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Diamanda Galas


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

For the category game—experimental, performance art, also blues for various later projects.

Raw, searing music & vocals. (Neile)

and good god, i don't know where i'd put diamanda galas. the section with the big "DO NOT TOUCH UNLESS YOU ARE EITHER INCREDIBLY BRAVE OR BOTH DEAF AND BLIND" sign on it, maybe :P (damon)

Status:

Most recent release, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty (2008)

See also:

DiamandaGalas.com

Comparisons:

None at all! (5/93, jbr@casetech.dk, Neile)

Covers/own material:

Both

General comments:

Diamanda Galas is not for the faint-hearted: One of my friends warned me against listening to Plague Mass while alone. I don't think it's that scary, but I do recommend against listening to it on headphones after midnight.... (5/93, jbr@casetech.dk)

Comments made me curious about her music, so I purchased Plague Mass shortly thereafter. That evening, I put it on in my friend's car. Warning: Do not try this at home. Diamanda and driving do not mix. We learned this very quickly. My friend had to pull over to the side of the road as she was so disturbed by the music. (12/95, goldes@ccts201.fw.gs.com)

diamanda galas sort scares me. i have to be in the right mood. eek. (iflin@speakeasy.net)

Pretty grueling stuff for the most part. She has a technically amazing voice, and could probably beat Captain Beefheart in a "let's strip the paint off that building from 100 yards away" contest. Since the mid '80s, most of her albums have been about Persons With AIDS, persecution of said Persons, mental state of PWAs, etc. (her brother died of AIDS in 1986).
     her early releases tend to have a more noisy-industrial sound and hebephrenic vocals, with later releases featuring more piano (especially The Singer), electronic drums and percussion, and bits of synthesizer here and there. (larry@csccat.cs.com)

whether or not she means to be grating doesn't change the fact that she's grating and therefore I don't have any interest in hearing her. I listen to music to enjoy myself, not to have my nerves worn on. (NyxNight@aol.com)

Well, I have to admit that I agree with Nyxnight about Diamanda Galas. I have owned several of her discs and haven't kept them for the simple reason that I never listen to them.
     I admire what she does and the reasons why in theory, but I still don't want to hear it. It's funny because I like other "harsh" music and other "experimental" music. The Sporting Life and The Singer were the closest I came to keeping her discs, but still decided I would never listen to them.
     We have a sampler tape that a friend made of hers that I won't tape over, but that's about as far as it goes for me. This is my failure, not hers—it's just not the music for me. (Neile)

Well, her voice is amazing. It's amazing that she still has a voice after what she does with it. (jwaite@ucsd.edu)

I think Diamanda works in two different media: In music and in theatre. Her theatre is, of course, very musical—as musical as her music is theatrical—but there is a distinction. Vena Cava is a very scary piece of theatre. "Do You Take This Man?", from The Sporting Life, is a darkly funny—camp-horrific, even—song.
     Let me summarize—i.e. generalize and oversimplify: As Diamanda's rage at injustice (her chief targets are religious hypocrisy and the [as she sees it] genocide resulting from official inaction in the face of the AIDS epidemic) grows, her humor recedes; and as she finds herself reduced to weariness and resignation, her voice takes on the bitter cackle of the powerless.
     At no point along the spectrum is she pleasant, but she can be one of the most truly emotionally affecting artists out there, as well as one of the most fun.
     See her live, if you can. It'll help you to connect all her work—to visualize her spectrum more clearly. (lissener@wwa.com)

she scares the hell out of me, but her talent is not able to be disputed. One of my profs at Amherst told us that she studied piano at college...her dad wouldn't let her study voice, and besides, she was a piano prodigy...but she'd still go off and get a practice room and just stand there by herself and torture her voice by screaming and singing at the top of her lungs, using that voice of hers that might very well be the sound of angels shrieking. (paul2k@aol.com)

She is amazing. If you haven't heard her, you can't even begin to understand. This woman's voice and piano are both equal instruments, even moreso than Tori Amos's. Tori's piano is more versatile than her voice is because it's just bigger, it's louder. This doesn't mean Tori's voice isn't beautiful and captivating and really really really expressive, it just means that her piano can make more sounds than her voice can. With Diamanda, however, the two are on equal footing. This woman can bend steel with her voice. It's sick. She can speak tongues in Italian while playing a complex 16th-century artsong, she can hammer out the most complex death-blues you've ever heard all while tearing down the nearest skyscraper with the vocal line. Woman is amazing, hands down amazing. She and Tori are the best pianists out there today. (John.Drummond)

Comments about live performance:

Diamanda Galas is unlike anyone else you've ever heard. If you get a chance to see her live, do it. She is definitely a unique experience. More a performance artist than a singer, her songs focus on death, mental illness and AIDS. And involve a lot of screaming.
     When performing live, she usually performs Plague Mass, a performance art piece dealing with AIDS. However on the last tour she performed "Judgement Night", which started with a 20-minute performance. Diamanda performed topless and solo at the mike, dipped in oil and lit like some glowing thing from hell. After this piece there was an intermission and she came out to perform pieces from The Singer, and some other cover tunes, with just her solo piano and incredible voice. The album The Singer, and the second half of the performance were somewhat monotonous. She plays the lower half of the piano more than any other pianist I've seen, and her voice, though ranging from incredibly low to high pitched screams and operatic warblings, becomes somewhat tiresome after a while.
     When I saw her she performed "the obligatory crowd-pleaser" (said with much disdain), and launched into the old Diana Ross tune "My World is Empty Without You, Babe", which she gave a whole new meaning to.
     Definitely go see her if you get a chance, though don't count on it being a particularly pleasurable experience. It will make you feel things no other performer can (some of which may be the same kind of annoyance you feel when someone grates their nails on a chalkboard). But it is also amazing to see someone perform with their focus so intent on death, dying and pain. She definitely does not sing to please or entertain, but to show the horror and tragedy of life. Some people might not like this. It may make them uncomfortable. It's not something I feel like listening to very often, but it also something that shouldn't be ignored. She deserves being listened to. Her live performances carry more weight than her recorded material (at least from what I've heard).
     Like a trip to hell, her concerts are not a place I'd like to spend my life attending, but they're definitely worth a visit. (jjhanson@att.net)

I went to a concert in NYC which featured a couple of bands and Diamanda was a part of it. She sang a few songs at her piano (probably from The Singer). It was one of the best performances I had ever seen. I bought my "Diamanda Galas/We are all HIV+" shirt on the spot. You should have seen the looks I got on the subway ride home. (12/95, goldes@ccts201.fw.gs.com)

Her live performances vary from very impressive to jaw-droppers; the amount of concentration and intensity she projects is way beyond almost anyone else. Her ability to play and improvise at the piano is not unlike Tori Amos', but much gutsier and more dynamic. (larry@csccat.cs.com)

When I saw Diamanda a few years ago, on a half Singer/half Plague Mass show, I was stunned. It's probably the only music I've heard that picked me up and violently threw me against the wall of the auditorium. When she came out, naked from the waist up, covered in oil and illuminated by red light (appearing to be covered in blood), and opened her mouth and starting singing/shrieking, the music and voice echoed through my chest cavity. I really could feel it course through my body, causing my lungs to constrict and my heart to beat fast. (neal)

Saw her live in 1998 and she blew me away. What a voice she has! (12/99, stjarnell@yahoo.com)

Recommended first album:

The Singer for intro to her voice; Plague Mass for what she's mostly about. (Neile)

Her most accessible album (the only one I own) is called The Singer. (jjhanson@att.net)

I'd say get You Must Be Certain of the Devil for the most "accessible" (har har!) Diamanda Galas, then maybe the live Plague Mass for the more extreme ranting against the bad guys. Vena Cava is a masterpiece in my opinion, but I think most people might find it unlistenable, for the extreme dynamics if nothing else.
     From You Must Be Certain of the Devil through Vena Cava, the musical background has gotten more and more stripped down, with more emphasis on just her voice with lots of delays and other processing. There are almost no instruments at all on Vena Cava. (larry@csccat.cs.com)

there are two ways you can approach diamanda. you can dive right into her tortured litanies by finding either vena cava or plague mass—both are diamanda at her most dramatic, horrific and striking. if you can handle these, you can handle anything she has done (or will do). however, it'd be tough to spend that much on a wild card, especially taking a chance on her most difficult work. if you'd rather take an easier road, try the singer, in which her vocal histrionics are somewhat tamed and her usual theme (the aids epidemic) somewhat avoided, or the sporting life, a collaboration with john paul jones which is quite a bit different from her other work, but an introduction to her vocal talents. (woj@smoe.org)

If you appreciate art that horrifies, enrages, and sickens while it educates (e.g. Karen Finley, J.G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs), and can look to your theatre for something larger than entertainment, then buy Plague Mass. When you listen to it, listen to it: It's not background music. It's not pleasant; you won't bring it out at parties (unless you can't get your guests to leave). But you will play it for certain friends, and you'll insist they listen to it, quietly, all the way through. (lissener@wwa.com)

Recordings:


Wild Women With Steak Knives

Availability:

Out of print?

Ecto priority:

Low

Comments:

very extreme vocal techniques, noisy, long tracks, not "songs." (larry@csccat.cs.com)

Panoptikon

Availability:

Out of print?

Ecto priority:

Low

Comments:

very extreme vocal techniques, noisy, long tracks, not "songs." (larry@csccat.cs.com)

The Divine Punishment/Saint of the Pit

Release info:

These two performances were released on separate cassettes and records (Restless/Mute 7 71417 and 7 71418). They were later released on a single compact disc (Restless/Mute 7 71423-2). The performance premiered in 1986, though the CDs are copyrighted 1989.

Availability:

Specialty stores

Ecto priority:

If inclined, should probably buy Masque of the Red Death.

Group members:

Diamanda Galas—soprano and bass voices, Hammond organs, digital and analogue synthesizers

Guest artists:

F.M. Einheit—chains, drums

Produced by:

Dave Hunt—The Divine Punishment
Gareth Jones and Diamanda Galas—Saint of The Pit

Comments:

These are the first two parts of Masque of the Red Death. The Divine Punishment's text all comes from the Old Testament. Saint of the Pit comes from the writings of Charles Baudelaire, Gérard Nerval and Tristan Corbière.

You Must Be Certain Of The Devil

Release info:

1988—Restless/Mute—7 71403-2

Availability:

Specialty stores

Ecto priority:

If inclined, should probably buy Masque of the Red Death

Group members:

Diamanda Galas—all vocals, Hammond organ, piano, synthesizers, keyboard bass

Guest artists:

Charlie Terstappen—drums
Kurt Schmidt—guitar
Peter Zimmerman—percussion

Produced by:

Gareth Jones and Diamanda Galas

Comments:

This is the final third of Masque of the Red Death. It contains a gospel song ("Swing Low Sweet Chariot") and biblical excerpts mixed in with Diamanda's own writings. Some actual songs, more lyrics and spoken word pieces.

Masque of the Red Death

Release info:

This is a two-disc set that contains the previously released pieces of the masque—The Divine Punishment/Saint of the Pit and You Must Be Certain Of The Devil.
Restless/Mute—GALAS 1

Ecto priority:

Very high (if you aren't put off by the general idea). (neal)

Plague Mass

Release info:

1991—Mute Records, USA—9 61043-2

Availability:

Generally available in edgier stores

Ecto priority:

Very high (but see comments!). (5/93, jbr@casetech.dk)

Group members:

Diamanda Galas—vocals, grand piano

Guest artists:

Ramon Diaz—electronic percussion
Blaise Dupuy—electronic keyboards
David Linton—drums, percussion
Michael McGrath—tapes, electronics

Comments:

Diamanda Galas' vocals on this album is probably the most stunning I've ever heard. Be warned though: Her voice is in no way pretty and she uses a unique screaming technique. This is an album to be appreciated, not enjoyed! Live recording (great sound!) from a cathedral. (5/93, jbr@casetech.dk)

I listened to the album in bits and pieces. I found it generally unpalatable, but shocking nonetheless. (12/95, goldes@ccts201.fw.gs.com)

spent about an hour listening to diamanda galas' plague mass, and i'm mightily impressed...rarely does music affect me as much as plague mass did. before hearing it, i'd always reacted with skepticism to claims that music can be "scary" or "frightening," but plague mass manages...her voice at points sounds so ravaged, so torn from her body, yet so angry.. the lyrics vary from chanting excerpts from the old testament to beautifully horrible poems like "let my people go"....
     while i don't think it's something i would listen to very often—it requires concentration and demands attention and time and the will to understand it—it is so impacting and uniquely powerful that i definitely need to get it.
     Beautiful, terrible, ugly and divine; raw power and seething hurt, explosive and insidious hatred, wrenching sadness, and a defiance that leaves me spinning. Never has music had such an emotional impact on me...listening to this, i feel anger, outrage, and a flying torture/hatred/defiance that's so intense i don't think i could ever express it. only nature, and the thought of its destruction, has ever done this to me (admittedly, even more powerfully than Plague Mass). sometimes, i see beauty so deep and moving i cry; and then the knowledge that we're doing everything we can to blast it from the earth brings up the same emotion that i feel so much throughout Plague Mass. many people on ecto have talked about how they don't enjoy Diamanda. neither do I. she doesn't mean to be enjoyed; she means to sear. and she does it. (contzen@sfu.ca)

i was intrigued by the discussion of diamanda here, mainly because she'd been described as "frightening" and i tend to like music that a lot of people call spooky. anyway, i put plague mass on my list and lo and behold, there it was on christmas day looking like a return to the seventeenth century :P she *is* frightening! i looked through the booklet a bit and could hardly bring myself to listen to the thing, i was so spooked already. listened to it that night a tiny bit, but i was in one of those moods where *anything* new is definitely going to sound bad, and knew i was, so i stopped pretty quickly.
     anyway, while my jury is still out in some respects, i am very interested by it, *terrified* by a lot of it (but in a good way, rully), and almost certain it's something i want to keep around. not like i'd probably listen to it more than once a year, but it seems to have a certain significance or weight to it. keep in mind i haven't listened to the whole thing, nor very intently.
     her voice is amazing. and the things she does with it are scary.
     anyway, my point was that this *isn't* very musical stuff. it seems to be mainly chanting (usually repeating a line or two over and over for a while, then switching...), frenzied banshee screeching, and bizarre "speaking in tongues"-ish bits. sometimes heavy, echoey (well, it was done in a church), vaultish beats, but not too much else. (damon)


The Singer

Release info:

1992—Mute Records, USA—9 61278-2

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Middle. (5/93, jbr@casetech.dk)

Not for the faint of heart. Recommended for those who like their vocals raw. (Neile)

Group members:

Diamanda Galas—vocals, Steinway piano, Hammond organ

Produced by:

Eric Liljestrand and Diamanda Galas

Comments:

Diamanda Galas is very restrained on this record, too much I think. But, on the other hand, that may make for a good intro.... This is mostly covers, but rather unusual covers. (5/93, jbr@casetech.dk)

I haven't played this for more than 20 seconds. I bought it because I've heard about her incredible voice or whatever, and because I was curious as to what all the fuss was about.There's something about her voice that's annoying to me. Maybe it's the way she doesn't actually sing so much as talk and growl....
     I found about two tracks that I found listenable, and one I actually really like ("Gloomy Sunday"). A few tracks have moments that I find pretty good, but in general, her voice just grates on my nerves. She's unbelievable with those opera screeches though. Tremendous power in that voice. I just wish she would...well...sing. I've got a thing about singers who don't sing. It's the main reason I don't like NIN, too. (NyxNight@aol.com)

It is the most "musical" of the albums, but still features her wild vocal screams—but performing more conventional songs. It consists of a lot of old gospel and blues songs, almost all of which deal with death (songs include "Make Sure My Grave is Kept Clean", "Gloomy Sunday", "Let My People Go", etc.) On some of the songs she's reworked the lyrics a bit, and there are also a couple of original compositions. It's definitely the most listenable album of hers, (at least from what I've heard), and features less vocal synthesizing and more straightforward piano and vocals. Still, it's definitely Diamanda.
      The Singer is the only Diamanda album I have, nor do I feel like rushing out to buy all of her stuff. I'm glad I own The Singer, but a steady diet of Diamanda, would probably, literally, drive me crazy. (jjhanson@att.net)

This is mostly covers of standards and spirituals, but Diamanda Galas sings them as though they were a new & urgent language. (Neile)

The one thing she's done that's more conventional is The Singer, a collection of covers of old blues and gospel songs. It comes off as sort of flat on the record, whereas her live renditions of the same songs were much, much better. (larry@csccat.cs.com)

The Singer is a bit sadder and quieter, and there are some truly murderous moments on all of these songs. (lissener@wwa.com)

I do like her more traditional stuff like The Singer. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)


Vena Cava

Release info:

1993

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Moderate to high, depending on your personal taste

Comments:

God, it is really, really scary! I thought I knew what "dark music" is, but I didn't expect that much. These cries almost freeze your heart. (apg@ethereal.ru)

Vena Cava is supposed to portray the disintegration of the mind of a terminal person with AIDS, and goes from barely-audible feeble whispers to all-out ranting and screaming.
     One netter put it on the first time, cranked the volume up to where he could hear the very quiet intro section, then went off to "use the facilities." About five minutes in, when the screaming started, he nearly leapt off his, um, seat. %) So be careful not to be shaving or chopping vegetables when you listen to this the first time.... (larry@csccat.cs.com)

WOW.
     Ravings and ululations (another ecto sub-genre)—these are sounds that could come spewing forth from my soul. Well, I've always wanted to grow up to be psychotic—not the modern sedated kind—the medieval snake pit inmate, YES I am awestruck by the utterances of this incredibly powerful performer. My first response, sitting at the listening post, was a big smile of pleasure at hearing something so beautifully bizarre. Later, after hearing the entire work, another response superceded the smile: because the role Diamanda assumes in this work is that of the tortured, psychotic human being who is looking death in the face. Diamanda is evoking the empathy of our collective hearts. (jwaite@ucsd.edu)


The Sporting Life

With John Paul Jones

Release info:

1994

Availability:

Wide in the US

Ecto priority:

Moderate

Comments:

I used to say that Diamanda Galas needs to do something other than the Plague Mass to remain interesting. Well, this effort sounds like a watered down Morphine with a bad singer. Only "Dark End of the Street" is great, but that would belong better on The Singer. (kyrlidis@earthlink.net)

Contains the lyric of the year: "Now I have to get off my knees/ Because I have some shopping to do".
     darkly bubbling bass and Diamanda's utterly unhinged, psychotic-drag-queen persona, makes a priceless party album: The rage is there, but it's the rage of Lenny Bruce rather than the rage of Jeffrey Dahmer. (Where'd that come from?) (lissener@wwa.com)


Schrei X Live

Release info:

1996—Mute

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Moderate to high, depending on your personal taste

Group members:

Diamanda Galas—vocals

Produced by:

Blaise Dupuy

Comments:

I've only listened to this once. Too extreme for me. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

Further info:

Check DiamandaGalas.com for lots of info. Also, I highly recommend the Hal Willner produced Edgar Allan Poe tribute Closed On Account Of Rabies—Poems and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (Mercury 314536 480-2). Diamanda reads Poe's story "The Black Cat", which is as chilling as you'd imagine. (neal)

There's a Plague Mass video available.


Thanks to Jens P. Tagore Brage and Neal Copperman for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2012-05-20 13:37:39.
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