Friday, November 6, 2009

The eternal and the ephemeral: Dead Can Dance "Within the Realm of a Dying Sun"

After Yoko Ono’s unique but spirited advocacy for the earth yesterday, it seemed somehow appropriate to devote today to an album which, at least for me, seems to both celebrate the planet and, at the same time, to grieve its ultimate death – the wonderful and haunting Within the Realm of a Dying Sun by Dead Can Dance.

More like an orchestra than a band, Dead Can Dance originated in Melbourne in the 1980s and recorded most of its music then and into the 90s. Their music, always rich in its beauty, its colours, and its majesty, fuses instruments and voices together, and spans nations, peoples, eras and, certainly, genres. It takes you to different places, to different times, always with a sense of timelessness and boundlessness about it but here, on Within the Realm of Dying Sun, all of those places seem somehow to be hued in the colours of sunset. Even when the music is at its most epic, there’s a weariness there, a melancholy, even.

Colours and tones transform into wonderful vistas of sound, hauntingly beautiful music that often starts simply enough and then grows until it envelops and overwhelms you. Hear the chiming chords that open ‘Anywhere out of the world’, and build into huge tolling monoliths and then into a wraithlike, driving song where bells jangle along, dancing beneath the voice of Brendan Perry, echoing as if from the depths of a cosmic temple.

‘Windfall’ sounds rather darker, with lumbering rhythms and a melody in the brass that creeps along, joined by chilling percussion, as if you really can see the dying sun’s embers, struggling to hold onto life.

Pizzicato strings in ‘In the wake of adversity’ provide a sad kind of comfort beneath a bleak, downwards crawling melody line of the vocals while a harpsichord pulsates its way through ‘Xavier’, giving an eerie crunch to the rich dark colours of a cavernous vocal line and trembling strings.

An epic wall of sound builds up in the relatively brief ‘Dawn of the iconoclast’, to a chant-like vocal line from Lisa Gerrard, taking us to vast plains in the Far East.

In ‘Cantara’ there is at first a gentle feel, as the music seems to almost tiptoe along, but it’s then taken over by pounding drums and oriental vocals. There is almost the feeling of a primal dance here, but the colours around it sound dark and foreboding, like a storm approaching in summer.

Listen to the grandeur of ‘Summoning of the Muse’, and the way it paints huge depths and heights through widely spaced harmonies and multi-hued instrumental colours, but remember that the greatness here is the greatness of the apocalypse, and nowhere is this more portentous than in the opening bars of ‘Persephone (the gathering of flowers)’ where heavy pizzicato strings quote the Dies Irae (day of wrath) from the traditional Latin Requiem, becoming a funeral beat not just, it seems, for the mournful vocal melodies and the sad string harmonies above it, but for the cosmos itself.

It’s these wonderful, endless blends of tonal colours, in spacious acoustics and with exotic, other-worldly melodies, that give Within the Realm of a Dying Sun such an astonishing sense of size, of timelessness and of infinite boundaries, like you are standing at the peak of a massive mountain range, witnessing the end of all things. The music never stops being beautiful, never stops being haunting, and ultimately seems to tell you that even the eternal will one day come to an end.

Thanks to Marty R for the recommendation!

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