Dead Can Dance • Into the Labyrinth

4AD/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-001
Double-LP set
1993/2011

Music

Sound

Dead Can Dance • Spiritchaser

4AD/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-002
Double-LP set
1996/2011

Music

Sound

by John Crossett | May 16, 2011

n a world full of one-hit wonders, copycat bands, and TV-promoted next-big-things, it’s rare to find a musical group so unique as to defy classification or comparison. Dead Can Dance is one such instance. It will take only a few moments from the very first song of either of these albums to demonstrate that what you are hearing has little or no precedence. That’s not to say you can't hear influences within this music. It’s just that those influences are so subtly woven in as to make it difficult to pin them down. I hear traces of Irish and Middle Eastern music, as well as certain prog rock, but it’s their implementation that sets Dead Can Dance apart -- and polarizes listeners. Dead Can Dance is a group that some people really love and others totally hate -- I’ve never run across anyone who "kind of likes" them.

Originally recorded in 1993, Into The Labyrinth is arguably Dead Can Dances’s best and best-known album. It’s also the band's most accessible. The opening two tracks, the instrumental "Yulunga" and "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove," ease you into the musical world of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. There is melody to follow -- there’s always melody if you’re willing to hunt for it -- and this allows you to come to terms with the music's unique character.

Spiritchaser, recorded some three years later, is a bit more esoteric. Those three intervening years allowed Perry and Gerrard to refine their vision and distill their sound. Less than half of the album's songs have lyrics as such. Chanting, both individually and in harmony, seems to be the rule. But it’s the weaving of the various musical elements into a complete whole that will capture and hold your attention, making Spiritchaser an album to study and savor.

These two reissues are not pressed on the usual audiophile 180-gram vinyl. Mobile Fidelity has reverted to a more typical 140-gram weight for its new Silver Label releases. Not that you’ll hear a difference -- at least I didn’t. The pressings were both flat and quiet. Ticks and pops, which would mar the mood of this intricate musical tapestry, were happily missing. In its original release, Into the Labyrinth was something of an audiophile classic because of its freaky-good recording quality, and that comes through clearly here.

I wish I owned original LPs to compare to these reissues, but I don’t. I have the recently released SACDs of both albums, however, and while they are very good, they pale in comparison to these LPs. There is an abundance of atmosphere that digital, even very good digital, can’t quite capture. Each instrument -- there is an abundance of them -- has true-to-life harmonic complexity, and the vocals are three-dimensional.

Oh, and lest I forget, these are double-LP sets, with the music of each album spread over four sides. The extra room allowed the MoFi crew to unearth all of the sonic nuance, instead of squeezing the music onto single LPs. If you’re a Dead Can Dance fan and don’t own the original LPs, these two sets are an essential purchase.

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