Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun (1987)
This was the band’s third masterpiece, and a firm favourite of mine. The otherworldliness of Spleen And Ideal is here leaning towards the symphonic, a neo-classical oomph held on an animated skyline. As with Ideal, Brendan Perry is in fine fettle, dedicating a whole side to pondering life’s woes, drawing inspiration from the historical, mythical, going for the emotional jugular in doomed Romantic hues.Those chiming chords and surging strings, that heralding brass funnelling you into the metaphorical marionettes of his silky baritone. The mausoleum shot of the cover resonating in your mind, as all that swooning splendour takes you hostage, his earnest words entrapping you in withering beauty, a swansong to humanity in plucked strata, bowing slides and trickling keystrokes, every note evo-sticking you to those stirring poetics. “The Wake Of Adversity”, the instrumental windfall, the majestic “Xavier” in particular basking in the cloistered afterglow heralded in Lisa Gerrard‘s tapering chants, biting its percussive nails to rousing momentums and trumpeted heraldry. Some of Brendan’s finest moments are here, to which Lisa adds her own special brand of epic for the rest of the album. A military snare and booming timpani easing you into the unworldly innovation that is “Dawn of The Iconoclast” The grandeur of this is flooring, but the next track goes beyond. Starting with a deceptive tease of the hammered dulcimer before galloping away to a swirling of passionate kicks, “Cantara” is probably the best Dead Can Dance song ever, and twenty-eight years on, it still races richly through your head, sends the spine a tide of shivers, Brendan shadowing Lisa’s orientals as the shimmer of strings rush round them like Tarkovsky‘s winds over the Russian steppes. The monumental “Summoning Of The Muse” picks up the wake of the previous track in peeling bells, seduced in slippery sweeps of cello, that lush bewitchment of Lisa’s flowing down stream to trickling trombone. Staccato flicks of violin measure the albums finale, “Persephone”, a slow brew of the dark nomadics with a spiralling sense of sombreness that haunts far beyond its grooved limitations.
Garden Of The Arcane Delights / The John Peel Sessions (1983-1984)
The Garden Of The Arcane Delights EP captures the band at a crucial turning point, a duo chasing a unique vision dancing a rainstorm of dulcimer and linguistic divinations. There’s a Yuletide glisten that “Flowers Of The Sea” paints in hypno-sequined washes and vivid tabla, the twilight-filled dirge of Brendan’s instilling that all-important lyrical magic to the equation, sucking at the dark allure of the Winter Equinox. Four tracks that are still as vibrant as the day I first heard them.Often seen as a bridge between their first two albums, this new expanded version joins the original foursome with eight sessions the band did for (the much-missed) John Peel back in the early Eighties. As a die-hard fan these are a must. The first four are incredibly early, documenting an embryonic Dead Can Dance from ’83 and it’s fascinating to hear the Casio preset wonder of the instrumental track; in lesser hands this would spell certain disaster, but Dead Can Dance show how arts’n’craftsy they could be with even the cheapest and tackiest of wares.
“Labour Of Love” too (never officially released), probably more so, is a Brendan creation that grabs a certain Echo And The Bunnymen / Morrissey vibe to a dulcimer-bitten electronic backing. The otherworldly ambience of “Ocean” and the (already) full-bodied “Threshold” are both radiant with the overflowing promise of things to come. The fourth side documents the band’s growth a year later, slipping ever closer to uncharted glory. A session that faithfully holds to the studio versions of the original EP, plus a very early version of “Avatar” providing the first inklings of Spleen And Ideal‘s majesty.
Toward The Within (1994)
Why it look so long to release a live album is anybody’s guess, but the wait was rewarded by this outstandingly addition to Dead Can Dance’s discography, a double LP premièring a lot of new flesh that far outweighed the more established pieces. Usually, these things are massively retrospective affairs, raking over the embers of past glories, but this is live in every sense of word, showcasing a band at the height of their powers, igniting even brighter futures.The intensity of the opener “Rakim” is incredible, a daze of dulcimer and ethnic energy, the duo injecting generous splashes of ying and yang through its vistas. “Desert Song” shares in a similar breathtaking Middle Eastern verve, Brendan gliding arrow-like and vigour-versed, interchanging languages, later sparking the stripped-back acoustics for “American Dreaming” or slipping easily into singer-songwriter genius with the honey-soaked “I Can See Now”.
Nothing lags, no cuts below par. Lisa continues to commune with the arcane too, “Yulunga” burning luminous, that full-tilted “Cantara” outshining its studio counterpart. There are the first glimpses of material that would form her Mirror Pool début too. The audience appreciation between the tracks speaks volumes for a performance that still holds true some twenty years later. I can’t recommend this album enough, an utterly satisfying slice of what makes Dead Can Dance so great.