Saturday, March 19, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

Into the Labyrinth
(new reissue)

Dead Can Dance

4AD/Mobile Fidelity MOFI 2-001 2 LPs
Produced by: Brendan Perry
Engineered by: Brendan Perry
Mixed by: Brendan Perry
Mastered by: Paul Stubblebine at Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs



Mobile Fidelity Silver Series Off to Auspicious Beginning
by Michael Fremer
February 01, 2011

The music made by the Australian group Dead Can Dance during their seventeen year existence resembled soundtracks to imaginary movies. The core duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, who were also an item at the time, moved to the U.K. a year after the group's founding in 1981. They issued their first album on 4AD in 1984.

From the beginning the group trafficked in ambient soundscapes and ethno-techno drumming leavened with the ubiquitous synthesizers then driving the era's pop music scene. The debut (4AD CAD 404) sounds something like The Thompson Twins meets Joy Division, meets Hieronymous Bosch meets My Bloody Valentine meets "world music" probably before the term was coined—but with far more depth of soulful expression. Both Perry and Gerrard's vocal chops expanded exponentially over time compared to how they sounded on the debut. Gerrard sounds a bit like Edith Piaf there. Not on this record!

Over the years the group's musical palette expanded while the ethnic sounds in which they traded gained greater currency in pop music. At the same time, purist practitioners began incorporating more pop.

By the time this complex gem, featuring just the duo of Perry and Gerrard, was first issued in 1993, a large audience was waiting to accept and embrace it and it hit the Billboard Top 200 Chart and went on to sell an amazing half-a million or so copies—and for good reason!

The music is a complex melange of straight forward goth-rock, with plenty of shimmering, chimey guitars, mixed with a jumble of ethnic musical accents ranging from American Indian to Indian Indian to Arabic plus sound effects, heavy and varied percussion occasionally anchored with shuddering bass.

The vibe is heavy. The religious overtones are earthy and dank. Death and mystery hover in the air. There's a dense adaptation of Bertold Brecht's "How Fortunate the Man With None" from "Mother Courage," and one set to Robert Dwyer Joyce's Irish rebellion poem "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," plus originals that cover a wide variety of mysteries and betrayals. There's chanting.

Mr. Perry is not only a talented singer, musician, arranger and composer. He's also a brilliant engineer and producer. This double LP set was recorded in Quivvy Church, Ireland and Perry captures both the instrumental timbres and textures and the spaciousness of the venue with alarming immediacy and dynamic involvement.

If you don't jump out of your seat on occasion as this plays—I don't care how many times you've heard it—something is wrong with your stereo. I've been playing it for seventeen plus years on the original double UK pressed LP set but truthfully haven't listened for awhile as my system has dramatically improved and I had a few adrenaline surges a few times listening to this superb Mobile-Fidelity reissue.

The spaciousness is astonishing, the clarity and precision of the percussive attack intense, the bass, deep, taut and well-textured and the presentation of Perry's and Gerrard's vocals full bodied and three-dimensional. This is as good as recorded music can sound in my opinion and Mobile Fidelity's reissue on RTI standard weight audiophile quality vinyl presents it against the blackest backdrop. I've played my original to death (pun intended) and it still sounds great and quiet, but this reissue presents an even blacker backdrop. It might be better than the original, but given how many plays mine has had, I'm not sure. It's at least as good, that's for sure.

An auspicious start for Mobile Fidelity's new lower cost silver series of LPs. Even if you've never heard this group or this record, if you're going to step out and try something new, this would be the place to do it. Highly, highly recommended for both music and sound. Turn the lights out and you'll be transported to another place.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

©2011 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

1 comment:

Bret Helm said...

Cool. Didn't know this album was reissued on vinyl. Thanks for the tip and the review. - Bret