You know, the cover of this record should have really given me a hint. But holy fuck, nothing really prepared me for this. This is Ms Galas performing live at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York City. Plague Mass is a performance of both original pieces along with interpretations of old gospel numbers and readings of bible verses. The topic is AIDS and Plague Mass is a follow up to her Masque of the Read Death trilogy. Considering her brother died of the disease in 1986 its not surprising that the performance captured on this record overflows with venom, anger, sadness and grief. It is basically an amalgam of performance art, poetry slam and hysterical operatic shrieking. She rails against the abandonment and rejection of PWA’s (People with AIDS) and demands justice. This is the battle cry for the dead.
Let’s talk about the shrieking for a second. Holy shit. I’ve never heard anything like it. Her octave range has to be heard to be believed. I’ve read that she has a four octave range but I think that’s a shocking mis- understatement. She switches from spoken word to a piercing shriek in a fraction of a second. The shriek sounds something kin to an alto-saxophone being buggered. But somehow the saxophone effect miraculously turns into histrionic gospel singing. It is fucking extraordinary. Not always pleasant but extraordinary.
There are some great liner notes with this record and somebody who witnessed the performance described her emerging in front of the alter, covered in blood-like goop, stripped to the waist with an illuminated crucifix behind her.
This is an unrelenting performance which is frightening, fascinating and terrible all at once.