Review Summary: The Litanies of Satan is a stunning work... if you aren't scared to listen to it.
Diamanda Galas is one of those artists you either love or hate, and both have their share of very good reasons. About 3 years ago, if you told me I'd enjoy her music, I'd have laughed right in your face. The idea of someone just screeching, yelling, howling, babbling nonsense into a mic and calling it music was very nonsensical to me at the time- and to an extent, still is. But now that I'm older and my tastes have sort of opened a bit, I've realized that just like art, music is subjective. Some people even call the birds calling in the morning music. Remember that John Cage piece, 4'33, that consists of a pianist just sitting at his piano doing... nothing, for 4 minutes and 33 seconds" This was made because Cage wanted the audience to observe the music around them- the accidental noises happening in the background in different locations. And so Galas, a Greek-American artist with a classically trained 3 octave vocal range, also trained in piano, invites you to challenge the very notion of "music" with her debut album, The Litanies of Satan
The Litanies of Satan
is one of the most unpleasant, frightening, disturbing listens one is bound to have in a while. It's mercifully short at 30 minutes, but every second of it feels long and torturous. Galas screams, howls, shrieks, moans, cackles, and shouts her way through thirty unsettling minutes of pure a Capella terror. She recounts the recording experience as being in a London basement, awake for more than 24 hours, very sick, only being kept awake by caffiene and the temperature was freezing cold. Among the many things that happened- sound boards crashed, microphones and speakers blowing out. Then again though, those kinds of things are "normal parts of every day work" for her (then again that's just her sense of humour shining through). What Litanes
really is, is two pieces of music- both of which involve heavy useage of her voice as the main, and only, instrument featured on the whole instrument.
The first piece is the title track, which is the 17 most frightening minutes of audio ever recorded. Beginning with a series of hisses that fades in, the piece then moves into a recitation of Les Litanies de Satan
by legendary poet Charles Baudelaire, originally published in Fleurs Du Mal
. The poem is recited in the original French language, with a host of different effects peppered throughout the track. There's moments where a distorted repeat of her voice "recites" along with her near the beginning, and from there on lots of audio effects provide the "music" of the song, making one extremely intense and difficult track to listen to. Her screams and shrieks and echos get looped throughout, at times providing the "background music". At one point in the track, her voice becomes so distorted, it sounds as if 7 Diamandas are talking at once, to a horrifyingly sinister effect. It is one seriously intense track that is not to be listened to past midnight.
The next, "Wild Women with Steak Knives", is shorter and has no effects applied to it, but with a vocal performance this psychotic, who would need them. It runs 12 minutes long and is more of an aural assault. It's also a tad bit lighter in tone than the preceding track, and it a tad comical. The song's subject seems to be a woman with intense schizophrenia, and the "lyrics" are mostly babble and gibberish, but when they're in English, they're mostly nonsense ("I'm not talking about meatballs! I'm talking about... STEAK! STEAKSTEAKSTEAKSTEASKSTKSTSTKSTKSTSTSTSTSTSTSTS!!!
."). Seriously, at one point she gets so carried away in the vocal work that you wonder if she's going to explode. It isn't as good as the preceding track, but it's twisted and frightening fun.
is far from Galas' best work, however it is a great starting point, unlike most debut albums. Is it the most pleasant work out there" Absolutely not. Pleasant, it's anything but. But if you can force yourself to listen to it, it's an absolutely rewarding experienced, and will will challenge the way you define music, as stated above. Diamanda has plenty of other voice-centric works, the best of which being Vena Cava
, but before getting into that, try one of her earlier works, like The Divine Punishment
and this album. While not happy music, and certainly not for everyone, Litanies
is proof that music doesn't always need melodies- but rather the voices of the damned, tortured, and suffering.