In the 16 years since goth-leaning neo-classical outfit Dead Can Dance last released a studio album, principal members Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard embarked on divergent solo careers. Perry took a streamlined musical approach, releasing two full-lengths and recording several Tim Buckley covers. Gerrard, meanwhile, was extremely prolific and chameleonic, collaborating with German electronic musician Klaus Schulze, starting her own record label, and devoting much of her time to scoring soundtracks. The last endeavor brought her great success: She and Hans Zimmer shared a Golden Globe win for 2000’s Gladiator, while her music from 2001’s Ali, 2004’s Salem’s Lot, and 2009’s Balibo also drew accolades.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Anastasis feels more like an extension of these solo careers (and specifically, Perry’s electronic-drizzled 2010 release, Ark) than it does a continuation of Dead Can Dance’s musical path. But because both Perry and Gerrard have grown into their voices—literally and figuratively—during this time apart, they push their music in new, intriguing directions.
From a production standpoint, Anastasis is undeniably gorgeous; its ornate details are crisp, nuanced, and enveloping. And like past Dead Can Dance albums, Anastasis’ core reference points are smart and unexpected. The band’s official bio notes dominant musical influences that are “near-Eastern Mediterranean, from Greece and Turkey across to North Africa.” These influences permeate the slinky “Agape,” which boasts Turkish-inspired percussion and rhythms, and the haunted “Anabasis,” which utilizes an instrument called the Hang that Perry says is “a cross between a West Indian steel drum and a gamelan gong.” Gerrard even sounds positively mesmerizing on the mystical “Kiko,” as she incorporates the hypnotic cadences of Moroccan vocalists.
Still, the songs using this entrancing instrumentation tend to meander and plod, mainly because their arrangements emphasize texture over structure and pacing. As a result, after starting off strong with the majestic single “Children Of The Sun”—on which Perry unleashes a croon with shades of David Bowie—Anastasis isn’t quite as engaging until the last three songs. “Opium” resembles an outtake from Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile, its dank, echoing beats and ominous keyboard hum reflecting hopeless lyrics. On “All In Good Time,” Perry nudges his rich baritone into its upper range, channeling an opera singer. And “Return Of The She-King” is simply stunning, a fully formed conversation despite the fact that it has no discernible lyrics; Gerrard’s regal vocals sail over trudging sleigh bells and cinematic strings, give way to Perry’s measured, mournful response, and then finally intertwine with his voice and marching orchestral swells.
In many ways, Dead Can Dance is preaching to the converted with this album, to those who embraced the band’s gothic tendencies, forays into exotic world music, and appreciation of music’s diverse history. Yet Anastasis’ musical world isn’t insular or sealed off; it’s the rare album meant for longtime fans that is also accessible to new listeners.