The Queen of the dark avant garde, Diamanda Galás has created a wide range of sounds during her career. From gospel-tinged black masses 25 years before Zeal and Ardor to her more seething chaotic work that borders more on performance art—the latter being where her newest effort, Broken Gargoyles, falls. One of her best works was the 1994 Sporting Life LP she created with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, wherein the bass grooves are large and in charge, proving her capable of crafting something close to conventional rock music, entirely on the other end of the spectrum from what transpires on her latest work.
Normally in reviewing an album, you listen for how effective the sounds are that the musician has crafted into a song, taking into consideration if it is something that pulls you back in. This isn’t really that kind of album, though. This is more like a trip to a museum that has been turned into a haunted house. Detached from some of the religious themes that crop up in her work, on Broken Gargoyles she’s drawn inspiration from images of gargoyles that were left battered from World War I taken by Ernst Friedrich and the poetry of German expressionist writer Georg Heym. This music was originally used in an art installation she did based off this theme, so in a sense it’s the soundtrack to that art project.
The horrors of war is a fitting theme for 2022, given how cycles of conflict only seem to begin again, and the locations for this kind of destruction simply relocate from one region to the next. One thing that struck me is how minimal these arrangements are for a vocalist who takes her voice to bombastic extremes—like a goth Yoko Ono. One thing that’s consistent with her music is the darkness; a satanic wolf howls as the first piece progresses, while there is a more tormented sound to the second piece, dipping into more of a whispered wonderland of whistling noises.
Her vocal experimentation is jarring for those who’ve never listened to her music before, but fans or those familiar with what she does have heard similar within the context of songs or performances that were more structured. There are different forms of sound manipulation and feedback than we have heard from her—it’s probably less alien to, say, fans of Mike Patton’s more stripped down and noisy vocal stylings. Sounds like what could be described as the souls of goblins being roasted by shelling arrive via a thundering noise in the background that could just be breath on the microphone with the EQ or effects applied to it, as the more robotic voice filter used in the first piece makes another appearance toward the end of the second piece.
If Lars Von Tier were a composer rather than a director, the results might be similar to what happens here. Horror is expressed in a gritty yet surreal way. The piano is punished sparingly; chords ring out, then the croaking of German prose. When you remove the art installation Broken Gargoyles accompanied and ask how these songs stand on their own, it really depends on whether you seek sounds or songs. Yet those already immersed in the music of Diamanda Galás should seek out this addition of sonic terrorism.
Label: Intravenal Sound Operations