Though I have heard a lot about Dead Can Dance over the years, like so many bands it has taken me forever to hear them. And like so many bands that it has taken me forever to hear, I found myself surprised.
The problem with approaching an album like this decades after its release, and with no real knowledge of the band or the genre, is that a lot of what they do on this record, which may have been relatively innovative or out there at the time, has been incorporated into what we think of as common. In the case of this record, there are tracks here – the instrumental ones – that sound like the cliches in Hollywood movie scores depicting basically anywhere in the Middle East. That wasn’t the case in 1993, but it sure is in 2018. “Yulunga” feels like it has been listened to by every major Hollywood composer tasked with scoring a scene set in the Middle East in the last 25 years. Fortunately the same is not true of the tracks with lyrics, which sound distinctly different.
This is the kind of music I want to like more than I do. I like the idea of it a lot and, had I encountered this before I encountered all the other western bands I know who experiment with eastern music, I might have been rather blown away. But synthesizers are a poor substitute for the real thing – weirdly, they have both here, apparently that’s one of their stylistic quirks – and this often a very sedate version of east-west fusion, even when there’s a lot of percussion on the track. There’s a definite focus on mood over energy here, and I prefer energy to mood more often than not. Sometimes it just strays too close to New Age for me.
But I’ve never heard anything quite like it (if you ignore all the film scores); they have their distinct sound and they do it well. And I can imagine this seeming like a big deal in 1993. Well, I can at least imagine earlier records similar to this seeming like big deals in the years prior to 1993. And I read this is considered among their best.
Not for me, I don’t think, but still good.