Summoning The Muse - a tribute to Dead Can Dance (Projekt)
~review by Stuart Moses
Despite recent live shows there is still no promise of new material from Dead Can Dance. As the last album Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard produced was the lacklustre Spiritchaser this might not be a bad thing. So where are we Dead Can Dance fans to turn to for music that transports us to a different time and place? There are the old albums to treasure, but eventually repeated plays will dim the wonder we feel. Can we instead turn to other bands to interpret Dead Can Dance material? I am ambivalent about cover versions in general - it is so hard for a band to strike a balance between reverence and reinvention. Luckily Dead Can Dance are the sort of band that have enough creativity to make the job of reinterpreting their songs easy.
Arcana open with “The Arcane”. I immediately miss the richness of Brendan Perry’s vocal, yet I am intrigued to hear Arcana’s singer Peter Bjärgö using real words rather than singing in a more traditional choral manner. The rest of the instrumentation is faithful, yet the difference in vocal approach makes this version worthy in its own right. While it must be daunting to tackle one of the Brendan-led songs, imagine how frightening it must be to follow in the wake of Lisa. Having heard their version of “Summoning of the Muse” I’m reminded that I’ve meant to investigate Dark Sanctuary’s own material for a while. If there is a criticism to be made here, then it is that to the casual listener you would be hard pressed to tell this cover from the original. There’s a greater emphasis on violin that marks it out as different to the listener paying attention though. There’s also some marvellous military drumming starting four minutes in, which brings the song to a close.
I never considered the idea that Dead Can Dance would sound better as a shoegazing band, but the Autumn’s Grey Solace version of “Musica Eternal” makes a good case. This adaptation has greater wistfulness, courtesy of the FX-laden guitars that let the listener experience another side to the original. This song sounds firmly tied to the early 90s rather than having the timelessness it had before. Faith & The Muse’s version of “Chant of the Paladin” is predictable, but enjoyable nevertheless. It neither adds to nor detracts much from the experience, though I’m sure I would enjoy it very much if I heard this version live.
“Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book” is given the Black Tape For A Blue Girl treatment. This sounds like the missing link between Black Tape’s The Scavenger Bride album and Dead Can Dance. Everything is the same – and yet different. This is how cover versions should be done. It sounds like it was recorded in an attic room of a faraway city, with all the players dressed in top hats and tails – or beautiful frocks - ready to head out into the city for an evening of revelry once this recital is over. Meanwhile Rajna’s “Cantara” preserves Brendan and Lisa’s intention more faithfully, but injects greater darkness and menace, just by altering a few elements. Both covers are essential for different reasons.
Mirabilis offer us a trippy early-morning version of “The Writing On My Father’s Hand”. It’s an intriguing take with a more vulnerable vocal performance than the original. Chandeen tackle “In Power We Entrust The Love Advocated” and offer us a gossamer-soft take. It’s a bit like bathing in chocolate, which sounds attractive at first, but becomes sickly after a while. I’d have preferred fewer effects on the vocal and the guitar is a bit too early 80s wine bar, but it’s not a bad version overall.
Arcana return with “Enigma of the Absolute” – probably my favourite Dead Can Dance song ever – and it sounds enormous. The timpani sound like giant’s footsteps crushing everything in their wake. Once again the vocals – which always sound so magical when singing Arcana originals – sound a little lifeless compared to Brendan’s performance. Following this song was always going to be difficult and Kobe don’t stand a chance. “Bird” is a much more fragile proposition in the first place. While Kobe do what they can this was always one of Dead Can Dance’s less memorable moments.
Athan Maroulis With Surface 10’s rendering of “Ulysses” is reverent. It’s enjoyable, but a touch too faithful. When the original is so magisterial you’ve got to do something special to make your version essential. Stoa bring the album to a close with a slowed-down reproduction of “Cantara”. The stately pace suits the song, sounding simultaneously more melancholy and sinister. When one-and-a-half minutes in the pace picks up I’m more afraid than I have ever been before listening to this song. The chanted vocals sound like we are present at the conjuring of some unspeakable evil. The song sounds huge, the production calling forth huge structures of alien design. More than at any other point in this album I am truly transported to another time and place. I do not think it is safe here, but the adrenalin flowing through my veins gives me a rush.
In the end this album will only appeal if you are a fan of Dead Can Dance – and the originals have become dull through over listening. The songs are variations on a theme to a greater or lesser extent, but as Dead Can Dance were consistently evolving - they would produce one album in a certain style that other bands would base an entire career on - I’m happy to tread down different paths in the same forest. We may have been here before, but the scenery has changed enough to keep me entranced all over again.
The website: http://www.projekt.com/