While yesterday we featured The Sounds of Blackness, today we explore a different kind of black inspired music. Black arts or church of the poisoned mind, you can decide as Dead Can Dance is in a league of its own. Truth in packaging is often an alien concept in music but with ’80s era 4AD artist, you knew pretty much what you were getting into. Always artful, the covers did a great job of conveying the mystical inspiration within – usually on the dark side.
One of the darker sounds on the label came from the London via Australian band Dead Can Dance (DCD). The lineup often fluctuated, but it was lead primarily by the golden voices of Lisa Gerrad and Brendan Perry.
As a low income college student, I often had to make the choice between buying groceries or new music (often expensive imports). Music often won out. Fortunately DCD only crashed my budget on just a few occasions. The band’s music was always relegated to the expensive import bins of US record stores during much of the ’80s. For those willing to forego food and drop $20 or more in 1987 for their latest release, they would hear all sorts of ancient musical styles wrapped in modern Goth.
The height of what I call the dark neoclassical period of DCD came with the release of Within the Realm of a Dying Sun. Along with producer John Rivers, the band expanded their pallet of influences even deeper into the ancient world, incorporating more exotic instruments beyond guitars, drums and bass. Even the title hinted to a rich legacy of influences that gave the album a kind of archival quality in a time when many still considered rock music was disposable. The cover featuring a graveyard in Paris seemed somehow appropriate for music that drew inspiration from Gaelic folk, Gregorian chant and Middle Eastern styles from ages ago.
While the influences were vast, it was often held together by either the operatic singing of Lisa Gerrad or the new romantic stylings of Brendan Perry. Within the Realm of a Dying Sun was the bands third album and they had refined their special National Geographic meets Night at the Opera brand of Goth While dark wave as a genre had all but faded in America, Dead Can Dance was doing its part in bringing about an resurgence of Neoclassical, Goth and dark wave scenes.
A lot of Within the Realm of a Dying Sun sounds like the kind of music you’d hear in a cathedral (“Summoning of the Music”) or the score of a horror film (“Windfall”). However ethereal or intimidating the album is laced with a haunting beauty that became a DCD hallmark.
DCD has inspired a long list of imitators, even today. The bands look and sound has neatly blended into today’s vampire/goth scene, so much so that some younger proponents may not realize that their Aunts and Uncles had the same look in the 80s while rockin’ DCD on their cassette Walkmans. The continuing popularity of DCD prompted them to reunite and release an new album in 2012 called Anastasis. The well received album was a partial return to form, but Within the Realm of a Dying Sun remains one of the band’s best.