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Swans - The Burning World CD (album) cover



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Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
3 stars Just what kind of sound are you looking for from the Swans on this album? Is it the wall of dirty noise from the early days or is it the prog post punk from the more recent sound? Well if it's either one of these, you won't find that sound here. This one is very different from any sound they have produced so far. Coming off the success of their cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart", Swans were signed to a major label, and this was an attempt of recording accessible music. What resulted was a sort of post punk indie folk rock, which really isn't as bad as some would have you believe, but which doesn't always hold up very well. Think of alt-country performed by Bauhaus and you'll get a pretty good idea of how this sounds. No prog here, I'm afraid. But the songs that work really sound pretty good.

Things start out sounding really promising and interesting. Michael Gira sings most of the songs on here in his usual deep Bauhaus sounding voice. The first two tracks make you think that this is a legitimate attempt, but the cover of the Blind Faith song "Can't Find My Way Home" as sung by Jarboe is really lacking any emotion or direction and just plain sounds boring. Next comes "Mona Lisa, Mother Earth" which reminds me of an early "Dead Can Dance" sound, back when they were gothic, except with the stronger vocals of there present sound, and it works well. Then there is some aimless wandering in the middle of the album. The next vocal by Jarboe is another great song and it sounds much better and believable than her other attempt on this album. The rest of the tracks on the album are more of the same with some substandard unfocused songs with a few minor highlights.

When I finish listening to this album, I feel like for the most part, I've heard a lot of music that was a decent attempt at accessible music as much as Swans could make accessible music. Michael Gira is not happy with this album and says there wasn't a lot of communication between the members during the recording of the album which results in it's unfocused and unemotional feeling. I think he might be a little hard on himself, there are some good songs here if you are looking for more of an indie-folk or alternative country sound, but not all of them are good. The substandard songs are exactly that. I would say half is good and successful at what they were trying to do , but the other half do bring the quality of the album down. One thing for sure, it is very hard to believe this is the same band that produced the extremely loud, churning and chunky music from their previous albums. So, if you are not looking for prog, then you, like me, would probably find this good, but non-essential. Half good, half bad, no prog.

Report this review (#1301797)
Posted Saturday, November 8, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Swans' The Burning World tends to get a bad rap, probably because it's a fairly straightforward and accessible- sounding album that lands between their early, abrasive post-punk releases (which had come to a culmination on Children of God) and White Light From the Mouth of Infinity, which tends to be held up as the best of Swans' goth rock period.

And yet, this intriguing mingling of gothic rock tropes and acoustic influences, which at points borders on neofolk, is really far more interesting than more dismissive critics have made it out to be. Yes, it's unusually mellow and accessible as far as Swans go, and yes, as a major label debut it was probably deliberately pitched that way, and yes, they probably hyped up the goth angle due to the success of their cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, and yes, supposedly even Michael Gira dislikes this.

But despite all, this doesn't feel like a sell out to me. Perhaps that's because a genuine "sell out" tends to come across as cheap and tawdry in some respect, and that certainly isn't the case here - if anything, Swans give it their all and take the material and style seriously, and enjoy the aid of a range of intriguing guests, including Fred Frith and Material's Bill Laswell. It might not quite be Michael Gira's personal vision of what Swans should be, but it's a damn fine piece of music nonetheless.

Report this review (#1742448)
Posted Tuesday, July 11, 2017 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars Well, talk about a left turn and a half, no wonder fans were disappointed when this album came out. Gone is all the noisy, angry, raw music that all the previous albums had established and developed, in its place beautiful neofolk passages, filled with light, acoustic instrumentation. While this sounds like the complete antithesis of everything Swans stands for, there is still some Swans identity to be found here in terms of just how dark everything is, each pretty moment being juxtaposed with depressive, sombre lyricism and Michael Gira's signature deep voice. I can't even say that this was really an attempt at selling out, given that the next 2 albums followed a similar, more commercial gothic rock style. This album definitely isn't as bad as many fans make it out to be either, despite the massive shift in sound.

One issue that I have with this album is the fact that quite a few of the songs do blend together at least to some extent, with many of them using similar, dark tones throughout, which I feel would become more of a problem if not for the fact that naturally, Gira is extremely well versed in effectively writing such material. Some of the best songs on the album however fall at one of the extremes of this scale, with The River that Runs with Love Won't Run Dry being much lighter, and is undoubtedly the most beautiful song on the album by a wide margin, the chorus sweeping me away effortlessly and remaining in my head for weeks at a time. On the opposite side of things, the overtly suicidal God Damn The Sun manages to be such a powerful song for how much raw emotion is put into it, dragging the listener deep into the pit of despair dug by Gira. Something else I enjoy thoroughly in this album is the exotic percussion used on tracks such as Can't Find My Way Home and Mona Lisa, Mother Earth, the latter of which is amazing, being reminiscient of the strong atmophere and pace of Dead Can Dance, albeit with less of a neoclassical tinge to it.

Jarboe's appearance on this album is quite a bit more understated here than on Children of God, although I suspect that this comes down to the fact that when she does appear, it doesn't have the stark, contrasting beauty that her songs possessed on Children of God, instead being similar to everything else on the album, just with a more fragile, ethereal voice. I don't necessarily find this a bad thing however, as she still does contribute to the overall beauty that the album possesses, although I do prefer the clear, deep male vocals overall. The only song on the album that I find to be truly weak is Saved, not for any particular reason, I just find that it lacks anything in particular to make it unique or interesting, being the most conventional song on the album by far. While this is a more conventional album overall, other points such as the progression of Jane Mary Cry One Tear or the noisier intro of See No More are what give this album a lot of its character, along with the previously mentioned powerful emotion that each song contains.

I personally find this to be an extremely underrated album, especially in the context of the rest of Swans' discography, as this is usually considered the weakest album they've ever put out. The sublime beauty and dark tone perfectly work with one another to create an album filled with memorable, impactful songs that I simply adore. While it doesn't reach the powerful ingenuity of their greatest works, I'd still say that this album so much better than what is usually given credit, and I highly recommend that you check it out if you are in the mood for something lighter sounding, yet also very dark and depressive, which is the description I think exemplifies this album.

Best tracks: The River that Runs with Love Won't Run Dry, Mona Lisa, Mother Earth, God Damn The Sun

Weakest tracks: Saved

Verdict: While this is a dramatic shift in almost everything that previous Swans sounded like, this album is definitely one that I find myself regularly returning to, being able to blend beautiful neofolk with the darkness of Swans, producing an album that while not perfect, is extremely good.

Report this review (#2190411)
Posted Sunday, May 5, 2019 | Review Permalink

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