You have to hand it to dusky Australian diva Lisa Gerrard. Whenever she gets together with Brendan Perry to make ethereal, lute-delicate music as Dead Can Dance, she definitely shoots for the moon.
Witness Anastasis, the duo's first album in more than 15 years, which arrived in stores earlier this week. With most of its eight gothic processionals clocking in at six minutes or more, it's a work that was obviously not intended as mere amusement.
Gerrard admits that there's a dark pall hanging over the album, which she attributes to "a desire to dig down really deep for a power within the human consciousness that Brendan and I both feel people have lost at this point in their lives."
Esoteric? Sure, but Dead Can Dance fans would expect nothing less from their erudite idols. On Anastasis, Perry sings mystical madrigals like "Amnesia" and "Children of the Sun" in his trademark deep, monastic rumble, while his partner intones "Kiko," "Anabasis" and the regal "Return of the She-King" in a stark, spectral quaver that employs her own phonetic phrasing — or as she describes it, "a love language, communicating directly from the heart and soul.
"And I have sung in English," she adds. "But I feel like Brendan's got such a grasp on the literary side of the work, I like staying within the very ambient, abstract sort of frame of what we're doing."
Gerrard formed DCD with Perry in 1981 in Melbourne, as a quartet. They pared down to a duo in London, issued eight records on posh imprint 4AD (including 1993's half-million-selling Into the Labyrinth), then disbanded in 1998, only to reunite for a world tour in 2005, and now a new comeback disc. She also branched out into both solo outings and soundtracks, including the Golden Globe-winning score for the film, Gladiator. Lately, she's even begun composing music for computer games.
"I don't know what's happened to me," the Renaissance woman marvels, when asked about her jam-packed schedule. "Sometimes I feel like I've been kissed by an angel. I'm so privileged, really. And now I'm working with Brendan again, who I also believe is a really special composer, and we have a wonderful history together.
"I mean, he taught me so much when we were first working together, when we were 17," adds Gerrard, who's now 51. "But I sort of became the student that got away."
When Gerrard composes for cinema, she's given film footage to work from. But when writing for Dead Can Dance, she relies on the visuals flickering through her head. In "Anabasis," for instance, she imagined a woman walking through a forest, singing a forlorn ode to a love she's lost, hoping that her paramour will hear her plaint and return. Gerrard describes what happens next: "There's this very Greek mythological kind of Hades, where the gates of Earth open up, and there's this elephant journey that crosses into another territory," she says. "Which is what the name of the song actually means — passing from one region into another."
Ultimately, the music aims to provide "a source of encouragement for the human race," says Gerrard. "I mean, it sounds really arrogant. But you have to understand that, as artists, that's how you are. It's all very absolute and strong, and you feel that you have some universal purpose."