In 1989 while perusing through my older brother’s box of cassettes I came across this TDK SA-90 that had two albums by some group called Dead Can Dance. Pre-internet, so I had no clue who this was. Reading the song titles I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Chant of the Paladin”. “Host of Seraphim”. “The Arcane”. Since I have absolutely no clue who this, I naively ask him if it’s his band. We all played Dungeons & Dragons and those sounded like serious D&D-inspired titles so it wasn’t that huge of a stretch, right? He says listen to it, so I did. And I knew for certain this was DEFINITELY not his band. Nor any whose like I’d ever heard before. The Serpents Egg was on the B-side and today’s subject, the self-titled debut album, was on the A-side.
For one album and one EP Dead Can Dance were a straight-up goth band, replete with chorused-out reverby guitars, chorus bass, big drums, and an overall dark quality to the music. Of course, we’re not talking “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” goth. But gothic as in sepulchral, dark as a 16th century church facade at twilight. This music sounded best at night. The album hinges on the interplay between the two principals, Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, two Australian expatriates in London. Brendan was a veteran of the Australian punk and post-punk scene; Lisa was a burgeoning ethnomusicologist. The two mixed post-punk chimey guitars and big drums, the medieval sound of the yangqin (a Chinese dulcimer), Brendan’s gloomy baritone, Lisa’s glossolalia and that very goth preoccupation with darkness. It is only natural that British post-punk label 4AD released all of DCD’s 1984-1996 output, and DCD had a bit in common with the post-punk chimey guitars and made-up vocal sounds of labelmates and contemporaries Cocteau Twins.
What set DCD’s first release off from other so-called “goth” albums at the time was that world music bent that could be heard from Lisa’s influence. An influence that the band would pursue headlong after this first album, leaving the trappings of the rock band largely behind in favor of African percussion, ancient European string instruments, and Gregorian chant. I love those albums too, but I really dig on their first album as to me it is easily one of the best Five Goth Rock Albums of all time (included in such company as Joy Division, The Cure, Bauhaus, and Modern English).
I make this post the same week that I will see Dead Can Dance for the first time ever, as they have reformed and are touring on the backs of a brand new album. I have not heard the new album yet, but I understand that it is in the same vein as work from the latter period of the band. I would so dearly love to hear the band tear through one of these early songs (I won’t be surprised if they play “Frontier”) but alas, I know the goth rock band period of the band was over and done with rather quickly. But this is still my favorite Dead Can Dance LP, and I share it in celebration this week.
SOURCE: A recent 180-gram U.K. pressing of the LP -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.