Rarer than a phoenix is the band whose ‘comeback’ is more vital than its original incarnation. But ONO’s second coming has lasted longer and turned far more heads than their early-80s configuration ever did, and this harrowing LP shows a band at the height of its visionary powers. Their legendary ‘gospel-noise’ has never sounded so furiously focused, from the loping, industrial thwonk of Travis Wax Madonna to the corroded funk of Spare, reminiscent of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad productions. P. Michael’s warped beats remain the adhesive, binding the band’s maximalist, gestural noisemaking—guttural bass, swooping guitar feedback, delirious chanting—while travis, more high-priest than frontman, dons his ritual white gown and presides over the sonic feast.
But as always with ONO, the music is scarcely half the story. ONOMATOPOEIA BEFORE MUSIC was the band’s founding principle, and this conflation of language and noise has always been deeply, if not explicitly, political; Diegesis is their most aggressive, most militant document yet, digging unflinchingly at the unhealed wounds of the Body politic. BLACKPOWER.MOVE is a growling, onomatopoetic invocation of the MOVE bombing of 1985—one of the darkest and most shameful chapters in recent American history, in which the city of Philadelphia dropped a bomb on its own people, killing eleven men, women and children and allowing the resulting fires to destroy hundreds of homes. Language fails in the face of such insane tragedy; hence the screams, the sirens, the echoes of barking dogs and machine-gun fire, a dystopic soundscape held together by P. Michael’s squawking, insistent bass riff. More punishing still is the nightmarish CQCQCQ, part of travis’ ongoing, “savagely personal” explorations (as DJPTSD) of the profound traumas he experienced as a radio operator aboard the USS America in the late 60s. The final cut, a swelling, funereal rendition of Jimi Hendrix’ Burning of the Midnight Lamp, seems to offer a glimmer of redemption, but the album’s dark clouds never quite lift; an unsettling crackle remains in the air. Unquestionably a Major Statement from these untiring Chicago giants, Diegesis is a defining record that demands and rewards in equal proportion.
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