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Dead Can Dance

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album coverIn 1984, long before anyone's grandparents were only a few keystrokes away from obtaining every morsel of information, this non-descript album cover appeared in the shops. Nowhere on the record were there band member photos or names and roles, producer credits, or lyrics. It was a gamble to purchase a costly import record if you were located here in North America, especially without hearing it first, but most of those in-the-know would gladly take that risk. In this case, it certainly paid off.

4AD

In only four years, 4AD had established themselves as a popular "collector's label," as they were an organization who reliably paid meticulous attention to stunning artwork, used solid top quality materials, and were behind critically lauded releases from Bauhaus, The Birthday Party, Cocteau Twins, and (then) ex-Wire members. CAD404 (C was for full length single album; 4 was for year 1984; and this was release 04) followed Modern English's final LP for 4AD (two years after their monster international hit song), the "Say You" single from Colourbox, and preceded the Cocteau Twins' "Spangle Maker" single. With these records, it was apparent that most groups  in the 4AD stable were established by now and the trends were shifting towards the more colorful, away from the somewhat dark, cold, mysterious first years.

Side one opens with crashing noise, followed by robotic drum machine, brooding bass guitar, and an ominous anthemic lead guitar riff more reminiscent of Martin Hannett productions of years gone by than anything from 1984. Even its title, "The Fatal Impact," is bleak and not surprising for what is probably yet another British group whose members grew up in a grey industrial factory town. The contrasting styles of tunes that follow opened all of us first listeners up to the diversity of the group, but also set us up on some preconceptions, which were destroyed sooner or later.

The drums, chugging bass, and abrasive guitar on "The Trial" provided more insight to the band behind the music. It's a rock band, right? The rugged instrumentation is no match, however, for the male singer's beautiful, brooding voice. His powerful, flawless voice feels like some stunning larger-than-life nordic hero has just hijacked a viking ship and is steering it with all his might. The next song sounds like an entirely different group, however, as all traditional "rock" instruments are foregone. What follows, "Frontier," would be more apt for a chase scene through a rainforest jungle, with all of the aggressive, fast-paced percussion, faint hums of a male voice, and a nearly incomprehensible, yet shimmering beautiful female voice. Whoever is behind this recording are certainly experienced for a debut record.

The trading off of vocal duties continues throughout the record, as a bombastic Perry-sung rock piece is usually followed by the more unconventional Gerrard-sung pieces, ending on the hammer dulcimer dominating "Musica Eterna," which gives a hint as to how the group's music was going to evolve.

In the years following, photos, interviews, magazine articles, press releases, and performances would help give the rest of us the context for who Dead Can Dance were and how they evolved to this debut and through subsequent albums. Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard were identified by the following year's Spleen and Ideal as the core of the group. Perry, born in England--but played in New Zealand punk group The Scavengers/The Marching Girls in the late '70s--emigrated back to the UK in 1980 with Gerrard, whose distinct vocal style graced some very short lived Australian groups. Group members for the debut included James Pinker, an early SPK member from New Zealand,  percussionist Peter Ulrich, who continued to contribute to the group through Spiritchaser, and Scott Roger, whose name never appeared on any subsequent releases.

The debut album may sound slightly out of place, as it consists of music composed from 1980-1984, a time with rapid progression of styles and technology, from a duo with different backgrounds who brought different approaches to the songs they sung.

As a whole, this is a forceful debut. This isn't easy listening by any means. The biggest criticism over the years of the music on the record is that during the rock songs, the music can arguably tend to be derivative. The presence of Gerrard's vocalizations, hammer dulcimer, and unconventional drumming, however made the album unique, and those elements remained as a mainstay for future releases while the more aggressive rock arrangements faded.

For this reissue, the artwork has been faithfully restored. The album continues to be a beautiful item, lacking the abundance of information littering the space as its original issue, but don't throw out your MFSL remaster! There have been some complaints about the pressing have an abundance of sibilance, and I do hear it on this record. It's not a deal breaker but it is a reminder that this album should be accepted as not one for the high fidelity junkies.

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 October 2016 16:30  


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