In 2017, the bodies of 796 infants, aged between 35 weeks and three years, were formally unearthed in a septic tank in a former Mother and Baby home in Tuam, County Galway. The home was run by the Bon Secours Sisters, a Catholic order of nuns, who received unmarried pregnant women. These women were separated from their children at birth, and the children taken to be raised for adoption elsewhere in the building, while the mothers worked to earn the keep. The home closed in 1961, while many similar homes, including children’s industrial schools across Ireland, remained active until the 1990s. There had always been suspicions locally about the goings-on inside the home, which were confirmed in the 1970s, as young boys playing football in the surrounding field stumbled across piles of human bones. Locals began to erect small shrines. The Catholic Church and local government blocked enquiries, until local woman Catherine Corless made it her mission to hold both the government and the Pope of the Catholic Church to account.
“It was the romance of it that she couldn’t get over. It would burn to an eventual ash with the incessant drip of time. And the iridescent glow that he left after him, it followed him all the way down the lane.”
On “She from up the Dromban Hill”, the opening track on Dystopian Future Movies’ forthcoming release, War of the Ether, Caroline Cawley’s spoken word delivery is clear and drips with danger. She channels the ghost of a woman in the clutches of the Bon Secours Sisters, expressing the shame and humiliation with painful restraint in her own native Sligo cadence, her voice evolving and becoming the pain of all women, the silent simmering rage at the injustice. It is a short lived relief of tension, therefore, to hear the raw heat explode into a guttural fall as Rafe Dunn’s deadly guitar, until now quietly and melodically droning in the background, joins Bill Fisher’s drums, entering and spewing tension a third of the way through. The slow march is building, the bass intoning only a single note at a time… The controlled restraint, the space created by these usually dominating instruments, taking a back seat to Cawley’s barely veiled anger, as her own biting guitar joins the wall of sound, attacking, drawing back, attacking again, dragging the listener with it. Cawley’s voice is unaffected, still coldly clipped as she returns to the story – we find her setting up the stall in the market, whispers surrounding her movements. We are with her as the shame burns. As our own anger simmers beneath the surface, we wish to drown in the rain with her as the wall of sound thunders in, out, in, out. We wonder if we can last the distance of this story, but we must. Dead air, a black hole. We crave the wall of sound in its relief, a release, to take us away from the claustrophobia of the inevitable outcome. We know where this woman is to be sent. We can feel the loss of control. We crave the fury of the wall of sound, but it comes simmeringly only, torturing us, creeping in – “It wasn’t long before the priest was called”. We want the fury to break. We feel helpless. “There was nothing left now”. The wall of sound envelops, its melody orchestrated by Cawley; it swirls and gives and lets us break, if only for a short time.
The next track, “Critical Mass”, allows us to exhale; gone is the cold, restrained tension and in comes a beautiful, soft voice weaving its feeling of loss and confusion as Cawley gently joins her voice and guitar in stairs of melody. Voice and sound combine into a frantic, dreamy existential whirl as we swirl upwards into a beating frenzy of angst, the crescendo building to break. “Where is love and I could go” echoes over a satisfying cacophony of beats, as Fisher’s drums march into explosion and Cawley’s ethereal high notes are hit and matched with the banshee wail of Cawley and Dunn’s guitar and pedal musicianship/magicianship. My second favourite song of this album.
DFM are experts at building tension. Within music, it’s often the spaces that lie between the notes that hold the power, the emotion, and this is something that DFM have mastered. Without knowing it, you’re holding your breath listening to it, waiting to be pulled to the smash; what’s interesting in this album, is that even with the smash, the drop, it is so tight and focused that it seethes with resentment – an anger that mirrors the suppressed rage of the story that it is telling. It is more than an album, it is a piece of art, a demand to be held to account and a thinly veiled disgust directed toward religious control over women, and in turn toward the men and women who pledge to uphold it.
“The Veneer” continues the all-encompassing ethereal vocal style contrasting and weaving as the bassier tones of sound rise, a meeting of fallen angels and rising hells. And raising hell is exactly what this is. There’s a lovely act of song writing in these last two songs that showcase the unusual and untraditional multi layer and multi direction of melody; it is impressive and enjoyable, and reminds me of Kate Bush and her absolute refusal to play by the expectations of song progression.
“The Walls of Filth and Toil” brought shivers to my arms. Cawley calls out “You’re on your own” as the orchestration perfectly captures the horrors that descend as a young Catholic woman processes the reality of being with child and watching her love walk away. She is completely alone, discarded by her family and destined for hell, not only in the next life but in this one too. “You’ll go along and never speak about it” Cawley sings. It is the Catholic cure: to brush all under the carpet, pretend everything is fine… Cawley harnesses every ghost, angel and devil together in this song and screams them out to the light with pain and fury as Fisher and Dunn storm the bastion and tear the gold from the pious walls, smashing them to the ground. Cawley channels the pain of millenia of crushed women and finally unleashes into banshee fury with the RAGE. This is my hands down favourite track of the album, just for the unreigning release of emotion that screams out, and I am excited to imagine how this song transcends and finishes on a live stage. Every listen I’ve had to this album, I’ve had to end here for a time to recover from the emotions it provokes.
If you’re into the band Swans or Chelsea Wolfe, then you may understand what I mean when I say this is more than an album; this is an immersive experience in and of itself. This is a story, an intensely emotional and relatable journey, a concept, a huge and all-encompassing undertaking that is a breakthrough from darkness into light. It is a brave and deserved denunciation of the cruelty of a woman’s situation, in light of Roe vs Wade in particular; the Catholic punishment and control of woman’s body, sexual wants and reproductive rights; pro-forced birthers who then have no care for the born children and in this case were fine to see them piled without funerals into a septic tank; and the fuckers that get us pregnant and leave us to deal with this shit alone.
There’s a beauty in this next track, “War of the Ether”, that tiptoes and holds us, gently pulls us back up on our feet from the devastation of “The Walls of Filth and Toil”. It has a delicate beauty and sensibility in arrangement that soothes and reaches soulfully into the spiritual veil, pulling out healing and tenderness. It is by no means simple in its construct, and I was not expecting the heavy drop. A wonderful weave of expression – I am being pulled up to Heaven by a wall of kindness and doom in an angelic wilderness, and I am here for it.
“Licence of Their Lies” drives straight in with ferocious anger. When it pulls back into its staccato spits, it feels somehow more deadly and unnerving. It plays disgust. Warped almost computerised sounds reminiscent of M.Gira’s Swans “No words No thoughts” dance devil toe light in the background, metal clashes, rust burns. There’s an eeriness and sense of torture creeping, the hostility before the fight, something is looming; Cawley’s vocals warn the listener of the concealment in the shadows, the evil being swept under the carpet. It is deadly.
“No Matter” sings a darkness and is the pure heaviness of this album that we’ve been waiting for and will satisfy the need for crunch, speed and descent into devilment.
“A Decent Class of Girl” is Cawleys final musical “fuck you”. On unholy ground lies their secrets. This song is a hammerblow to the heart, and is the culmination of the pain and unholiness that has dragged itself through the toil of this album. It bursts out here, clawing its way through the soil, unleashed – “I won’t let you starve for nothing”. For all that the intro track is restrained, this outro track gives Hell to the beast, and it is worth it. Devour it or be devoured.
This album has lit a flame inside my soul. It is a masterpiece, a feminist trailblaze, a stake to the vampiric sucking heart of both the Church and Catholic oppression. A fuck you to all who align themselves with evil in the name of the patriarchy, a call to the Church to take accountability for the dead babies and cursed mothers of Galway and for every human to join the fight against injustice.
“It will only be a short time he said. Earnestly, hopefully, but with warning”
“Only a short time she repeated, distracted”
Review by Anna Robinson Connell