Dead Can Dance – Toward The Within (1994)

I haven’t felt like I love Dead Can Dance in a long while. I guess it’s just one of those bands you sort-of get over after a while, even though today seems like a perfectly good day to disprove that point. I stumbled across the full video of their only live album, titled Toward the Within (recorded in 1993 and released in 1994), and it sparked a nostalgia and sensibility in me I thought gone for a long time now. Regardless of aesthetic, semantic, comparative or absolutist judgements, this band meant a great deal to me a decade ago, and I realized today I might be dealing with an unfinished chapter, if only because of Lisa Gerrard’s stunning voice, which still gives me goosebumps, especially when seen live.

Dead Can Dance had an overwhelming impact on me when I was in high school – you know, that time when you can’t really tell the difference between something truly profound and something which only alludes to depth, as you own frantic search for it clouds your judgement, or rather, allows you to find it even in the shallowest of contexts. This band somehow manages to tread a very fine line between a genuine sense of volume and shape which music can have and an illusion of it. I can never really tell whether their music is truly mind blowing or just a sort of pastiche of what it wants to capture, and this duality, this uncertainty makes the experience of listening to them very theatrical and slightly uncomfortable. But it wasn’t always so – a decade ago I had no doubt in my mind Dead Can Dance were the single most overwhelming musical force on the planet, especially as I had come to know them via Lisa Gerrard’s first solo album, titled The Mirror Pool, which was used, in its entirety, as a soundtrack for a butoh dance/theater show which became one of the reasons for my interest in theater.

You see, Dead Can Dance was the creative outlet of two people – Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, both tremendously talented, but with significantly different approaches to music. Lisa Gerrard always seemed to me to be the more uncompromising of the two, genuinely different, and, why not admit it, a bit weird. Brendan Perry always maintained a connection to a sort-of didactic, pop sensibility, reminiscent of the late sixties’ acts like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna… By didactic I mean openly interested in social, moral, ethical, philosophical issues, not-so-subtly made into music. Lisa Gerrard was the enigmatic counterbalance to his solar aesthetic. Her deep voice, glossolalia singing, ancient-ritual-sounding music exerted the more powerful attraction on me, and I was very glad to discover today that it still does, although I can’t get lost in it anymore, not like I used to.

My digressions aside, Toward the Within was and still is one of my favorite Dead Can Dance releases, managing a very harmonious blend between the two creative vectors I was mentioning (by the way, if you’re going to watch the entire thing, the little interviews shed some light on the duo’s musical backgrounds). The concerts has some of the most impressive and heart-wrenching songs from Lisa Gerrard’s dark-side repertoire, instantly transporting me into a Greek tragedy sort-of mood, an all-or-nothing, no-right-answer sort of tension, simultaneously primitive and terribly refined, as mesmerizing as it can be horrific. On the other hand, Brendan Perry’s soaring, clear voice does a wonderful job of lightening the mood and balancing out the bacchanalia aspect, even on bleak songs like “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” (his rendition of this old Irish folk song is still my favorite). I think this is one of the great things about Dead Can Dance, the uncanny way these two forces balance each-other out – it’s a wonderful and rare thing indeed when a musical partnership leads to that, and it’s one of the things I find I can appreciate fully even when the other characteristics of this band seem to fade into the background.

The first time I went to the seaside in my country (I had been by the ocean in France, but I only went by the Black Sea when I was about sixteen, if I remember correctly), I watched the sun rise over the waves on an empty beach, and out of a shack came bursting out a Lisa Gerrard song. When I heard it, I started weeping uncontrollably – I had never before experienced the feeling of “coming home” so intensely, and it completely took me by surprise, as I had been raised with my father’s love of the mountains and caves close at heart. I never thought the sea could feel so much like somewhere I belonged. For me, this is the single most poignant memory I have relating to Dead Can Dance, and today, this album took me back there, completely, overwhelmingly. I don’t think I could find a better way of describing or analyzing this record than that simple retelling of a memory. Music is powerful only because it’s personal – as long as it communicates, as long as it nurtures that personal connection, it always hovers just out of the reach of words and at the center of perception. I thought Dead Can Dance and I had become estranged. I’m very happy to see that’s not the case. Enjoy! I’ll see you soon.

P.S.: The live video is missing the Persian Love Song which is featured on the CD, while the CD version of the concert is missing the Gloridean song. I’ll post them both here, as to make the experience whole.

2 thoughts on “Dead Can Dance – Toward The Within (1994)

  1. I get the goosebumps every time I watch this clip.

    Dead Can Dance made such a deep impression on me that I’m reluctant to even frame them critically (they exist in this space outside of judgement). I never recommend them to anyone or really want to talk about them. There’s something polarizing about their music: you either commit to it fully or dismiss DCD as just another band.

    You can definitely pull out the ersatz card on the lesser bands like Faith & the Muse, but it’s enough to listen to a few interviews with Lisa Gerrard to get a sense of her otherworldly presence (not in the uncomfortable, jehova’s-witness sense). I do believe there’s real substance underneath and their carefully researched sources prove they don’t use them as fashion statements of sorts.

    • Hello Dan,

      I completely agree with what you wrote. If anything, I was making a comment on the way I personally allowed myself to drift apart from that vein of substance in DCD’s music to the point I couldn’t really tell if it was still there at all. I’m not saying I rediscovered it fully, but I was happy to feel a sort of re-connection, a flood of energy I had thought lost a long time ago. Truth be told, I really have nothing to compare them to, because I don’t think there is such a thing. You either find a reference point within yourself, or nowhere at all. I probably should’ve expressed that more clearly in the post. Thank you for you comment, it’s much appreciated.

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