Toward the Within – Dead Can Dance (1994)

Toward the Within cover art
Toward the Within cover art

RECOMMENDDead Can Dance (DCD) was in the forefront of a movement spearheaded by it’s label 4AD to move goth music from the basements of downtown clubs to the bedrooms of suburban teens.Initially those teens who got bored with the plastic mysticism of Stevie Nicks moved over to what looked like the real thing with the dark and foreboding sound of early DCD music.

It wasn’t just the kids either. Soon the book store academic crowd would follow suit, swelling the band’s popularity. The formula that DCD refined reached its early zenith with Spleen and Ideal (1985) and Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (1987). Not content with it’s growing awareness with a new generation of goths, it went through a period of rapid change, but still looking backward through the centuries for inspiration.

After turning fans like myself into would be musical archaeologist, the band churned out variations of its style based on ancient church music.  In the process, many impromptu songs, and rare one off B sides supplemented their usual concert material based on proper album releases. Much of this material circulated in a pre internet maze of concert tape swappings and physical fan gatherings until 1994’s Toward the Within.

Toward the Within was DCD’s first live album. It allowed fans to hear a looser more organic band in the context of a unplugged performance. If there were any doubts that DCD could not perform without the cover of studio gadgetry, Toward the Within quickly dismisses them. Both Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard sound their best in a tightly arranged yet loose sounding performance. The collection of songs is eclectic, many of them recognizable covers like Sinéad O’Connor’s “I Am Stretched by Your Grave”.

Gerrard and Brendan of course put their own distinctive stamp on all the material, including fresh approaches to their own stuff. In many ways this performance sounded more lively and vigorous than anything they had recorded before in the studio. It would be the start of a creative transformation that started with Into the Labyrinth a year earlier.

In fact, its perfectly conceivable that somewhere in the former territories of the United Kingdom, the accessibility of songs like the beautiful “American Dreaming” or “Don’t Fade Away” could have made them hits. With Brendan’s distinctive voice framed by traditional guitar with pop like melodies, he was sounding as radio ready as DCD could be.

In addition to first time releases of official songs, Toward the Within featured traditional songs like “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”. There were also revised material from previous DCD releases like “Yulunga (Spirit Dance)”, a song that found its way on Lisa Gerrard’s solo first album.

Toward the Within was one of those albums that had the distinction of being released in four formats: cassette, LP record, CD and VHS stereo. Visuals had always been an important part of DCD’s sound vision. The VHS tape’s concert footage set the standard for arty video concert footage, often later being supplemented with high end abstractions of exotic landscapes by the DVD era.

Lisa Gerrard would not waste anytime with her first solo project, released a year after Into the Labyrinth. It would not be until 1999 that Perry would release his first solo project with DCD on hold in an on again off again release schedule up to the present day.

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