The Divine Punishment (2022 Remaster)
On June 30, 1986, the same day that Diamanda Galás's The Divine Punishment was released, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Georgia's so-called sodomy law in Bowers v. Hardwick, criminalizing consensual sex between men. At the time, about 15,000 people were known to have died of AIDS in the U.S. alone, with little government acknowledgement besides suggestions to quarantine homosexuals on island colonies. By the end of 2021, the number of AIDS deaths globally would exceed 36 million.
The first album in her Masque of the Red Death trilogy, The Divine Punishment is one of the most jarring works of art produced in response to the AIDS epidemic, and a milestone in Diamanda Galás's artistry and activism. Galás uses her famous voice both as an orational instrument and as well as a physical representation of AIDS and those it afflicts.
The album features the panphonic* dirge work of Galás, accompanied by analogue synthesizers and piano played by Diamanda Galás with additional synthesizer work by Dave Hunt.. The texts are primarily taken from the Old Testament, contrasting the hectoring lawmakers of Leviticus with the desperate appeals of the Lamentations and Book of Psalms (Psalm 22, 59, and 88). In doing so, she indicts those who use religion to instigate the witch hunts that inevitably accompany real and perceived plagues.
"[On The Divine Punishment] Galás offers her voice as an expression of anger, succor, and simple fellow feeling. Giving public expression to a rage and loss that might otherwise be confined in loneliness, she provides a cathartic focus or condensation of emotions." - Artforum
1986 was a year marked by global political turmoil and disasters both natural and man-made: Chernobyl, the space shuttle Challenger, Reagan's race-driven wars on drugs and welfare while opposing sanctions against apartheid South Africa. The Washington Post wrote, in a year-end editorial: "It was a year in which a new spirit of patriotism and national well-being, proud heralds of the '80s, was tarnished by evidence of a new wave of greed, a lowering of ethical standards of conduct, a celebration of self over country, a crisis of government spawned by duplicity and hypocrisy in high places, a breakdown of technological prowess...Not since the turbulent '60s, a time of national tragedy and breakdown, had so many things gone so stunningly awry."
Meanwhile, the music industry was enjoying its most profitable year in history, as compact discs began their lucrative rise. Many artists—Janet Jackson, Run DMC, Peter Gabriel, Beastie Boys, Robert Cray—had commercial breakthroughs, while major labels were mining the semi-underground for bands like Hüsker Dü and the Smiths. The top-selling single in the U.S. was "That's What Friends Are For," which raised a laudable $3 million for AmFAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) while keeping the disease at such arm's length that most connections between the song and AIDS are long forgotten. Perhaps the only artists confronting reality in as visceral way as Galás in 1986 were, depending on your perspective, Slayer, Swans, or Schoolly D.
Today, The Divine Punishment sounds no less audacious than when it was released, but one hears it with a sense of shared trauma and a renewed call to action. Galás imbues all her work with the crushing weight of history--the hypnotic cadences of her vocal work are precisely aligned to the liturgical texts employed. Remastered with exceptional clarity by mastering engineer Heba Kadry working from the original mixes by London-based producer/composer Dave Hunt, it's a work of great empathy, solidarity, and physical power. Coming amid another pandemic marked by ignorance and division, its anger and fervor feels remarkably urgent.
The Divine Punishment tracklisting
DELIVER ME FROM MINE ENEMIES
I. This is the law of the Plague
II. Deliver Me From Mine Enemies
III. We shall not accept your Quarantine
IV. Ε Ξελόυ Mε [Deliver me]
V. Yιατί, Ó Θεός ?
VI. Psalm 22 (exc.)
FREE AMONG THE DEAD
I. Psalm 88
II. Lamentations Chapter 3 (exc.)
III. Sono L’Antichristo