Garden of the Arcane Delights | A tribe of darkness
The first EP of the Australian duo Dead Can Dance, Garden of the Arcane Delights, was first released in 1984. It was re-rereleased as a full LP in 2016, with 8 extra songs featured in the Peel Session.
Dead Can Dance are probably one of the most influential bands of the 1980s darkwave musical underground movement. This is a style derived from post-punk experimentation that added electronic and ambient spice to the rawness and energy of punk rock, together with a sensibility towards gloomier and grimier themes reflected in the soundscapes built to sustain this new tuneful world. They strayed away from their derivative goth-rock start to pursue an ethereal and unique idea of darkwave.
DCD between world music and ethereal wave
Dead Can Dance formed in 1981 in Melbourne. The duo was composed of the Australian singer, songwriter, and soprano Lisa Gerrard and English polinstrumentalist, and baritone singer Brendan Perry. With time the band rose to fame as one of the most innovative acts of the dark era of the 1980s, as they never stopped developing their music.
DCD incorporated elements of medieval songwriting, as well as antique instruments and ancient harmonies, and fragments of tribal/world music. In this way, they distanced themselves from other bands of the period like The Cocteau Twins, The Cure, or Joy Division.
Darkwave trademark elements are still present, though: preeminent and robust bass lines, occasional baritone singing, overprocessed guitar sounds loaded with the chorus, reverb, delay and flanger effects, slow but powerful tension built in every song. The duo’s prototypical songwriting is to be interpreted as songwriting of the deep, a compositional approach that delves into the abyss of the human world to catch its twisted form of the sublime.
Otherworldly chants, arcane delights
Carnival of Light marks an excellent start for Garden of the Arcane Delights, an uptempo song built on an instrumental background that’s semi-made of pristine harp and guitar arpeggios and semi-built on the granitic bass sweeps. The operatic voice of Gerrard can express all of her power through vocalisms reminiscent of a tribal chant. It’s a kind of initiation rite for the listener.
In Power We Entrust the Love Advocated instead shows the baritonal singing of Perry on a carpet of ethereal sounds constructed through the sapient use of synths and bass licks. The song is akin to other pieces of the period, but nonetheless, the infectious melody makes it powerful and moving.
The Arcane repurposes an archetypical but still suave goth-rock song. Flowers of the Sea instead connect to Carnival of Light, showing the more ethnic/tribal and strange DCD side.