Sixteen years may have elapsed between Anastasis and Dead Can Dance’s last full-length, but there’s an eternal and elemental quality to the Aussie duo’s music that feels like it transcends time. Resurfacing with their far-reaching, wide-ranging mix of the ancient and the futuristic, the organic and the technological, as if they have missed a beat, Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry seem like they must’ve been working all the while on their own astral plane and just happened to cross over into our time-space continuum with Anastasis. As listeners are reminded of once again, theirs is music that takes what appear to be formal contradictions and resolves them in compositions that stretch across cultures and traditions, joining them in ways that are more natural and immediate than you’d imagined before they came together.
Considering how immaculate and meticulously shaped it is, Anastasis—which, fittingly, means “rebirth”—is a return to form that makes it hard to believe Gerrard and Perry haven’t collaborated in such a long time, especially in light of how easily they settle back into their give-and-take arrangements. Announcing itself to swathes of synths, the opening track “Children of the Sun” finds DCD hitting the ground running with a wide-screen soundscape that uses an oceanic electronic background as a foundation for the rich and varied instrumentation to unfold itself. Incorporating a touch of horns and harpsichord-like keyboards, “Children of the Sun” is at once otherworldly yet uncannily familiar, as Perry’s precise baritone voice reintroduces itself by playing tour guide to DCD’s universe with lines like, “We are ancient / As ancient as the sun / We came from the ocean / Once our ancestral home”. For her part, Gerrard sounds as at one with the cosmos as ever, bringing her ethereal, filigreed vocals to an eclectic toolbox that includes plucked Middle Eastern strings and West Indian percussion on “Anabasis”.
There’s just something intuitive about the way Perry and Gerrard reprise their yin-yang working relationship, as strong artistic forces that push and pull their way to some kind of complementary dynamic. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the centerpiece of Anastasis, the appropriately named “Return of the She-King”: The crowning achievement of DCD’s comeback, “Return of the She-King” makes a steady and stately ascent to what sounds like an electrified madrigal melody, slowly but surely living up to its title as Gerrard and Perry share their musical points-of-view and trade off vocals. As Gerrard’s hymn-like incantations accentuate the expansive mood set by the sweeping orchestration, they give way to a horn and keyboard passage that heralds a pleasantly unexpected vocal turn by Perry, whose impressionistic wail surprises in how well it matches his counterpart’s singular voice. “Return of the She-King” isn’t just a reminder of how well Gerrard and Perry join forces, but a case of how their longstanding partnership can be reimagined.
While the communication and connections between the two principals could not be anything but instinctual in the way they pick up where they left off so long ago, it’s also evident that they put in a hard, painstaking effort to weave together their seamlessly rendered compositions. It takes a deft touch that’s both innate and the by-product of experience to create a piece like “Agape”, on which DCD incorporates authentic world music building blocks while avoiding ethno-pop clichés or appearing like dabbling cultural co-opters. What could strike you as either modern classical music or traditional Middle Eastern music on “Agape” ends up neither fully one nor the other, because all of DCD’s influences are channeled through the twosome’s unique vision. Similarly, “Kiko” brings some almost east Asian overtones to the table and girds them with deeper electro textures, splitting the difference between the group’s world music commitments and the dark-pop sensibilities that remain from the earliest of DCD’s incarnations.
Indeed, the goth aesthetic that made Dead Can Dance one of 4AD’s quintessential acts in the ‘80s still simmers just beneath the surfaces of its pieces, framing all the worldly elements with a distinctive, consistent perspective. You can hear those vestigial strains more definitively in the Perry-led tracks, where a shadowy intensity has been sublimated and attenuated to evoke an ominously thrilling mood and tone. Just check out “Amnesia”, which connects the dots between DCD and art-scarred followers Blonde Redhead at their most orchestral and ambitious. And definitely don’t let the new age-y feel and narcotic atmospherics of “Opium” fool you in thinking it’s easy listening, because it doesn’t just float over you in a pseudo-mystical way, but requires active attention if you want to fully immerse yourself in it.
Sure, DCD’s uncompromising imagination can make it hard to jump into Anastasis, which can seem like an intimidating set of daunting, complex tracks that run six minutes or longer. But that just comes with the territory as Dead Can Dance sticks to its timeless principles, so you can’t exactly be surprised that Anastasis isn’t for the casual cultural tourist. Whether it’s referring to the payoff that comes out of being patient with the combo’s revelatory music or noting the long gestation period of the new album, the title of Anastasis’ closing number seems a particularly apt way to describe Dead Can Dance’s sonic explorations: “All in Good Time”.