In the ‘80s and through much of the ‘90s, no one sounded quite like Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, an Australian duo who injected their atmospheric tone poems with centuries-old folk and neo-classical music. Gerrard’s beautiful, wordless vocals made the music even more difficult to pin down, freeing Dead Can Dance to touch on Goth darkness, New Age mysticism, ambient drone, dream-pop melody and world-music exoticism without fully embracing any one genre.
Their last studio album appeared in 1997, suggesting that Dead Can Dance had run its course. After 16 years in which they focused on their solo work, Gerrard and Perry renew their collaboration with the unexpected and understated “Anastasis” (Pias).
In many ways, the new work is a good deal less daring and adventurous than their finest albums. It doesn’t feel like a complete melding of sensibilities, in the way masterworks such as “Aion” (1990) or “The Serpent’s Egg” (1988) once did. At times, Perry’s lyrics come off as solemn and ponderous (“We are the children of the sun/ Our kingdom will come/ Sunflowers in our hair,” he intones as if reciting from stone tablets). The music is even more glacial than usual, the stately tempos providing little variation. At first listen, these slow-moving tracks (seven of the eight clock in at well over six minutes) blend too easily with too few distinguishing traits.
But with this less melodramatic, late-period Dance Can Dance, the finer things are encoded in the details: the West Indian steel drum and low background hum of voices on “Opium,” the haunting piano notes that drift in and out of “Anabasis,” the Middle Eastern strings of “Agape.” And almost every time Gerrard enters, the skies open. She’s still the Siren from Mars, reason alone for Dead Can Dance fans to celebrate.