Dead Can Dance members Lisa Gerrard and Jules Maxwell have teamed up under a new guise with James Chapman (MAPS) to create a studio album titled Burn. The record began its journey more than seven years ago when Gerrard met Irish theatre composer Maxwell before working together for the first time.
Although Burn is a new release, its beginnings go all the way back to 2012 during Dead Can Dance’s world tour. Originally brought in as a live keyboard player, Maxwell helped create a new song with Gerrard called ‘Rising Of The Moon’, which was performed as the final encore of each show. By the time the tour finished in Chile in 2013, a strong affinity had begun to develop between them. Further opportunities to collaborate with each other resulted over subsequent years.
In 2015, when Maxwell was asked to submit songs for the Bulgarian choir The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices (Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares), he approached Gerrard to co-write material. He travelled to Australia to work with her in her home studio. The pair came away with four new songs for that release and the building blocks for this new venture together. Maxwell was then introduced to James Chapman: “About a year later, over dinner in Sofia after a concert by the Bulgarian women, my publisher suggested that I work with James Chapman on completing the Burn songs. James had established a sound with his band MAPS, which also had big horizons at its core, and it seemed like an intriguing proposition to me.”
With Gerrard remaining in Australia, Maxwell adding his keys and percussion from France, and Chapman bringing new light to the sound from England, the three were literally worlds apart, but those worlds fused in the music.
The opening track, “Heleali “(The Sea Will Rise), perfectly encapsulates the rise and fall of tidal waves. Gerrard’s distinctive vocal, sung in her own unique language, is mesmerising and Goddess-like. It’s easy to picture her riding a chariot drawn by sea horses to the swells of synth and Maxwell’s rousing, crashing orchestral arrangements. Harp-like strums add a mythical, mermaid quality, and it’s a towering, theatrical blueprint for the rest of the album.
The first single, “Noyalain” (Burn), opens up with crystalline spirals of guitar and an intense tribal-like chant from Gerrard and Maxwell. The drums and synths pick up a steady beat until at precisely 1 minute 40 seconds in, Gerrard’s vocal fades, and the track then explodes into this glorious, cinematic anthem with euphoric electronica and dense, atmospheric orchestration to create a highly visual track of far horizons and beautiful landscapes. The synths are celestial, with Gerrard’s vocal like a luminous halo. “Noyalain” is both cosmically spiritual and stunning and is the best example on the album of the wonderful unity of Maxwell’s graceful arrangements, Gerrard’s amazing voice and Chapman’s ability to create expansive soundscapes.
The second single release, “Deshta” (Forever), is, in Gerrard’s own words, “a dream of eternity, spinning fearlessly into the perpetual light”. It’s an intoxicating listen, initially beginning with Gerrard’s primitive vocal over panoramic synth orchestration and rock percussion. It’s entrancing, sonically spacious and beautifully haunting.
“Aldavyeem” (A Time To Dance) is a colourful invitation to abandon whatever weighs you down to be free. It’s heady and exotic with gentle tribal drums and tropical reverbed vocal, which evoke pictures of the Taj Mahal at dawn or a European cathedral at sunset. “Aldavyeem” carries you to any far-flung corner of the globe – it’s completely, vibrantly alive. Flurries of chamber music add the traditional Dead Can Dance medieval atmospheres alongside perky stabs of percussional beats. The heavenly sounds of an organ add a celestial ambience to this album crown jewel.
“Orion” (The Weary Huntsman) changes the mood and is sombre and sad. Gerrard’s vocal is deep and resonating, channelling emotion in her voice almost like an animal cry. Heavy drum beats and mournful organ keys slowly build in intensity. Gerrard’s voice becomes gothically operatic until the song peaks before Chapman makes the track soar with pounding drum beats and sumptuous choral organ keys until the notes peter out to light, twinkled spirals at the end.
“Keson” (Until My Strength Returns) starts simply with Gerrard’s ethereal, echoey vocal in harmony with gentle synth sounds and an electronic drum beat that becomes buzzing and mechanical. Gerrard states that “Keson implores us to live in our dreams and befriend our soul”, and it’s a stirring listen full of warm overtones and rich textures of electronica.
Album closer “Do So Yol” (Gather The Wind) is joyous with glistening synths and Gerrard’s vocal oriental and airy. Maxwell’s composition is cherry-blossom delicate here until the drum becomes bolder and more expansive with sweeping, sparkling synths that add majesty and grandeur. Gerrard goes all out with a voice that quite frankly is not of this world, and it’s like a return home, emotionally and spiritually.
Gerrard and Maxwell certainly could never be pigeon-holed with regards to their music. Their sound is hard to define, and their strong creative connection and trust in each other is evident on Burn and their courage and desire to take risks.
Chapman joining the duo as the producer has created a distinctive album that is euphoric and compelling and more inventive than what they have worked on separately in the past. Each track gently begins, builds and intensifies, creating a hypnotic listening experience from start to finish. To think that the album was created while they were all in different parts of the world deserves some extra kudos.
Burn is such a different and diverse record. It’s a powerful combination of electronic cinematic soundscapes and alternative, transcendental world music. Burn is seven remarkable tracks like auditory Seven Wonders of the World; mystical, mesmerising and unique.
Lisa Gerrard and Jules Maxwell’s new album Burn will be available as of 7th May 2021 via Atlantic Curve.
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