Australian duo Dead Can Dance (consisting of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry) were an extraordinarily innovative band signed to the legendary 4AD label (becoming their highest selling artists), fusing medieval music with gothic undertones and ambient textures. The band has disbanded and reformed over the years since it began in 1981 – the most recent being the release of the album ‘Dionysus’ on 2 November 2018. A planned tour was subsequently cancelled due to the COVID pandemic.
Current Dead Can Dance members Lisa Gerrard and Jules Maxwell have now teamed up under a new guise with James Chapman (MAPS) to create a studio album, titled ‘Burn’. This was the result of Gerrard meeting Irish theatre composer Jules Maxwell several years ago on the 2012 Dead Can Dance tour before working together on the album. ‘Burn’ was released on 7 May 2021 via Atlantic Curve. Typical of today’s world – the artists worked from Australia, France and the UK to collaborate on this project.
‘Burn’ is really a cinematic masterpiece: infusing a world music tone with layered, sophisticated instrumentation and Gerrard’s voice an extraordinary, extraterrestrial instrument in itself.
Jules Maxwell says of the album:
‘Burn’ was never planned to be an album. Like many joyous things in life, it grew slowly and unexpectedly. One song at a time. The seeds had been planted by Lisa and I whilst we were working on songs for another album, but didn’t begin to flower until months, years later. Without Daryl Bamonte’s tenacious encouragement and James Chapman’s sonic vision it would not have come to fruition at all. Lisa Gerrard is in my opinion one of the most important singers of her generation and it continues to be an enormous privilege for me to be working with her. What we have created still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up from time to time Listen to it in one go from beginning to end if you can.
Opening track ‘Heleali (The Sea Will Rise)’ is an extraordinary piece that wrings out every ounce of emotion – an almost medieval tone with vocals that ring out like a call to prayer from a minaret. Gerrard says of the track:
The album begins with ‘Heleali’, a meditation on the eternal rise and fall of the tides. It is a call to let go of the past and reflect on the elusive shadows of evaporation.
‘Noyalain (Burn)’ is a beautiful and evocative track with the trademark vocals over syncopated beats. The vocal style can’t help but recall the work Maxwell did with The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices (Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares) – it’s distinctive and ethereal – and ghosts over an ascending musical arrangement that has the imposing and statuesque presence one expects from Dead Can Dance.
‘Deshta (Forever)’ with its Indian and Middle East tonal scales and a vibrant, layered sonic architecture, is another mysterious and intriguing track filled with exoticism and an ethereal air rich in tone and texture. The accompanying video is visceral and haunting – a cinematic masterpiece that is mysterious and slightly unnerving yet breathtakingly beautiful:
‘Aldavyeem (A Time To Dance)’ is a sparse, bold track that is haunting and mesmerising – with a repeating phrase and circular rhythms it becomes an intoxicating reverie.
In ‘Orion (The Weary Huntsman)’, Gerrard’s voice an extraordinary operatic chant that is visceral and laden with grief. This is an epic track – the golden thread of mystery and enigma prevails and leave you breathless.
‘Keson (Until My Strength Returns)’ subtilely shifts to a yearning Celtic lament – an elegiac and sombre track with a bubbling synth stream running underneath.
Noyalain (Burn) has crystalline guitars and keys that swell and ease against the rhythm section – as the title suggests – there is a slow-burning fuse that sparks as the song explodes into life with an imperious piano riff and a driving force. This is pulse-racing stuff – cinematic and bold with an ethereal stature and grace.
The accompanying video is a palimpsest of the COVID era – where the touching alone becomes a stunning and beautiful act:
Final track ‘Do So Yol (Gather The Wind)’ has a middle eastern tone – Gerrard’s voice is always able to create the most incredible sounds and textures over the driving, textured music. There is an air of mystery and exoticism that rings through the speakers that sets the pulse racing. A fitting finale.
This is quite an extraordinary and magical album filled with a haunting aura, spacious and open yet filled with magnificent sounds and vocals that soar, entreat, coax and cajole. The refusal to be defined in any category results in something that is truly global and universal.
You can download/stream ‘Burn’ here.
Feature Photograph: Robbie Perry