Dead Can Dance: Toward the Within

1994 Directed by Mark Magidson.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 2, 1994

There are some musical groups that should be heard but not seen. Sometimes the images of the performers that a listener conjures in his or her head -- lying in bed with the lights out and the tapers flickering -- are far more inviting that the actual item. Which brings us to Dead Can Dance, and, more specifically, to co-vocalist Brendan Perry, whose ululating baritone sounds so eerie on CD, but is rendered downright odd when paired with his bearded Eirean mug. Nothing personal, really, but when my friend Shayne mentioned that while viewing Magidson's documentary she couldn't get the word “hippie” out of the back of her head, I knew what she meant tenfold: it's like finding out the angel Gabriel plays a kazoo. Physical aesthetics aside, Magidson's film is a welcome introduction to the 4AD Records' flagship group, who mix Celtic madrigals and an unclassifiable brand of neo-Gothic worldbeat with the haunting voices of co-founders Perry and Lisa Gerrard. (An earlier film by Magidson, Baraka, also featured some DCD tracks.) Both performers are steeped in rich musical traditions that stem from their respective youths. Gerrard received a Yang Qin, or Chinese dulcimer, at the age of 17 (which she still utilizes in performance), while Perry grew up in an Irish household fueled by Frank Sinatra and old show tunes, as well as more traditional Irish folk songs. Essentially a straight concert film, Magidson intercuts brief snippets of dialogue from the group's frontspersons, allowing them to explain a few of their influences, their philosophies, and how they came up with that ever-interesting name. (Perry slips into inscrutable mode here and mentions that he wanted a name that had to do with the actual process of creating music… or something to that effect.) For fans of DCD's music (and it's well-nigh impossible not to become a fan once you've been properly introduced to their ethereal tonalities), Toward the Within is a fitting accompaniment to their new live CD, despite the fact that, for all the attention they receive daily on the Internet's alt.gothic newsgroup, they come across looking more like a Zendik splinter group. Morbidly beautiful, DCD is the sound angels make when they stumble over stray pitchforks.

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Dead Can Dance: Toward the Within, Mark Magidson

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