Broken Gargoyles

Diamanda Galás

Intravenal Sound Operations, 2022

REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


In a way, reviewing an album by Diamanda Galás is akin to reviewing a forest or a mountain. You likely wouldn’t say, “That boulder field would look better if it was moved slightly to the left,” or “These 800-year-old trees are okay, but I’d like them better if they were 900 years old.” So it is that the music of Diamanda Galás offers an uncompromising vision—often harrowing, always challenging—that explores some of the darkest parts of humanity, and you can choose to either go on the journey or not. 

While Galás has created works about the AIDS crisis and the Armenian, Anatolian-Greek and Assyrian genocides of 1914 and 1923, she has also covered Willie Dixon and Roy Acuff. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones has been a collaborator, as has Barry Adamson of Magazine and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. So she can do it all… and has. But it’s true that she’s best known for her deep dives into mass human trauma and cruelty, using her remarkable, singular soprano to convey all manner of pain and madness with occasional breaks of rapture and transcendence. Her new record, Broken Gargoyles, is firmly of this type.

A work first performed in a leper sanctuary and billed in the liner notes as a “sound installation,” the lyrical content of the record is largely based on the poetry of Georg Heym. Heym was a pre-WWI writer who tragically died at the age of 24 while trying to save a friend who had fallen through the ice while the two had been skating. The major text, “Das Fieberspital,” describes in brutal detail a yellow fever ward, and is split across the albums two tracks, “Mutilatus” and “Abiectio.” Also used are additional Heym poems that deal with hunger and blindness, both physical and metaphorical, among other maladies of the human body and psyche. The work of Heym is then deftly, if obliquely, used to create an atmosphere that represents the torment of the Broken Gargoyles depicted in the 1924 book “War Against War!” by anti-war campaigner Ernst Friedrich. Friedrich’s book was controversial, not least for including photographs depicting the devastating facial injuries suffered by WWI soldiers, some of which are reproduced in the CD booklet. That anyone could survive such injuries emotionally, let alone physically, is staggering. Of course, one presumes most of these men, referred to as “gargoyles” by their hospital caretakers, didn’t survive for long.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So that’s a bit of the foundation of the album. From there it’s all mountains and forests. Which is to say, Galás uses her supernaturally expressive voice to articulate seemingly every form of pain and insanity that the above precis might suggest, and you either open yourself to it or choose something different. Occasionally there is what sounds like joy and even humor, though whether those tones arise from a sound mind is open to interpretation. However, it is perhaps high among the remarkable talents of

Galás that this music is not dour or despairing. Frightening at times? Yes. Difficult?  Most certainly. But as piano, synth, strings, and other sometimes improvised instrumentation fades in and out, processed sounds ebb and flow, and a male voice, Robert Knoke, adds something like demonic texture, the listener is able to consider the folly of so much of human history from a slight remove. This is something that good art allows, and in that shared recognition is a catharsis for the receiver as well as the creator. Granted, most listeners probably aren’t shrieking along in the shower with Galás, but you probably know what I’m saying.

If you’re familiar with Diamanda Galás you will want to hear this, if you have not already. If you’re curious, I can draw some tenuous comparisons to early Einstürzende Neubauten (possibly heightened due to the words being in German), and the mood conjured by the more monolithic work of Jarboe-era Swans. Although there’s no mistaking the classical training in Galás’ background, and a symphonic and operatic undertow always churns beneath the surface.

It should also be said that this is a timely record. With humanity not only finding brand new ways to potentially destroy itself on the digital and ecological battlefields, a 20th century-style war of the type we thought we were done with—one not entirely removed from that which created Broken Gargoyles in the first place—again now rages in Europe. Galás shows us in no uncertain terms the insane flaw that seems to reside in humanity, never truly dormant, and shines a bright light on it with the understanding that if we don’t learn to recognize it and, indeed, come to know it intimately, we will never overcome it. These days the need to transcend the darkness in our own nature is ringing at a fever pitch. One of the sounds that urgency takes is Diamanda Galás.

Rating: A

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© 2022 John Mulhouse and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Intravenal Sound Operations, and is used for informational purposes only.