Dead Can Dance - A Passage In Time

Album cover

  1. Saltarello (2:36)
  2. Song Of Sophia (1:23)
  3. Ullyses (4:53)
  4. Cantara (5:53)
  5. The Garden Of Zephirus (1:19)
  6. Enigma Of The Absolute (4:12)
  7. Wilderness (1:24)
  8. The Host Of Seraphim (6:17)
  9. Anywhere Out Of The World (5:05)
  10. The Writing on my Father's Hand (3:50)
  11. Severance (3:21)
  12. The Song Of The Sybil (3:45)
  13. Fortune Presents Gifts Not According to the Book (6:03)
  14. In The Kingdom Of The Blind The One Eyed Are Kings (4:09)
  15. Bird (5:00)
  16. Spirit (4:59)

4AD, 1991

As I otherwise only have "Aion" and "Into the Labyrinth", this compilation, spanning most of Dead Can Dance's 1980s career, is particularly valuable to me. It's a rich introduction for anyone, encompassing the huge range of forms, styles and atmospheres explored by the categorisation-defying duo through the years. Bypassing the stark ethereal-goth of their debut album, their earliest work included here is "Enigma of the Absolute", booming reverbed bass drums and all, from their second "Spleen and Ideal". There's selections from three more albums including "Aion", and two new tracks at the end to tempt long time fans.

While they were were always experimenting, Dead Can Dance did have several points of focus to their style. Lisa Gerrard's piercing vocal syllabising is supremely controlled throughout, evoking a country and time that's all their own. Underrated by comparison, Brendan Perry's rich Irish-flavoured baritone provides a dark contrast. He tends to front their more gothic moments, such as the sneeringly repetitive but dazzling "Ulysses". Another welcome inclusion is "Fortune Presents Gifts", an enigmatic song based on drones and harp-like keyboard chimes.

Their keyboard-orchestral soundscapes can be cinematic ("Anywhere Out of the World"), or grey and dusty ("Severance"). "In the Kingdom of the Blind" reaches a Scott Walker-sized height of orchestral grandeur. Rich pipe and percussion medievalism like "Saltarello", the brief twittering exotica of "The Garden of Zephirus", and Gerrard's resoundingly spacious acappella vocal turns ("Song of Sophia" and "Wilderness") show them in equally fluent command of a range of shorter forms.

Serenely radiant at the compilation's heart is "The Host of Seraphim". Its ecstatic melody is only made brighter against the chilling harmonies that flow all around it. The first nature-loving new track is "Bird", a hippyish cross-legged garden percussion meditation. The second is "Spirit", with a more 90's groove like something from Massive Attack's "Protection" .

I'm supremely annoyed at myself for not noticing their recent gigs, their first in ten years.

April 17, 2005

9 out of 10

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written and maintained by Christopher Jackson