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SWANS

Post Rock/Math rock • United States


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Swans picture
Swans biography
Founded in New York City, USA in 1982 - Disbanded in 1997 - Reformed in 2010

Part of the original No Wave scene in the early 1980's, the New York City rock band SWANS has since become one of the most respected experimental rock outfits to the present. Led by the visionary vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Michael GIRA, SWANS operated for nearly two decades from their inception in 1983, he is also well known producer. His daunting and impressive songwriting abilities created some of the strangest and revolutionary music to date. Influences of post-rock are seen in numerous records, notable in Soundtracks for the Blind, which predates a lot of the crescendo-core stuff, and the band has influenced numerous post-rock bands with their ever expanding sound and advanced technical approach to rock music. Although they broke up in 1997, SWANS reunited in 2010 to record two more albums, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky and The Seer.

Bio written by The Truth (Tanner) and updated by zravkapt (Darryl)

SWANS Videos (YouTube and more)


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Buy SWANS Music


The SeerThe Seer
Special Edition
YOUNG GOD RECORDS 2016
$14.08
$7.50 (used)
The Glowing ManThe Glowing Man
YOUNG GOD RECORDS 2016
$28.48
$23.99 (used)
To Be KindTo Be Kind
YOUNG GOD RECORDS 2016
$14.08
$8.25 (used)
White Light From The Mouth Of InfinityWhite Light From The Mouth Of Infinity
YOUNG GOD RECORDS 2015
$23.99
$25.21 (used)
Soundtracks For The BlindSoundtracks For The Blind
Young God Records 2018
$17.40
$17.35 (used)
Filth * DeluxeFilth * Deluxe
YOUNG GOD RECORDS 2016
$19.02
$18.97 (used)
The Burning WorldThe Burning World
Water 2012
$17.98
$13.63 (used)
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SWANS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

SWANS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.88 | 47 ratings
Filth
1983
3.39 | 33 ratings
Cop
1984
3.47 | 26 ratings
Greed
1986
3.54 | 25 ratings
Holy Money
1986
4.34 | 82 ratings
Children Of God
1987
3.55 | 26 ratings
The Burning World
1989
4.07 | 52 ratings
White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity
1991
3.74 | 28 ratings
Love Of Life
1992
3.54 | 43 ratings
The Great Annihilator
1995
4.13 | 72 ratings
Soundtracks For The Blind
1996
3.90 | 42 ratings
My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
2010
3.74 | 155 ratings
The Seer
2012
3.93 | 188 ratings
To Be Kind
2014
3.86 | 70 ratings
The Glowing Man
2016

SWANS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.38 | 13 ratings
Public Castration is a Good Idea
1986
4.67 | 3 ratings
Feel Good Now
1987
3.25 | 5 ratings
Anonymous Bodies in an Empty Room
1990
5.00 | 2 ratings
Real Love
1992
4.05 | 3 ratings
Omniscience
1992
4.50 | 2 ratings
Kill the Child: 1985/1986/1987 Live
1995
4.20 | 11 ratings
Swans Are Dead
1998
4.22 | 9 ratings
We Rose From Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head
2012
4.56 | 9 ratings
Not Here / Not Now
2013
4.25 | 4 ratings
The Gate
2015
3.67 | 3 ratings
Deliquescence
2017

SWANS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

SWANS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.05 | 4 ratings
Body to Body, Job to Job
1991
4.20 | 5 ratings
Various Failures 1988-1992
1999
5.00 | 1 ratings
Forever Burned
2003

SWANS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.93 | 9 ratings
Swans
1982
2.95 | 9 ratings
Young God
1984
3.13 | 4 ratings
A Screw
1986
3.02 | 4 ratings
Time Is Money (Bastard)
1986
0.00 | 0 ratings
Celebrity Lifestyle
1995
4.04 | 8 ratings
Die Tür ist zu
1996
5.00 | 2 ratings
Oxygen
2014

SWANS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Burning World by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1989
3.55 | 26 ratings

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The Burning World
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Kempokid
Collaborator 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.

 Time Is Money (Bastard) by SWANS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1986
3.02 | 4 ratings

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Time Is Money (Bastard)
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This single marks the first move away from the Swans original slow and sludgy sound and the first time that Jerboe appears on a Swans record. Everything previous to this was ultra-heavy and thick noise sludge rock. The first version of "Time is Money (Bastard)" has a more industrial dance sound to it, much lighter than their music from before. The rhythm on this is created by drums and a nail gun. Gira's vocals still have that angry sound to them nevertheless, but we are seeing a move away from that sludge metal from before and it is a first step to the excellent progressive rock that they would later adopt.

The 2nd track is called "Sealed in Skin". This one is much slower, pretty much the same slow plodding beat that they were known for on previous recordings, but this time, the wall of noise is not there. Gira's vocals are all in a low register, almost grumbling, and the music is dark and disturbing, but not sludgy like before. Even though this is more similar to their earlier music, it is also an indication that those noise rock days are done. This is also the first time piano was used in Swans music.

The last track is an alternate mix of "Time is Money (Bastard)". It is a also a longer version at just over 7 minutes. This is where Jerboe makes her debut with the Swans making the screaming noises heard throughout the track. It starts out with a quick looping sound of the nail gun before settling into the upbeat industrial rhythm, and Gira is repeating some words. It's all beat and vocal loops at the beginning, then Gira starts with his non-melodic vocals. The beat is more unrelenting and heavy this time around. Unfortunately, it is less interesting than the other two tracks since there is much else going on here than what was described.

Of course, this is a sought after item for Swans fans because of the limited availability of the tracks. I don't really see that it will be that appealing to anyone else, but it is a landmark recording for the band because it marked the move away from their extreme music from before. It has 2 great tracks and one long repetitive track. 3 stars.

 Children Of God by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1987
4.34 | 82 ratings

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Children Of God
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Kempokid
Collaborator Prog Metal Team

5 stars Children Of God marks the first large shift within the core sound of Swans, incorporating more dynamic compositions, no longer having every song consisting of a single, heavy beat and the tortured screaming and moaning of Michael Gira. While this change woud already be leaps forward than their last 4 albums, Jarboe's increased presence on the album leads to a more varied listen, with acoustic guitars and beautiful pianos permeating particular tracks. The tone has shifted as well, no longer being just harrowing and violent, now adding a lot of eeriness to the overall sound, along with being much darker in general.

New Mind opens the album by displaying the maturation of Swans' sound, by having it sonically very similar to past albums, with heavy, filthy industrial beats that continuously hammer their way into your head, but this time with a more powerful feel to it, due to the presence of keyboards in the background providing a much more grandiose feel, while still having the crushing drums as the main focus. I also love the vocal performance here, with the first time I heard Gira gradually raise the volume and intensity of the phrase "Damn you to hell" with each repetition being absolutely mind blowing to me. After the crushingly heavy opener, the album then completely shifts gears and brings forth the haunting beauty of In My Garden, which is the antithesis to New Mind in many ways, having the same sort of structure of simple repetition, but instead using acoustic guitars and pianos, creating a sense of isolation heightened by the ethereal vocals of Jarboe. This works extremely well as the followup to one of the most intense pieces of music on the album, along with creating an extreme unpredicability in the album that is maintained throughout. Our Love Lies begins to establish one of the constants on the album, the gospel tinge to the songs, most clear in the form of the backing vocals. This fairly pretty song in its own twisted way then transitions into Sex God Sex, which has a similar riff, but with the heavy drums and electric guitars coming in at full force, with a strong focus on the extremely sludgy roots of the band, complete with a vocal performance that sounds utterly exhausted, strained, and defeated, especially noticeable when Gira sounds as if he's shouting out to the heavens, not in anger, but in utter desparation.

Blood and Honey is one of the more impressive songs on the album, having a certain eeriness to it, along with sounding slightly like a precursor to the opening section of She Loves Us. Jarboe's vocals go far lower than I expected here, matching the sort of unsettling tone that Gira's voice provides. Like A Drug (Sha La La) is another incredible track, showing off the more unhinged, insane side of the band, with a heavy, rhythmic riff consisting of a single note, as abrasive brass blares in the background, complete with an abolutely wild chorus. You're Not Real, Girl is a melancholy song that while not having quite the same impact as some other songs, is nonetheless great.

Beautiful Child is by far my absolute favourite song on the album and one of my favourites by the band in general. Nothing before or after has terrified me in quite the same way as the raw aggression and emotion of this song, with my favourite vocal performance by the band. with Gira's voice being pushed to its absolute limit as Jarboe wails away in the background, with instruments being repetitive and fasted aced, along with utterly brutal. Just like with the first 2 tracks, this piece of utterly harrowing terror is followed by one of the most calm tunes in order to provide respite after the utter bombardment of the previous one. Trust Me definitely had one of the biggest impacts on me upon first listen, starting off sounding like another mellow track before descending into the deepest pits of utter darkness, with atmosphere so thick that its palpable. The final three tracks make for an incredible closer, with Real Love being the pinnacle of melancholy songwriting the album has to offer, with a certain likeness to a Nick Cave song. This segues into Blind Love, a more groovy, beat driven track that lacks most of the negative energy surrounding the album, instead being extremely minimalistic, slowly building with a guitar scratch here and there, but never quite reaching the intensity of others, making it a good way to start closing off the album, as another track the Likes of Beautiful Child at this point wouldn't be the wisest of ideas. The title track closes off the album with a drone that while sounding somewhat optimistic, also clearly carries a lot of darkness with it, and is another one of my favourites off the album.

This is what I consider to be the first masterpiece of Swans, fully realising their heavy industrial sound, adding complexity that was absent before, while still being able to maintain the oppressive atmosphere and sound of the band, along with at points, a lot of its volume. The softer passages provide a contrast from the constant intensity, allowing the moments in which the music crescendoes to become even more impactful. This would definitely be a decent starting point into Swans' discography, although this is still a far cry from something even mildly accessible.

Best songs: New Mind, Blood and Honey, Like A Drug (Sha La La), Beautiful Child, Trust Me, Real Love, Children of God

Weakest songs: none

Verdict: While this album is not accessible at all, I highly recommend that those who enjoy extremely intense music listen to this immediately, as I found myself absolutely floored at many points throughout, with particular mention going to Beautiful Child, one of the most intense songs I've ever heard.

 To Be Kind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.93 | 188 ratings

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To Be Kind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars In this monster of an album from 'Swans' called 'To Be Kind', the heavy, sludge sound of the past and the somewhat gothic sound of the more recent past are gone. The band has moved on to major progressive status which was proved in the albums released after their 10 year hiatus. The music has grown up in a huge way. Their music is now much more experimental, more listenable, but I wouldn't call it accessible. I would however call it smart music. Now the music focuses more on the long form and development over a mostly repetitive nature, it is more akin to a rock orchestra. The double album extends to over 2 hours across only 10 tracks, one of which goes over 34 minutes.

Beginning with 'Screen Shot', we get a real exercise in development as this track develops over a repetitive riff that is mostly made up of one chord and a song of mostly one note. And this develops in a track of over 8 minutes. The fact that it is repetitive is hardly noticeable, as the attention is directed to the development of the music. It starts simple, but builds and builds on a constant crescendo with added layers and added intensity throughout, just like Ravel's Bolero. It may sound annoying, but it really isn't. It is an amazing track.

Next comes the 12 minute track 'Just a Little Boy (for Chester Burnett)'. This is dedicated to blues legend Howlin' Wolf, and if you are familiar with his music, then you are going to understand how this track is inspired by the man. This music moves slowly, much like Swans of yesteryear, but this time, it isn't heavy and loud, but it is intense. Again, it builds itself over the passage of time, but the intensity ebbs and flows, diminishes and grows. Just like the blues of Burnett, the music is based off of a singular riff and a simple chord structure, mostly just improvised off of one chord with some variation as it comes to the last section of the track. Swans early music was based off of one chord blues rock, it was just really loud and hard to listen to. This time, it is so much more mature and that actually makes it give a bigger impact with the use of dynamics instead of being played at one very loud volume all the way through.

An interesting change up occurs on 'A Little God in My Hands' as you get a funky beat and a guitar and bass emitting some cool effects. As the verses are sung, this beat continues, but at the end of the verse, there is an explosion of sound before returning to a variation of the theme, again based around one chord. The slight variation represents the growing of the track as a brighter keyboard pattern is added before the verse comes in. This time, a drone of sorts is dropped in to the instrumental foundation and eventually a choral, sort-of-chant joins in. After singing mostly an unchanging note against the quick processional beat, it changes, and a thick orchestral style drone starts that contains what sounds like a brass and synth orchestra. Up to this point, the album is pretty amazing. The next track, however, is a study in excess that goes on too long.

Next is the huge track 'Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ovuerture' that pulls out all of the stops right at the beginning of this 34 minute opus. This is a wall of sound with a beat that almost makes you think your needle is in a locked track. After two minutes of this, things calm as the percussion and bass and most everything except for a drone and bits of atmospheric accompaniment drops out. As vocals start, things feel really expansive as you get a combination of middle-Eastern singing against an almost Western soundtrack, both styles imagining desert wasteland. This sudden sparseness is very trance-like. At 7 minutes, you can hear intensity start to build as the drums get more excited and other sounds start getting louder. Finally, after the 14 minute mark, when you think it can't get any more intense, you reach the climax, and it all breaks down, builds up quickly and breaks down again. Now all the drones and everything are gone, and were left with tinkling guitars and various other instrumental noises. At this point, there are what sounds like hammering and sawing noises, until deep, droning vocals start and other sounds like horses, seagulls and maybe children are heard. There are some strange instrumental effects that continue on here and a heavy sounding drone has also developed and after a few attempts, takes things over all together in another wall of noise, picking things up like a tornado. After 20 minutes, it all breaks down again to minimal sounds and a soft thumping bass. Now things turn psychedelic as sounds swirl around, and a voice starts shouting out the title to the 2nd section of the track. It's almost like you are listening to a spaced out version of 'The Doors' except, someone opened the doors and went beyond. After 30 minutes, the wall of noise returns as everything gets swirled together again and continues to the end. It's quite a journey if you make it through, but honestly, it is far too long.

The first half of the album ends on the 5 minute track 'Some Things We Do'. Vocals list off some of the things we do as people in a speaking/sing-song style, but in a somewhat monotonous way as instruments swirl around. At this point, the first three tracks are great, the forth one starts out great until around the 17 minute point, and it should have called it quite there, and the last track really doesn't go anywhere, so it ends weak.

To start off the 2nd half, 'She Loves Us' is another long one at 17 minutes. It starts with an infectious hook with a lot of various percussion. This goes on for a few minutes with only one modulation. After it resolves back to the original key, the vocals start with a that uses a middle-Eastern sounding mode. At 4 minutes, the hook and the vocals stop leaving things free floating with a modulating drone and cool effects. Instruments get added back in, including drums pounding in a non- rhythmic pattern. At 7 minutes, everything comes together as another hook pattern starts up that is soon joined by English vocals this time, that also have a drone-like chanting quality to them. Things turn rhythmic now and you get a good solid beat. But the music falls into a repetitive trance-like feel here, and its okay except when Gira starts shouting again in his Jim Morrison style. At around 15 minutes, things get chaotic as everything falls apart and you are left with layers of drone-like vocals before the instruments come in to close everything off in a dramatic fashion. I understand the study of repetition and creating textures around it, but again, I feel this could have been better if it ended at 10 minutes.

'Kirsten Supine' begins with a softer drone and minimalist feel before Gira starts to sing in his low register accompanied by soft chimes and effects. After 5 minutes, a thumping drum starts to move things forward and sustained bells and chimes continue to play. Moaning guitars start to come in building intensity until they create a modulating drone. The drums start crashing harder. Things become more unsettling as it continues. This time, at over 10 minutes, things finally stop and fade making this track the perfect length.

'Oxygen' has a great hook and beat that repeats, and some crazy vocals come in. This time the vocals don't seem as annoying as they seem more natural here. Everything builds off of this hook as instruments get added in. Soon the instruments and vocals match each other in rhythm and sound, everything stops, and starts again with brassy sounds added to the mix making things more unsettling until several instrumental hits finally close it out at 8 minutes.

'Nathalie Neal' begins with echoing vocal effects. Other traditional instruments get added in slowly swirling around in a psychedelic haze. Spoken vocals (probably field recordings) come in for a short time. At 3 minutes, a rhythmic hook comes in and things intensify quickly before singing vocals begin. The same basic pattern continues for the remainder of the 10 minute track until the last minute when things get really quiet, but this time around the track just flies by because it is so much better.

The last track is the title track 'To Be Kind'. It starts off with swirling effects, staying minimal even when the spooky, mesmerizing vocals start, almost in a lullaby, but one that is meant to not be soothing. The lyrics 'There are millions and millions of stars in your eyes' do not seem that soothing. After the mid way point after four minutes, things suddenly get loud and heavy with unrelenting pounding drums and screaming instruments that stop and start a few times.

This album is a study in repetitiveness and excessiveness. In this way, it returns to the Swans albums of old, but the music is still much different in that it has lost its sludgy, dark metal sound. There are a lot more instruments of every kind added in here now, but things can still be just as unsettling, but at least it is much, much better than those early albums. The album is also not in the same vein of progressive ingenuity as it does seem to veer more towards the post-punk sound. I find the album overall more accessible than the earliest albums, though that isn't saying much, but I enjoy the tracks that don't go over the 11 minute mark. The two behemoth tracks on here go on way too long, and end up bringing the overall score down lower than the last few albums which were ingenious. I know that you can always hit the fast forward button past those long passages, but this album just doesn't quite reach the 5 star status like "My Father Will Guide...." and "The Seer" did. Still, I appreciate what the band was trying to do here.

 Holy Money by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.54 | 25 ratings

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Holy Money
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Kempokid
Collaborator Prog Metal Team

3 stars From first listen, it becomes highly apparent that 'Greed' and 'Holy Money' were both recorded in the same sessions, as both have a very empty, distant sound to them, with much of the intensity coming from the emotions, rather than the music itself, which is very heavy, but nowhere near as nasty sounding as their first 2 albums. On top of this, what makes it even more apparent is the fact that 2 of the tracks are just remade versions of songs from 'Greed'. I personally find this album to have much less impact and also be generally of lower quality.

The opener, as is common with 'Swans'' early work, is one of the highlights of the album, making effective use of Jarboe's vocals to create a sound similar to some sort of twisted gospel piece. I particularly love how this is juxtaposed by Gira's standard, deep, moaning voice, creating excellent contrast and making the song sufficiently dark. The outro is also quite notable, with some almost tribal drumming coming through in a short burst of energy, all before petering out and transitioning into 'You Need Me'. This song is the first time we're introduced to Jarboe's vocals in a way where they're actually used as vocals, rather than as an instrument. The song acts somewhat as a precursor to the quieter songs from 'Children Of God' but is overall not quite as good as those, lacking some of the haunting beauty that made songs like 'In Your Garden' so good. 'Fool (#2)' is the first big problem with the album, being an inferior version of 'Greed's' version by adding percussion and a higher prominence of guitars. What made the original so great to me was the unique, eerie atmosphere caused by the lack of usual instruments and it being almost entirely piano driven, which is taken away here and ends up being supremely mediocre. 'A Screw (Holy Money)' stands up much better, being honestly quite a groovy sounding track with some really cool vocal chanting, giving it a fairly unique sound, being much less brutal in any particular way and being somewhat more palatable than usual. 'Another You' is another song that I'm not a fan of, as I do find it to be overlong and not particularly interesting, being another song that's really just mediocre all around. 'Money Is Flesh (#2)' has very little differences from the original,and still sounds just as great as it did on 'Greed', although I can't really say I like it being here, since it's essentially just reusing a track. 'Coward' is definitely one of the best tracks here, with excellent mixing on the vocals, with the unsettling repetition of the phrase "I'm worthless" echoing intensely while various yells are in the background, as a minimalistic beat drives the song.

This is a good album on the whole, despite the couple of issues I have with it, as the overall sound is still dripping with emotion and the depressive angst of 'Greed', combined with an excellently distant, dark, extremely heavy sound. However, the issues the album has definitely do drag it down to some extent, and I find this album in general to be less interesting in its experimentation compared to the aforementioned 'Greed', which ultimately overshadows it.

Best Songs: A Hanging, Coward

Worst Songs: Fool (#2), Money Is Flesh (#2), Another You

Verdict: If you liked Greed, then you're almost certain to like this, as they are extremely similar in both tone and sound. I do personally prefer Greed, but this is nonetheless a fairly good album all around.

 Greed by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.47 | 26 ratings

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Greed
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Kempokid
Collaborator Prog Metal Team

4 stars After 2 LPs of pure aural assault, 'Swans' take a bit of a left turn with their 3rd album, 'Greed'. The sound is more involved and layered than before, no longer just having the goal of repeatedly battering the listener over the head with simple, abrasive beats and showing pure anger through each screamed note and hard hits against the drums. Rather than being simply angry and aggressive, this album becomes downright depressing, with Gira's vocals being much more desperate and defeated, and the songs droning without the same punch as could be found on 'Cop'. Despite this, it's made up for by the eerie atmosphere that each song contains, making effective use of short moments of silence, providing a powerful feeling of isolation.

'Fool' is a very clear, direct way of expressing the change in sound that the band goes through here, having no percussion, with nothing but slow echoey piano chords with the occasional moment of guitar. This is complemented by the bleak lyrics and monotone singing of Michael Gira. 'Anything For You' displays the use of silence in the album, with the beat not being a constant wall of sound, but being quite empty sounding, with clear gaps throughout where there's nothing but vocals, sometimes not even that much. 'Nobody' and 'Greed' both share many similarities, both use Jarboe's vocals less as actual vocals, but instead editing and looping them in order for them to simply become another instrument. This goes to the point that in 'Nobody', they genuinely sound similar to a harmonica, to the point where that's what I thought they were for the first 5 listens of this album. Out of these two, I definitely prefer 'Greed' having the vocals have a near ethereal quality to them that contrasts perfectly with the dissonant riffs, harsh beat, and extremely unpleasant tone that the song has. 'Stupid Child' is a slightly quieter song with quite memorable, almost hypnotic drumming, being much more in the industrial vein compared to most songs on the album. 'Heaven' shows one of the first instances of 'Swans'' incredible buildups and climaxes to their songs, starting off similarly to most of the songs here, before building up, having Gira sound more and more desperate as it progresses, with this desperation turning into anger, until the song ends up sounding like the mutterings of a madman, truly an incredible moment. The closing track is by far the most violent and definitely one of my favourites on the album, having a beat that is reminiscent of 'Filth' in terms of the way it feels as if you're getting attacked with each smash of the drum-kit. I love the addition of the synthesizers, as it really gives this song an interesting edge to it, further increasing the empty feeling this album creates by replacing an instrument played by a human (the guitar is mostly absent from this song) with something artificial.

The atmosphere present on this album marks a definite step forward in 'Swans', being quite experimental with their overall sound while also not deviating from it in an extreme way, still keeping a general sense of bleakness and heaviness to everything, with their industrial sound still strong, especially towards the end of the album. However, the songs do have a degree of variation in them, not all sticking to a single tone and style, instead giving some identity to each song, whether it's through crescendos, lack of percussion, or even synthesizers, providing a more varied listen. While I still personally prefer the raw aggression of their debut album, I definitely prefer this to 'Cop'. This is also probably a slightly easier entry point into the band, although nowhere is really a great one, both due to how consistently inaccessible their music is, and because of how rapidly their sound changes anyway.

Best Songs: Fool, Greed, Money Is Flesh

Weakest Songs: None

Verdict: A slightly more experimental Swans album that still has its roots in their industrial sound. Atmospheric and uncomfortable to listen to, but a must for those who really like extremely heavy industrial music or those who like dense atmosphere and tone, as this album will appeal quite a bit.

 Cop by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1984
3.39 | 33 ratings

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Cop
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Kempokid
Collaborator Prog Metal Team

3 stars Swans' second album is a very different beast from its predecessor, while still being extremely heavy, more so than 'Filth'. All of the pure fury present in 'Filth' has be taken away, and while it definitely keeps the no-wave sound, it is also extremely sludgy. Each note played is dragged out, the percussion being noisy and abrasive, and instruments screeching and the songs really dwelling on particular vocal lines, as was the case with 'Filth' as well. Even Michael Gira's vocals are nothing like what they were before, without any angered, aggressive screaming, instead with him drawling and groaning, further adding to the extremely strange, unpleasant, sometimes nauseating soundscape that this alum creates. However, despite how impressively heavy this album is, I honestly prefer 'Filth', as I find this album to honestly feel somewhat boring by the end, as every song sounds more or less the same, and while there are some better cuts such as 'Half Life' and 'Cop' which do stand out somewhat, in part due to the more memorable vocal lines giving something to latch onto, the majority of them are extremely interchangeable, and while on one hand, this keeps the album consistent, it also makes the album feel 5 times longer than it is. The bottom line is, while this album is extremely impressive in its own right, I personally do not enjoy listening to it that much. Despite this, I definitely can see the merit here, with such crushingly heavy music expertly creating a soundscape that simply drags you into the music. While 'Filth' was repeatedly bashing you over the head, 'Cop' instead takes another approach, burying you under the layers of noise instead.

Best Songs: Half Life, Cop

Weakest Songs: Clay Man

Verdict: Heavier than their debut album, with a sludgier sound and some extremely immersive soundscapes. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes this sort of heaviness, but otherwise would advise that you give this one a miss, as you'll find nothing of interest here.

 Filth by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1983
3.88 | 47 ratings

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Filth
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Kempokid
Collaborator Prog Metal Team

4 stars The title says all. This album is just extremely disgusting sounding in many ways, ranging from the harsh industrial beats, to the deranged, aggressive screaming of Michael Gira. Each song here is filled with such visceral rage that while being somewhat uncomfortable to listen to, manages to end up sounding pretty great.

The songs are very repetitive, focusing on a couple of rhythmic patterns with constant, pumping, noisy drums, while simple phrases such as "flex your muscles" are repeated ad nauseum. The songs all have a similar, intense, off-putting nature to them, some, such as 'Big Strong Boss' being downright terrifying with high pitched screeches and a feeling that something is hunting you down, feeling as if you're being chased by some unknown force. As a whole, the album is incredibly cohesive and unified in sound and tone all the way through, each track being downright ugly, straightforward, repetitive and downright amazing for how unsettling and violent it gets.

I can't really talk too much about individual tracks here, as they all share extremely similar attributes, and are very similar quality-wise. Tracks that are the exception to this are 'Stay Here' and 'Big Strong Boss', which each are highly memorable. 'Stay Here's' hook is the one that will always get stuck in my head, the yelling of "flex your muscles" as a heavy, industrial groove blares is something that I doubt I'll forget at any point soon. 'Big Strong Boss' follows this by picking up the pace and heavily utilising high pitched noise.

This is unrelentingly heavy all the way through, providing no respite at all throughout its relatively short run-time, making every second of this just further aural bombardment, which while initially quite unlistenable, grows on you and ends up becoming an incredible experience. This is not an easy album to listen to by any means, but it is one that if you can deal with an obscene amount of noise and dissonance, I highly recommend for an extremely visceral experience. While I can't rate this perfectly, due to the fact that it never reaches a high enough point to warrant that, it's a damn great album nonetheless.

Best Songs: Stay Here, Big Strong Boss, Weakling

Weakest Songs: none

Verdict: Extremely difficult listen, but an overall rewarding one. Highly recommended for anyone who can deal with a lot of noise.

 White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1991
4.07 | 52 ratings

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White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars By this album, the Swans have made the complete shift from that dark, heavy and muddy sludge rock to a more gothic prog rock. I add the word prog in there because the music is a step above the typical goth rock, it is well produced, but with some elements of surprise added in. They have not yet arrived to being a full on Post Rock band yet, but you can hear that the transition is coming.

As far as Goth Rock goes, I am not a huge fan of it except for some occasional songs. I do love this album however, because it is so well done, so atmospheric, and it still has plenty of variety throughout it's tracks. Michael Gira's vocals are more melodic now and he has actually become a decent singer utilizing dynamics. Jerboe has also become a bigger contributor to the music. She balances out Gira's deep and occasionally rough vocals, and you can hear her sing more background when she is not doing the occasional lead vocals. She is also in charge of orchestral and choral arrangements and contributing keyboards.

The percussion is powerful on this album, and is not at all pushed to that background as is the case with many goth-rock bands. Dynamics are used better than ever before. And each track has it's own personality. There is darkness, but there is also light. There is heaviness, but there is also softness. There is also a lot of supporting musicians on this album, which helps immensely with the overall sound on each track. Yes, things have changed in a big way for this amazing band.

The album starts out with 'Better than You' and 'Power and Sacrifice'. Both of these are quite upbeat with Gira singing lead and Jerboe evening things out in the background. They are both songs that are heavy in percussion and tone, yet not heavy in a hard rock kind of way, but more of a scary, dark, almost vampiric way. Next, 'You Know Nothing' is quite a bit more quieter, with a nice use of dynamics through the track. This is where things are more emotional and rise above the typical Goth sound. After this, Jerboe takes the lead with her beautiful breathy vocals on the surprisingly beautiful and lush 'Song for a Dead Time'. On this song, I can really hear the balance she gives to the overall sound.

'Will We Survive' has a prog introduction that gives us a foreshadowing of what the future of Swans will be when the go into full progressive mode in a few years. This is a nice dramatic and majestic song, with the instrumentals driving the song forward. At the last part of the song, brightness comes in to the almost Celtic march feel in the form of chimes. This is a nice surprise since previous Swans albums tended to be quite dark all the way through, even during the early transition stage. 'Love Will Save You' on the other hand, sounds more like music from a spaghetti western. You can close your eyes and almost picture The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) riding into town to this music, and his character now has a name'.love? Not really the name I expected, but you can believe it during this song.

'Failure' is a weaker track that loses it's believability as Gira uses spoken word in place of a melody for the most part, and it's almost embarrassingly funny. You would think he would have the voice for this style, but it doesn't work for him on this track. It's more pathetic than it is atmospheric especially with the sparseness of the instrumentation on the track. 'Song for the Sun' has a sort of 50-60s vibe, but more in the 'Leader of the Pack' style than the 'California Girls' style. Even with the break in the middle where things slow down for a while, this song drags on a little too long, even if it's only 5 minutes long.

There is a return to form and fineness on the lush and orchestral 'Miracle of Love'. Halfway through, the peacefulness of the track suddenly changes to a very progressive and exciting instrumental. This one gives you a good indication as to where the Swans' music is going on later albums. Excellent track. If there were more tracks like this on this album, it would have easily been a 5 star album. Jerboe takes the lead vocals on the cinematic 'When She Breaths', and once again her vocals are soft and breathy, but this time with more range.

'Why Are We Alive' has a long instrumental introduction and then tries to be atmospheric and pensive, but misses the mark. 'The Most Unfortunate Lie' utilizes a 6/4 meter to end the album. Again, Gira tries spoken word, but succeeds this time because it is mixed with melody later on. This time it is more effective and is a great way to end an emotional album.

For the most part, this album has a lot of successes, but there are some weak tracks too that tend to bring it down. Fortunately, the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses, making this an excellent album. If you don't mind Gira's deep vocals, you will love the musicianship and songwriting overall. But his vocals fit with the style of music quite well, and they are easy to adjust to because of that. Plus you have Jerboe providing softer vocals that even everything out. This album truly feels like the light at the end of a dark tunnel, and it is amazing to hear the transition of the band.

 Anonymous Bodies in an Empty Room by SWANS album cover Live, 1990
3.25 | 5 ratings

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Anonymous Bodies in an Empty Room
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This is a live Swans album that was recorded in various places during their Burning World tour. This was a critical time in Swans history as they were in the middle of changing their sound. They were moving from their older, sludgy sound which was thick, loud, and heavy, to a more progressive sound with a lot more variation in their music. The material they were putting out during this phase was a world apart from their previous sound and they were making huge steps forward in their music. By the time of this release, the public was aware that this was going to be the music the band was going to be making and there would be no return to the old depressing music of the past.

This recording is a good document of where the band was at the time. The album has a good selection that represents the sound of that time. The vocals from Gira are more discernible but as always, they are a little rough. He sings more in the style of Joy Division, but with music that is more varied and heavier. His voice takes a little getting used to. Jarboe however, sings more like Lisa Gerard from Dead Can Dance, just not as polished yet relying more on music inspired from world music sounds. The crowd noises are not very loud on the album, but the overall recording sounds somewhat tinny and, although listenable, not very well mixed. There are high points, but not enough to get real excited about.

The music on this live recording is still rough, but more accessible than the earlier stuff. There are quite a few musicians involved now also, as was the case with The Burning World album. The bad thing is the sound is not always the best as it is in their more current albums, and the music isn't as developed as it will come. It sounds more post-punk with shades of progressiveness, especially in the post rock style, which is representative of the music they did then. As most Swans fans know, their music will become more of a Heavy Prog style, which is their current sound, with complex songs, and still adding in elements of post and math rock.

For this live album, the sound is exactly as I mentioned before, with a leaning heavily towards Joy Division and shades of Dead Can Dance especially when Jarboe takes lead vocals, only a total of two times on this recording. Things are still dark when she sings though, just not as heavy. For those interested in how a band develops and progresses, this is a good example of a band in flux. This is definitely not essential and can't really be considered excellent either. It is good however, definitely better than most of what came in the band previous stage but far from the excellent band they would become.

Thanks to angelmk for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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