Diamanda Galás
"Defixiones: Will and Testament"

(Mute 2004)Diamanda Galás - Defixiones: Will and Testament

Nearly one hundred years ago, with the rest of civilization distracted by World War One, the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey) launched a brutal campaign to wipe out all the Christian ethnic groups living within its borders. Entire villages were marched into the desert to die by Turkish soldiers who passed the time raping the women and shooting the men; untold thousands of Greek and Armenian people were loaded onto boats, taken to the middle of the sea, and thrown overboard with weights tied around their necks. It was a savage series of atrocities that led the American diplomat to the Ottoman Empire to coin the phrase "crimes against humanity" in a letter back to the U.S. government (which, despite the reports, did nothing).

While the slaughter of Ottoman Christians was appallingly effective, killing some 1 million over 3 years, many survived, often by fleeing to other countries. The renowned vocalist and performance artist Diamanda Galás is one of their descendants, and her latest two-disc release, "Defixiones: Will and Testament" is her attempt to resurrect the spirits of her persecuted ancestors, so they may be allowed to rage against their murderers and weep over their sufferings, to a world audience that shamefully ignored their plight a century ago. A phantasmagoric collage of distorted spoken words, chilling howls, and dark, droning strings, it's as bleak and unsettling as one would expect from an album seeking to evoke the horrors of mass murder, rape, and torture.

"Defixiones" is the fourteenth album that Galás has released in a twenty-two-year recording career, her discography including a quasi-opera about AIDS, a double-disc set of screams, the scariest gospel album ever recorded, and a rock and roll collaboration with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Born with an awe-inducing vocal range and almost superhumanly powerful lungs, Galás could have spent her life packing opera houses. Yet instead she chose to use her gift to explore strange, often frightening, musical territory -- screaming, growling, and electronically distorting her voice while exploring disturbing subject matter. Some of her work is nearly unbearable to listen to -- shrill high notes burrowing painfully into the deepest recesses of the ear, animal snarls penetrating the skin like worms feeding on a corpse -- but for those with the fortitude to withstand it, Galás' music covers a mind-expanding range of aesthetics and emotions, from sublime beauty to primal terror.

Obviously, "Defixiones" won't leave listeners smiling and humming along -- in fact, to do so would be the musical equivalent of laughing through "Schindler's List." A harrowing work to be experienced, not necessarily enjoyed, "Defixiones" will challenge and expand the musical sensibilities of those who can bear it, and an emotional knife in the gut, which reminds us that behind every third-page story of ethnic massacres in faraway lands lie millions of ghosts howling for justice -- or else bloody revenge. If only we could hear the screams of the dead, I'm sure they'd sound very much like Diamanda Galás does on this recording.

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