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Dead Can Dance - Dead Can Dance
Review: The cyclic view of history states that events repeat like a riff in linear time, starting with a condition and mutating to the cause immediately preceding that condition, and the emergence of Dead Can Dance from the ashes of 1980s music shows us a rediscovery of ancient cultural mythos as brought to prominence like a prophesy suggesting a path to our future. With their first album, this band merged styles but kept a central focus on an abstract cultural idea that translated through the amalgam into a clear voice upon which they later developed.
Unlike other Dead Can Dance works, the self-titled album relies heavily on guitar as a dual rhythm instrument and melodic lead that defines a pattern around which a contexture emerges in layers through keyboards, bass and the indefinably feral yet aesthetically-driven vocals of Lisa Gerrard; while Brendan Perry also mutters and brogues into song, an unearthly and transcendent sensation arrives with the dynamic vocals of Gerrard, who dives and glides with a sense of creating harmonic space through a soaring contralto which, in singing words in an invented meta-language of her own, captures the aesthetics of communication as a means of expressing subtext.
At this stage the band does not yet leave behind rock, fusing post-punk, indie rock and EBM into a proto-industrial format that presages much of what Ministry and Godflesh would later do. Lightly distorted, reverb-laden guitar echoes melodies and plaintive chords behind bouncy beats reminiscent of English pop from the early 1980s; in the slow tremolo guitar similarities with U2, REM and (later) Interpol can be found, as well as in the minor key concluding hooks that end verses. The harmonically-vivid, sometimes melodic bass and vocal combination Perry plays calls to mind a fusion between early Police and Killing Joke, but here restrained by other influences it does not become the uplift-at-all-costs sugar power pop that blighted the latter half of its decade.
What makes this album a classic to which listeners return is the glue that holds it together, which is a study of melody rooted in the ethnic music of Southern Europe and Ireland, creating a spicy combination of simple melodies that evolve through the layers of vocals and instruments. While the guitar is a powerful melodic voice, it is the gentle and expansive vocals of both singers that emphasize radical changes through lofty flight and breathtaking freefall past harmonic nodes established by the interplay of instruments, underscoring the drive toward cultural discovery with a dramatic sense of the esoteric and buried, a moonlight discovery with hints of its protean daylight shape emerging in implication but not denotation of these simple elements combined into complex, enduring works.