I remember when I was a teenager and listening to Dead Can Dance was extremely cool and trendy. At that time the access to music was definitely more complicated with respect to modern standards and therefore, for an high school student, only declaring the intention to invest your money in an LP of world music gave you the fame of an expert of cultured music, at least in the eyes of those friends who used to listen Madonna and Guns and Roses. It is a fact, however, that at the end of the last century the Australian duo had achieved an impressive reputation among an heterogeneous family of music lovers, touching in some cases the status of cult band. And this happened thanks to the absolutely unique ability that Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry had shown in transposing ancient music and ethnic elements in an extremely accessible format, without losing quality and depth. Over the years their position in the global music scene has maybe shrinked a little, but their albums have always preserved the charm and the value of products of great class, and enjoyability.
This year Dead Can Dance have released a new studio album, called Dionysus, and this should be considered in itself a special event: not only the album is the ninth of a career that is close to reach forty years of activity (with some interruptions), but it also arrives six years after the previous work, 2012’s Anastasis. Beyond the numerical aspects, what really amazes of the new record is that the prodigy which has been carried out by the band in their long history manages to renew itself at each chapter of their exciting career. Dionysus, in fact, provides the fans of the band and the lovers of world music with another exciting collection of tribal fusion and neoclassical songs, all of the highest quality and with a few moments of absolute beauty.
Beyond the characteristics of the individual songs, it’s important to say that Dionysus was conceived in such a way as to be heard in one single run, by following a linear path from the beginning to the end, without the possibility for the listener of deviating from the sequence of songs that was established by the authors. In this respect, it’s sufficient to say that the digital edition of the album has only two tracks (Act I and Act II), each one collecting different chapters of the exciting story composed by the Australian musicians.
This choice is certainly risky as it precludes the listener to have direct control over which parts of the album he wants to listen, or just to skip a song. When Dionysus starts to play from our stereo we basically embark on a journey where every stage follows the previous one, exactly in the way the authors have determined for the correct evolution of their musical work. On the other hand, the balance between the different acts and chapters is excellent and I never found myself bored of one specific track and eager to move on to the next one. This mechanism, although antithetical to the modern paradigms of music sharing, for which all songs should be as short and immediate as possible, seems to work very well in the case of this specific genre of music, and it perfectly fits with Dionysus.
From a purely musical point of view, Dionysus doesn’t shine for particular originality in the context of the band’s discography. On the contrary, at a first listen it may seem even a bit flat and less exciting with respect to their standard levels. The beauty of the album, however, emerges after a few repeated listens, once you become familiar with the delicate mixture of Celtic, New Age and Middle Eastern music that is provided in the LP. In part it’s true that the melodies in Dionysus are less immediate and catchy than some of the most famous songs from the band. But the fact is that in their new record Dead Can Dance wanted to represent the multicolored world of the God of Ecstasy, and rather than insist on obsessive and dramatic rhythms, they composed a special music that captures you slowly, progressibely, and which will transport you into a magical and luminous world, obscured only a few times by some dark shadow.
Therefore, to approach the album expecting to discover the new hit in world music will only lead to a great disappointment. If instead we abandon all preconceptions and let ourselves be carried away by the beautiful sequence of songs that the two artists have composed for us, we’ll be surprised to see how intriguing and full of emotions is the journey into the fascinating world of Dionysus. And you want to start it once again as soon as it ends.
The new album by Dead Can Dance can be streamed from Spotify where the single chapters of the LP are also available as separate tracks.
Dionysus is featured also in The Voyager, the playlist that I’m curating on Spotify with all the best and latest songs in World Music.