Enraptured by Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices) since her earliest 4AD days after Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy slipped a cassette of the folk choir to the label’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell in the early ’80s, Lisa Gerrard wrote Dead Can Dance’s “The Host of Seraphim” off the band’s fourth album The Serpent’s Eggs (1988) upon being heavily drawn to the polyphonous sounds of the Balkan collective. “That piece was directly influenced by these new voices I heard, years and years before,” she says.
Knitting elements of the all-female choir and Bulgarian folklore into more lyrics—and around her contralto vocals—throughout the years, Gerrard, along with DCD keyboardist Jules Maxwell, welcomed the chance to work directly with the singers, and co-wrote several tracks for the group’s 2018 release BooCheeMish. Left with songs that never made the Bulgares’ album, Gerrard and Maxwell reclaimed seven tracks as their own on Burn, out May 7 here.
Produced by James Chapman (a.k.a. Maps), Burn was never an intentional album. It was an unexpected turn for Gerrard and Maxwell who found themselves, years later, still conjuring their Bulgarian songs following the cancellation of Dead Can Dance’s 2020 tour. “They were written outside of the context of understanding what it was we were actually singing with the Bulgarians,” says Gerrard, “so these pieces were just sort of hanging in the air.”
Always altering her voice around Dead Can Dance’s Gregorian chants, fused in Balkan and Celtic folklore, and Mid-Eastern incantations, Gerrard was challenged with bending her vocals around the varied Bulgarian scales used on Burn. “Working with the Bulgarians, every time you perform with them, the piece evolves and takes on a more transient kind of intimacy,” says Gerrard, “because they’re singing in fourths and augmentations with drones, and it’s a totally different process.”
Burn penetrates some illusory elements and an interconnectedness with nature. Through its improvised soundscape the record meditates on the experiential lessons, from the release of “Heleali (The Sea Will Rise)” through the settling contentment of “Do So Yol (Gather the Wind).”
Part of the allure and essence of Burn, says Maxwell, lies in its mystery. “You don’t quite know what it means,” he says. “With Dead Can Dance, Lisa uses a language, which doesn’t literally mean anything, but it’s got enormous meaning to it. That adds a sort of mystery, a sense of importance. What is this about? I don’t know what this is about, but it sounds sort of important.”
Below, Gerrard shares an exclusive track-by-track rundown of each song on Burn.
1. “Heleali (The Sea Will Rise)”
The album begins with “Heleali,” a meditation on the eternal rise and fall of the tides. It is a call to let go of the past and reflect on the elusive shadows of evaporation.
2. “Noyalain (Burn)”
“Noyalain” is a song of welcome, an invitation to walk in peace, unlock the passive passion within, engage in the diversity of life and celebrate.
3. “Deshta (Forever)”
“Deshta” recalls a dream of eternity, spinning fearlessly into the perpetual Light.
4. “Aldavyeem (A Time To Dance)”
“Aldavyeem” is a gentle trance which wakes up the sleeper.
5. “Orion (The Weary Huntsman)”
Orion’s journey is long and at times heartbreaking.
6. “Keson (Until My Strength Returns)”
“Keson” implores us to live in our dreams and befriend our soul.
7. “Do So Yol (Gather The Wind)”
The album finishes with “Do So Yol,” a return to the elements, spreading the seeds of lessons learnt with a merry heart.