A Haunting Beauty
Far off, there is distant howling, the shrieks of dying animals and a slow clink of piano keys. The wind whips then falls silent. There are only keys now, there are only wolves now, weeping into an ear, crying out, hungry. On At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem Diamanda Galas harnesses this cold and wild energy, creating an oppressive and occasionally enjoyable record.
This record is in no way approachable, if the dark color flipped cover is not hint enough then the music contained within certainly is. The shuffling piano is at first calming, but then is violently offset by Galas shrieking operatics. The lyrics in “Verrá la more e avrá i tuoi occhi” are largely unintelligible due to their delivery, but are nonetheless haunting for entirely the same reason. The melodies will stick with listeners long after the track fades into “Anoixe Petra,” where they are met with an absolute cacophony of piano. This dramatic shift will be played with time and again over the generous runtime of the record, which lends an unfortunately predictable element into what is a relatively unpredictable record.
The main drawback of the album is its obnoxious penchant for dragging out songs and sections. Every track stretches beyond the five-minute mark, with many of them reaching up into ten. Fortunately this is something that is remedied on the companion album, All the Way, which does keep the relatively lengthy song structures but is more forgiving with its number of tracks. This music is not for sustained listening; it is oddly harsh in a wholly unrecognizable way, so listeners may find themselves relieved when coming across shorter portions of the records.
Yet for all the enjoyable weirdness in All the Way, it is severely dialed back from its companion which harshly impacts its allure. Songs like “The Thrill is Gone” and “All the Way” do little to intrigue a listener that has already made their way through the superior At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem. The record listens like something meant to be more accessible but is still far too out of the norm to be approachable so its inability to commit becomes its downfall.
These are solid albums, and while one does dwarf the other they both seem to at least serve a purpose with their differences. While the records are not friendly or welcoming, the passion and aching beauty that sits within their grooves begs to be played aloud over and over.