The follow-up to the pioneering Australian art pop duo's 2012 comeback LP Anastasis, Dionysus dispenses with the more song-oriented approach of its predecessor in favor of an atmosphere-driven bacchanalian oratorio inspired by the Greek god of wine and ecstasy. Split into two tracks with a sum of seven movements, Dionysus unfurls like a guided ayahuasca trip; a curl of aromatic smoke that develops into a roaring, pre-Byzantine bonfire replete with primeval chants and ancient rites. Opener "Sea Borne" tracks the outsider God's arrival via a slow build of tribal beats and a sinewy, unfolding melody that suggests "Misirlou" by way of "Kashmir" -- the album continues to eschew the European folk proclivities of the duo's early work in favor a more Mediterranean and North African aesthetic. Brendan Perry's considerable arsenal of exotic weaponry is given a wide swath of sonic landscape, with stringed (oud), wind (fujara), and percussion (davul) instruments leading the charge. When paired with Lisa Gerrard's powerful voice, the effect is intoxicating, especially on more Gerrard-forward pieces like "The Invocation" and "Dance of the Bacchantes," the latter of which works itself into a particularly dervish-esque lather. Field recordings of Swiss goatherds, South American bird calls, and New Zealand beehives add more than just atmosphere, delivering evocative segues that invoke the pagan gods of old and the primordial forests and oceans they governed. Perry and Gerrard, who have long looked to mythology for inspiration, recognize that those foundational tales are largely immune to cultural disparity -- after all, who doesn't love an epic party? As an unofficial soundtrack for ritual madness, religious ecstasy, sex, winemaking, and song, Dionysus excels.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger