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Dead Can Dance

Dead Can Dance is a band comprising Lisa Gerrard (contralto), and Brendan Perry (baritone). Formed in Melbourne, Australia, in 1981 and initially based there, it disbanded in 1998 but reunited temporarily for a world tour in 2005.


Though the band was formed in Australia, Gerrard and Perry moved soon after to London, where after one year they signed up to alternative rock label 4AD Records, a legendary label on the alternative-music scene. They continued to work closely together until the late 1990s when they started to grow apart. Gerrard returned to Australia, while Perry moved to Ireland, where he bought the old Quivvy Church in which he lives and works. It is speculated that the distance between the members was an influence in the duo's eventual break-up, although Perry himself said that distance helped in maintaining a certain individual freedom in creativity.

Assigning a musical genre to Dead Can Dance is difficult, as its style is particularly eclectic. However, its early work could be considered a mix between post-punk and goth rock. In their later work, starting with The Serpent's Egg, Dead Can Dance would take ancient or various musics from around the world as primary sources, with Gerrard singing glossolalia, giving it a very distinctive style. As a result, their later albums sound quite different from the first three. Various sources have labeled those latter releases as neo-classical, ethereal, or dark world music.

The album artwork [of their self titled first album], a ritual mask from New Guinea, provides a visual interpretation of the meaning of the name Dead Can Dance. The mask, though once a living part of a tree is dead; nevertheless it has, through the artistry of its maker, been imbued with a life force of its own. To understand why we chose the name, think of the transformation of inanimacy to animacy. Think of the processes concerning life from death and death into life. So many people missed the inherent symbolism, and assumed that we must be morbid gothic types, a mistake we deplored and deplore.

In the United States, the group’s albums were not released until the mid-1990s, when 4AD had a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records. After this deal ended, 4AD allied itself with the Beggar’s Banquet Group, which included that eponymous label and XL Recordings in the USA, but the band’s recordings remained distributed through Warner Bros. Subsequent releases, however, have been licensed to Rhino/Atlantic Records, a sister label within Warner Music. A Passage in Time remains with 4AD independently of the Rhino and Warner Bros. deals.

A 1998 follow-up album to their last album Spiritchaser was planned, but the band separated before it was largely realized. One song that was to have appeared on it was fully recorded in the studio and is titled The Lotus Eaters. Though the album was never completed, it was eventually released on the box set Dead Can Dance (1981-1998) as well as the 2-disc Wake.

Many unofficial live bootlegs exist of concerts spanning their career, which contain several rare songs that were only performed live. Though Toward the Within is the duo's only official live album, Dead Can Dance released limited-edition recordings of 13 shows from its 2005 European tour, and 8 recordings from the subsequent North American tour, as well as a compilation titled Selections from Europe 2005. These concerts were recorded and released by The Show.

Dead Can Dance in films and TV

One of the band's more noteworthy tracks features in Episode 1, Season 5 of The West Wing. Sanvean can be heard during the poignant final scene when members of the Bartlett family are attending a private church service following the kidnapping of the youngest daughter, Zoey.

Another poignant scene can be found in the movie Unfaithful where two songs from Spiritchaser are played simultaneously: "Devorzhum" is a soft, lullaby song that is transposed over "Dedicacé' Outò," which contrastingly is filled with various up-tempo percussion. Together the two songs create a visceral tension that complements well the visual stress on the screen of how Diane Lane's character is fighting her will to stay faithful, yet still gives into the passion of adultery.

Additionally, one can find snippets of Dead Can Dance's music permeating popular culture, such as

  • "Summoning of the Muse" from Within the Realm of a Dying Sun as an introduction for a national women's gymnastics program and Arch Enemy also used it as an intro for their last tour. The song was also used in the trailer of the 1998 film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett, however the song was not featured in the actual film.
  • Portions of "De Profundis" from Spleen and Ideal and "Nierika" and "Song of the Stars" from Spiritchaser as theme and background in a Pioneer Productions/Channel 4/Discovery Channel/ABC TV documentary program on black holes featuring Homer Simpson
  • The opening of "The Host of Seraphim" from The Serpent's Egg in a trailer for the film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and is featured in the Japanese CGI film Vexille 2077 Nihon Sakoku. It is also used in the 2002 film Ripley's Game starring John Malkovich. A mixed version of "The Host of Seraphim" is used in the trailer of the 2006 Iraq War drama Home Of The Brave starring Curtis Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, and Brian Presley. The song was not featured in the actual film.
  • "The Host of Seraphim" also plays over the final scenes of Frank Darabont's film adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist and is the only music in the entire film.
  • "The Host of Seraphim" creates a mournful tone in the heart-wrenching scenes of poverty in Baraka.
  • "Yulunga (Spirit Dance)" is played subtly over scenes depicting concentration camps and torture chambers in Baraka.
  • "How Fortunate the Man With None" is used in La Sirène Rouge, a French movie adapted from a book by Maurice G. Dantec
  • "Rakim" is played during the opening scenes/magic act of the CSI season 3 episode "Abra Cadaver".

Cover versions of Dead Can Dance songs

Shoegaze band Ride recorded a version of "Severance," which was released on the 2003 album Waves. Australian death metal band Abramelin covered the "Cantara". Bauhaus performed "Severance" during its 1998 reunion tour, and included a studio version on the album Gotham. Czech folk/doom metal band Silent Stream of Godless Elegy released their version of "Summoning of the Muse" and "Cantara" in 1998 on the "Behind the Shadows" album. The band still sometimes performs "Cantara" during their live shows. Helena Iren Michaelsen's band Imperia covered "The Lotus Eaters" in 2004 on the tribute album, The Lotus Eaters. Progressive doom rock band Noekk covered the song "How Fortunate the Man With None" which also appeared on The Lotus Eaters. Gothic metal band Paradise Lost covered "Xavier" in 2002, which appeared as a bonus track on the limited edition version of the Symbol of Life album. Dutch rockers The Gathering released their cover of "In Power We Entrust The Love Advocated" in 1997 on the Kevin's Telescope EP. THis version was re-released in 2005, on a compilation of B-sides, live material and other rarities. Sarah Brightman covered the song "Sanvean" on her 2008 album Symphony. Celluloide covered the song "In Power We Entrust The Love Advocated" on their 2008 LP "Naphtaline".

Samples of Dead Can Dance tracks in other works

The Future Sound of London used samples taken from "Dawn of the Iconoclast" as core elements in their 1992 track "Papua New Guinea".


The Dead Can Dance catalog was remastered by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and released in 2008 by 4AD. Initially on hybrid stereo SACDs with a regular CD release to follow in late 2008. This reissue series includes all eight albums and the Garden of the Arcane Delights EP.


Live albums (limited editions)

  • Dublin (10/03/2005) 2CD
  • The Hague (12/03/2005) 2CD
  • Paris (14/03/2005) 2CD
  • Lille (16/03/2005) 2CD
  • Brussels (17/03/2005) 2CD
  • Madrid (21/03/2005) 2CD
  • Barcelona (22/03/2005) 2CD
  • Milan (24/03/2005) 2CD
  • Cologne (26/03/2005) 2CD
  • Munich (27/03/2005) 2CD
  • London (06/04/2005) 2CD
  • London (07/04/2005) 2CD
  • Selections from Europe 2005, 2CD
  • Seattle (17/09/2005) 2CD
  • Seattle (18/09/2005) 2CD
  • Toronto (01/10/2005) 2CD
  • Montreal (02/10/2005) 2CD
  • Montreal (04/10/2005) 2CD
  • Boston (05/10/2005) 2CD
  • Washington D.C. (10/10/2005) 2CD
  • Chicago (12/10/2005) 2CD
  • Chicago (12/10/2005) 3LP
  • Selections from North America 2005, 2CD


Promotional CDs

  • The ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove (CD promo)
  • The carnival is over (CD promo)
  • American dreaming (CD promo, edited live version)
  • The snake and the moon (CD promo)
  • Sambatiki (CD promo)


Tribute Albums


Movie scores

  • Demoni 2 (1986)
  • El niño de la luna (aka Moon Child; 1989)
  • Baraka (1992)
  • In the Kingdom of the Blind (1992)
  • The Crossing Guard (1995)
  • Ruth's Journey (1996)
  • In the Presence of Mine Enemies (1997)
  • Nevada (1997)
  • La Chacala (1998)
  • The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
  • Troy 2004
  • Killing the Afternoon (2005)
  • The Mist 2007
  • "Vexille" 2007


Live performances



External links

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