Diamanda Galás

Defixiones: Will and Testament (Mute)

Against the Ropes
With her late-'80s three-album opus Masque of the Red Death and its terrifying epilogue, Plague Mass, classically trained pianist and singer Diamanda Galás confronted ignorance and apathy toward AIDS with blasphemous appropriations of biblical texts, horrific speaking-in-tongues vocalizations, and sacred-profane blood rituals onstage. On the two-CD set Defixiones: Will and Testament -- her first new recording in five years -- she is similarly provocative, focusing here on the unimaginable human suffering that resulted from the Turkish slaughter of Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks between 1914 and 1923.

More a haunting soundtrack to a political art piece than a song-based effort, Defixiones draws its musical power from Galás's startling, four-octave vocal range, dramatic keyboard virtuosity, and atmospheric synthesizer undertones. The emotional intensity sustained throughout sets the listener squarely in the pit of hell, where men and women are tortured, raped, drowned, starved to death, and burned alive in the name of so-called ethnic cleansing.

Galás channels the spirits of the deceased and challenges the living to stare down the face of death, no matter how dark or disturbing, and remember.

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