The Danse Society were one of the most interesting Positive Punk/G|oth bands to emerge from the early ‘80s – if you haven’t heard their 1982 release Seduction, then track it down, it’s a classic from that period – and they were one of the few bands to flirt with mainstream success. They split in 1986 but, like many bands, the itch was still there and they reformed in 2009, sans vocalist Steve Rawlings who was replaced by Blooding Mask founder Maethelyiah. In 2011 the new group released Change of Skin and now their second release is upon us: Scarey Tales.
Firstly, I should mention that the packaging for the CD is beautiful: it’s in the form of a booklet with lyrics, photos, illustrations and a poem. In this age of instant downloads you gotta offer the punters something more to encourage them to get the physical format, and this does the job excellently.
In the sleeve notes, Paul Gilmartin calls Scarey Tales a Goth concept album. With titles like ‘The Scarecrow’, ‘The Wolf’ and ‘Jekyll & Hyde’, you know the sort of territory you are in. It’s odd but Danse Society seem more Goth now than they did back in the ‘80s.
The drums pound out a dark, tribal beat whilst the bass rumbles in the background, laying down a rhythmic repetition that hammers at the brain like a zombie pounding at your door. The guitars are discordant, edgy and the keyboards ethereal, making the darkness uplifting. Maethelyiah vocals are superb (whether by serendipity or design, the decision to replace Rawlings with a woman immediately cut short any comparison with the original band and gave them a new dimension). Her voice soars, like a rather sinful choir girl, and at times has a vibrato like a middle eastern houri, singing in a desert, calling the unrighteous to explore the dark sides of their nature.
At the beginning of ‘The Scarecrow’, Maethelyiah recites spoken word/poetry, which is difficult to do without sounding naff, but she pulls it off with a staccato reading and with the band making eerie noises in the background.
They also do one of the best versions of ‘White Rabbit’ I’ve either heard, though with only 6 tracks on the CD I’d have liked to hear more original compositions.
Perhaps ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ sums up the the theme of the album best. Maethelyiah sings: “The temptation to do what is forbidden, because it is forbidden. It is the strongest temptation of them all.”
Scarey Tales is a a celebration of the old tales that lead us into a greater understanding of our own natures. There can be no true self-awareness without an awareness of our own dark sides. Without death, life has no meaning. A fascination with the darker side of life doesn’t mean you’re a Satan worshipping cult member. Goth took rock to the extreme opposite end to the sugar coated boy meets girl pop. It lifted the coffin lid and delighted in what it found in the corners of attics. Unfortunately, like so many movements, it began to take itself too seriously and became a cliché of itself. With Scarey Tales, Danse Society have shown that you can revisit your past and make music that both celebrates that past and reinvigorates the present.
The Danse Society webpage: http://www.thedansesociety.co.uk/