one of the albums best works.

The mannerisms of The Cardinal Sin is replicated in Enigma of the Absolute, which begins with a simple acoustic sound before pounding of war drums and violin work take over with Perry’s best vocal performance from the album. He delivers a sermon like performance that increases in dramatic nature as time continues.

Advent follows Enigma with another Perry vocal performance, although nothing spectacular, is a nice piece, but by now it feels bit similar style wise to his previous songs. Avatar is its ‘sibling’ (purely due to name similarity and proximity), and is yet another great performance by Gerrard. It stands out, similarly to Mesmerism, due to its frenetic pace, but Gerrard’s vocal progression is also a treat.

Avatar (Live 1987 performance, okay quality from a bootleg)

As well as the album kicks off, it ends with a similarly high note with Indoctrination (A Design For Living), introducing the most distinct electronic sound of the album. The two halves rely on each other, and they both do it well.

The transition between the first album and Spleen is amazing quite frankly. Gerrard is as astonishing as advertised, developing her vocal work from the first album, whilst Perry has caught up, offering his own distinct brand of dramatics which work well in conjunction with the albums style. This is a great starting point for anyone interested in Dead Can Dance, as it offers the first high end production point, as well as offering a place to compare the bands future evolution appropriately. De Profundis, Mesmerism, Avatar and Enigma of the Absolute all stand out in their full glory.

Indoctrination (A Design For Living) (Live 1987 performance, okay quality from a bootleg)

De Profundis (Out Of The Depths Of Sorrow) (4:00) Soprano Vocals - Andrew Hutton
Ascension (3:05)
Circumradiant Dawn (3:16)
The Cardinal Sin (5:28)
Mesmerism (3:53)
Enigma Of The Absolute (4:13)
Advent (5:18)
Avatar (4:35)
Indoctrination (A Design For Living) (4:15)

In a Few Words: Its where to start your journey.
Best track/s: Avatar
Running time: ~38 minutes
Favourite Lyrics:
“The insatiable thirst for power has made idols out of mortals, gods into clay, soldiers into heroes,
Children into slaves of damned desire, their hopes betrayed.”

Rating – A top end 9.5/10

Zarko 08-18-2009 10:10 AM

Sorry had to upload the live bootlegs rather than the actual songs (Dunno how De Profundis is still up there) just to avoid the whole WMG crap.

Svengali 08-19-2009 06:18 PM

I'm a die hard DCD fan, and I enjoyed this.

Zarko 08-19-2009 10:38 PM


Originally Posted by Svengali (Post 721990)
I'm a die hard DCD fan, and I enjoyed this.

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