In the world of music and art, there are some people who are just simply gifted. When you’re talking about one of the most progressive and intriguing singers of the last 50 years, it’s hard to say Diamanda Galas is simply gifted when is more accurate to say that she’s blessed, possessing one of the most impressive and imposing voices in music. While she may certainly be blessed, there’s nothing holy about her music. When you’ve got such a large vocal range that you can perform practically anything you want, why not do something a little unorthodox with it? With her self-titled album, Diamanda Galas uses her voice, accompanied only by tape manipulations and industrial sounding electronics, to create unnerving and at times terrifying atmospheres and textures.
Lasting a little over half an hour, there’s not actually an awful lot to this album, but it’s certainly not a forgettable 32 minutes by any stretch of the imagination. Straight away, the album greats you with an uncomfortable burst of noise, followed by Galas wailing comfortably around the 6th octave, a throat-clenchingly high pitch for any normal human being. The first side of the album, “Panoptikon”, named for the prison layout where all of the inmates are able to be observed from a single vantage point, captures this feeling of constant observation during unwanted imprisonment. They way the album is recorded is important for the atmosphere. There isn’t a lot of dynamic range in the recording, with peaking all over the place especially as “Panoptikon” continues on. This adds a ghastly texture to Galas’ voice, adding to the frightening sense of entrapment.
Galas’ vocals don’t just consist exclusively of ghoulish wails and banshee shrieks. There are several instances where Galas begins to shout, a lot of it unintelligible nonsense but some of it actual words, as if the mind of the prisoner trapped forever under surveillance in the panopticon is speaking to itself. Galas’ voice is manipulated in strange ways such as pitching down and layered over the top of itself to become even more punishing. The way the piece builds is very clever, the atmosphere becoming more and more claustrophobic as it continues.
The second half of the album takes a slightly different approach and channels a slightly different emotion. Inspired by the Junta regime that ruled Greece from the late 60s to the early 70s and inspired by traditional Greek mourning rites. This side features howling, spitting, growling, shrieking, purring, hissing and quite simply anything Galas felt was in her ability to do, layered in a capella like some freak show barbershop quartet. Though this side isn’t quite as unsettling and powerful as the first half, it still possesses a strong air of horror to it and a poisonous desire for revenge emanates from Galas’ voice.
For those looking for something to challenge them, or those with an already healthy interest in the avant-garde, Diamanda Galas’ self-titled album is an entertaining half-hour for the morbidly curious. A fantastic vocalist with a twisted sense of atmosphere with a lot to offer for those open-minded enough to give it a shot.