Dead Can Dance Dead Can DanceAnastasis
“Anastasis” is the Greek word for “resurrection” - and in a mystical sense, the resurrection of Christ in the Byzantine-Orthodox tradition. It’s a highly appropriate title for the new Dead Can Dance album, keeping in mind that they hadn’t put one out since 1996, the year of “Spiritchaser” (4AD). Technically the duo never really split up, although they announced that they had in 1998; there was a tour in 2005 that gave rise to some official live recordings. Meanwhile, Brendan Perry put out two albums and Lisa Gerrard triumphed with her contribution to the “Gladiator” soundtrack. But the summary of this 16-year period without any recording activity is firmly suggested by the cover of “Anastasis”, a field of poppies, the flower that opium comes from, suggesting that Brendan and Lisa have simply awakened from a long sleep. And this “Anastasis” is a sweet awakening for one of the most legendary groups of the golden age of the 4AD label, from the same period as Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil. They are back in top form, and that means albums like “Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun” (1987), “Aion” (1990) and “Into The Labyrinth” (1993), as if nothing had ever stopped, as if - and here comes this idea again - they had only been interrupted by a long, deep sleep.
“Anastasis” is a title that packs a semantic wallop - this is normal for Dead Can Dance, who are always closer to theosophy, Sufi mysticism and Neo-Platonic symbolism than to “rock”, even though they started out as a Goth band in 1981 in their native Australia - but there are even more important meanings in the song titles. One is “Opium”, which connects with the concept of sleep and the forgetfulness of the poppy field on the cover, and the other is “Anabasis”, possibly a reference to the Greek poet Xenophon’s epic poem narrating a military expedition to the unknown lands of Persia made by a group of 10,000 Athenian mercenaries. Of all the Dead Can Dance albums, this is the one that turns their world music research to the tradition of the Near East, like in “Agape” -which sounds like a Babylonian or Omeyan feast - or in the aforementioned “ Anabasis”. The 19th-century French symbolists (Baudelaire, Verlaine) said that the West had been a mistake, that one must always look to Persia to recover the refinement of civilisation: Dead Can Dance seem to agree with them.
As well as the usual exotic scales, on “Anastasis”, one recognises the same Dead Can Dance as always; rich in old instruments such as hurdy-gurdies and psalteries, along with synthesizers, metal fanfares and a thousand shades of percussion. They are always in pursuit of that state of trance or ecstasy that is summarised in the triumphant opening of “ Children Of The Sun” - led by Brendan Perry with his deep voice, alongside a flight of drums, strings and a march of trumpets. It is also the case in the song that stands out above the rest, “Return Of The She-King”, with a medieval air (of being transported to a 12th-century Occitan court) with telluric references like the ones years ago in “The Song Of The Sybil” (included on “Aion”), an updating of a traditional Majorcan song with a mythological background. There is always a dual play of voices: songs led by Brendan or by Lisa alone, with the other joining in the end to create a sublime effect of unfolding.
In summary: under the façade of a song that appears to be exotic - either geographically or historically - Dead Can Dance continue to hide various levels of reading and interpretation, a vast culture (which may be useless today, in these superficial times) aimed at weaving their own world, which may also be the deep sleep produced by the poppies on the cover. And beyond that, there is also the revitalisation of a band that is inimitable, incomparable, a cult band in every sense of the word, for an immense minority. 16 years later, the return of Dead Can Dance might have run the risk of being disappointing, but it isn’t. On the contrary, they are back as if time had stopped, as if the world hadn’t changed, because their time and place are others: they are beyond it, in eternity and the infinite.