Release Date: Nov 2, 2018
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
And now for something completely different. Dead Can Dance is another group new to this writer but one familiar across the decades to scores of listeners, with a strong body of truly unique work to their name. I'm not sure what I was expecting on putting the record on this week but it's fair to say it wasn't Dionysus. Immediately it becomes obvious I have to re-imagine any preconceived structure to building a review.
The follow-up to the pioneering Australian art pop duo's 2012 comeback LP Anastasis, Dionysus dispenses with the more song-oriented approach of its predecessor in favor of an atmosphere-driven bacchanalian oratorio inspired by the Greek god of wine and ecstasy. Split into two tracks with a sum of seven movements, Dionysus unfurls like a guided ayahuasca trip; a curl of aromatic smoke that develops into a roaring, pre-Byzantine bonfire replete with primeval chants and ancient rites. Opener "Sea Borne" tracks the outsider God's arrival via a slow build of tribal beats and a sinewy, unfolding melody that suggests "Misirlou" by way of "Kashmir" -- the album continues to eschew the European folk proclivities of the duo's early work in favor a more Mediterranean and North African aesthetic.
One of the otherworldly bands that made eclectic record label 4AD so appealing in the '80s, Dead Can Dance, the duo of multi-instrumentalist Brendan Perry and surreal vocalist Lisa Gerrard, are still going strong and celebrate the end of a 6-year hiatus with another ethereal and haunting, yet upbeat recording. While Dionysus contains some of the sweeping cinematic soundscapes, delicate electronics and classical ambient tendencies the band is known for, it is also a much more bombastic affair. A decidedly Middle Eastern flavor permeates throughout, bolstered by tribal rhythmic beats and ethnic sounding instrumental embellishments.
Is music now too small for the long-running duo of Dead Can Dance? Are we really meant to enjoy their grandiose statements via tinny white earbuds rather than earth-quaking sound systems? And how will their forthcoming tour fare its medium-sized concert halls, rather than the Roman amphitheaters such enormous music deserves? At least Dionysus--the band's ninth album and first since 2012--is the rare record that took two years of research and recording to make and actually sounds like it needed every one of those 730 days. Its epic proportions suggest a work chipped out of marble. Since forming in Melbourne, Australia, in 1981, Dead Can Dance have shown the kind of towering ambition that has given them purchase in goth-rock circles and among filmmakers looking for windswept gravitas.