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Music / Dead Can Dance

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Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry.

Dead Can Dance (not to be confused with The Dead Can Dance) is an Australian band, initially active from 1981 to 1998. Fronted by Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, it started out as a regular Gothic / Post-Punk act, and gradually broadened its scope with other musical genres (especially Neoclassical and World Music), all the while retaining a typical dark and brooding, but not specifically angsty, atmosphere. Due to its Ethereal Wave sound and being active on the 4AD Records label, the band was frequently associated with the Dream Pop genre, despite the predominance of Neoclassical, Ethereal Wave, and World Music influences.

Their debut album, simply titled Dead Can Dance and released in 1984, is already a noticeable blend of Perry's rock influenced style and Gerrard's more introspective, borderline mystical one, but arguably the Post-punk leanings make it more of an example of Early-Installment Weirdness. The same dynamic is felt in their next two albums: Spleen and Ideal (the title is a reference to Charles Baudelaire) and Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, but these gradually dialed down the Post-punk goth elements in favour of the band's Signature Style.

At that point they started experimenting with classical instruments (oboe, string section) and in their following album: The Serpent's Egg, they introduced baroque and medieval rhythms, laying the groundwork for their seminal work Aion. They next ventured into Oriental influenced music with Into the Labyrinth, their first album to be released in the USA, and Lisa Gerrard developed what would become her Signature Style during her subsequent solo career, the One-Woman Wail.

After one more album: Spiritchaser, which attempted to explore tribal rhythms, the duo split up in 1998. They temporarily reunited for a world tour in 2005. In 2011, they reunited again. They released a new album: Anastasis, in 2012, and Dionysus six years later.


  • Dead Can Dance (1984); CD versions add the Garden of the Arcane Delights EP as bonus tracks.
  • Spleen and Ideal (1986)
  • Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (1987)
  • The Serpent's Egg (1988)
  • Aion (1990)
  • A Passage in Time (1991), compilation released exclusively for the USA where their albums were previously not available.
  • Into the Labyrinth (1993), their first album distributed in the USA after the 4AD-Warner (Bros.) Records deal.
  • Toward the Within (1994), the band's only official live album.
  • Spiritchaser (1996)
  • Anastasis (2012)
  • Dionysus (2018)

Dead Can Dance provide examples of:

  • Cover Version: They were prone to recording covers of traditional songs, e.g. "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" on Into the Labyrinth. They also were on the receiving end when Ride took a stab at "Severance" for a Peel session. Bauhaus covered the same song for their live album Gotham.
  • Darker and Edgier: Yes, compared to their early material, they managed to darker and edgier themselves by dialing up the ominousness.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: As noted, their first album in particular is more influenced by Post-Punk and Goth Rock compared to their more famous brooding mystical prophets of doom style.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: "Orbis de Ignis."
  • Goth Rock: A Trope Maker and Trope Codifier (along with Cocteau Twins) for the Goth Rock subgenre, Ethereal Wave.
  • I Am the Band: Into the Labyrinth was the first album Perry and Gerrard wrote and recorded entirely by themselves, without the guest musicians of previous outings.
  • One-Woman Wail: Lisa Gerrard.
  • Recycled Trailer Music: "The Host of Seraphim" was very popular for '90s movie trailers.
  • Sampling: They did it quite a bit. Also, Gerrard's vocals from "Dawn of the Iconoclast" were sampled by Future Sound of London for the track "Papua New Guinea."
  • Scatting: Lisa Gerrard, again. Probably the most famous practitioner of such on 4AD Records besides Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser.
  • Soprano and Gravel: A very unusual form. Brendan Perry's songs are often more traditional and focused while Lisa Gerrard's songs are far more raw and tribal. Their styles can be so radically different that one would be forgiven for mistaking them as being performed by two entirely different bands. Naturally, they both like to switch it up on occasion.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Frequent. Even Brendan Perry does it on occasion.