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SWANS

Post Rock/Math rock • United States


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Swans biography
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)

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Buy SWANS Music


To Be KindTo Be Kind
YOUNG GOD 2014
Audio CD$11.09
$11.08 (used)
Cop / Young God / Greed / Holy MoneyCop / Young God / Greed / Holy Money
Import
Universal UK 2010
Audio CD$8.73
$12.00 (used)
SeerSeer
Special Edition
YOUNG GOD 2012
Audio CD$10.90
$8.94 (used)
FilthFilth
Young God Records 2015
Audio CD$15.93
$15.92 (used)
Great AnnihilatorGreat Annihilator
Remastered
YOUNG GOD 2002
Audio CD$9.65
$7.82 (used)
Right Now on Ebay (logo)
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11h 23m
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More places to buy SWANS music online Buy SWANS & Prog Rock Digital Music online:
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SWANS shows & tickets


  • Swans at Reading 3, Tel Aviv on 7 Jul 2015
  • Swans + Domingo Garcia-Huidobro at Le Trabendo, Paris on 8 Jul 2015
  • Swans at SENTRUM, ???? on 10 Jul 2015
  • Swans at MKC, ?????? on 12 Jul 2015
  • Swans at Rote Fabrik, Zürich on 14 Jul 2015
  • Swans @ Villa Ada in Rome, Italy on 15 Jul 2015
  • Swans at Villa Ada, Roma on 15 Jul 2015
  • Colours of Ostrava 2015 on 16 Jul 2015
  • Chaos Descends Festival on 17 Jul 2015

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)

3.95 | 23 ratings
Filth
1983
3.23 | 17 ratings
Cop
1984
3.08 | 14 ratings
Greed
1986
3.91 | 15 ratings
Holy Money
1986
4.62 | 33 ratings
Children of God
1987
3.12 | 15 ratings
The Burning World
1989
4.18 | 22 ratings
White Light From the Mouth of Infinity
1991
3.38 | 13 ratings
Love of Life
1992
4.12 | 25 ratings
The Great Annihilator
1995
4.26 | 34 ratings
Soundtracks for the Blind
1996
3.89 | 27 ratings
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
2010
4.20 | 76 ratings
The Seer
2012
3.94 | 106 ratings
To Be Kind
2014

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

4.50 | 8 ratings
Public Castration is a Good Idea
1986
4.50 | 2 ratings
Feel Good Now
1987
4.50 | 2 ratings
Anonymous Bodies in an Empty Room
1990
5.00 | 1 ratings
Real Love
1992
4.00 | 1 ratings
Omniscience
1992
5.00 | 1 ratings
Kill the Child: 1985/1986/1987 Live
1995
4.08 | 6 ratings
Swans Are Dead
1998
4.14 | 7 ratings
We Rose From Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head
2012
4.14 | 7 ratings
Not Here / Not Now
2013

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

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

3.32 | 3 ratings
Body to Body, Job to Job
1991
4.00 | 4 ratings
Various Failures 1988-1992
1999
0.00 | 0 ratings
Forever Burned
2003

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

3.40 | 5 ratings
Swans
1982
2.17 | 5 ratings
Young God
1984
3.09 | 3 ratings
A Screw
1986
3.00 | 2 ratings
Time Is Money (Bastard)
1986
3.96 | 6 ratings
Die Tür ist zu
1996

SWANS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Holy Money by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.91 | 15 ratings

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Holy Money
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is the last full album in the Swans dollar sign series. This, just like all the previous albums, is very dirge-like and brutal throughout. It takes you down into the depths of the muddiest swamps of depression and darkness. Early Swans music is known for being the most brutal music out there, and this album is no exception to that. But you also begin to hear a little more experimentation in the music in this album, and you also get a short interlude sung by Jarboe ("You Need Me"), who would from this point forward have more of an influence in the overall sound of the music in the subsequent albums. This acts as a quick break in the otherwise extreme sound of this album.

But in the tracks like "A Hanging" and "Fool #2", you also hear a break away from the constant rhythm that usually would establish itself in previous Swans tracks and would remain mostly unchanging throughout each track. In this album, the rhythm, ground line and guitar follows a repetitive pattern as before, but now the sound will suddenly change mid-track, showing the band's new penchant for exploring sounds and possibilities in their music.

The album still features unrelenting heavy and depressing music and was considered post-punk at the time. At this point though, you will start hearing experimentation into post and math rock, and this works to this albums advantage and at even greater levels in future albums. As for now, most people will still find this music too heavy, but it is better than previous efforts as some variety and experimentation starts to show through. The music is better quality and the band shows interest in exploring new musical avenues. Of all the heavy, industrial sounding post punk albums from Swans, this one is the one I consider the best. This is a good introduction to the earlier discography, if you are inclined to explore this music that lives in the depths of dark human souls. 4 stars.

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 Greed by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.08 | 14 ratings

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Greed
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

3 stars So after 2 full length albums and several E.P.s, Swans had established themselves as a loud, churning, dark and sludgy industrial punk sound with primitive rhythms and sounds and very hard to understand lyrics. Swans was a big underground hit and the fans knew what to expect, simple, repetitive tunes that made you feel like you were not just in a funeral dirge, but were being dragged behind the procession in the mud face down. Imagine their surprise when they heard the first track on this album "Greed".

Immediately, they knew a something had changed. What is this....a piano? And this sounds like Gira singing, but I can actually understand what he is chanting/singing. With this album, the slow change had started in Swans overall sound. Though it sounded quite drastic on the first track, even though it is still dark and repetitive, the band was ready to explore new ground.

Like I said, the album starts out with the song "Fool", a dissonant and heavy piano leading the way with the guitar providing background sounds, no hammering percussion and there are lyrics that you can understand. Yes they are still depressing and bleak and the vocals are dissonant and heavy, but there is an obvious change. After that, the sound turns back to the industrial slow dirge- like beat that the fans were used to, but the sound is not a full return to the overall sound from before. The lyrics are easier to decipher and the music isn't as unrelenting. The repetition follows throughout the album, but the lyrics are so much more hard hitting now that you can understand them.

There are some new things the band is trying here too. This is the first album to feature vocals from Jarboe, even though she is a background singer on the 2 tracks she sings on. The title track plods on for almost 3 and a half minutes with wordless vocals, more like a moan/gasp sound from Jarboe, before Gira starts to sing. The closest thing to the previous sound is on the track "Heaven" which, even though it isn't as loud as before, it is the slowest grind of the album with Gira doing his groaning/moaning/singing/droning as before. He's singing about "This is Heaven" like he is pissed about being there. Quite frankly, this is the most evil sounding of all of the tracks, but it is also the most progressive. You will get the odd looks if you play this in public, so yes, it is reminiscent of their previous material. The last track on the original album is "Money is Flesh" which uses a synthesizer playing the main riff instead of the guitar, but other than that, it still pounds it's way into your a brain like a sledgehammer.

So, it's repetitive and overall still quite loud and grinding. But there have been some levers inserted into the music and you see a band starting to develop and pull itself out of the muck of their previous punk-ish version of industrial music. The music would continue to develop with each album after this and things would get better. As the band approaches more of a post-punk, mathcore sound, the music slowly gets better until they actually and surprisingly begin to produce some very innovative music. But as far as this album, it's still a long way from where they would end up. But it is interesting to hear where they came from and how they developed. This is better than previous albums, but not by much. I have to give them props though for having the courage to develop their music and their talents. This is progression, but not yet progressive. I will give this 3 stars simply because it is an attempt to try new things for the band. But it's still not easy to listen to too often.

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 Young God by SWANS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1984
2.17 | 5 ratings

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Young God
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

2 stars This is hard, heavy and sludgy all the way through. The same thing that you would expect to hear from early Swans music. There isn't any let up in it's heaviness. It is very primitive sounding and repetitive. Many consider it industrial and that is a good way to describe it, but don't expect a fast beat, it is more like a churning industrial noise more than anything. Even though it might be slightly more experimental than some of the albums the Swans released early in their career, it is still that harsh sound. The first track, "I Crawled" is probably the best of the 4 tracks on this 24 minute EP, and it shows a lot of promise as to prog tendencies, but other than that, it is not much in the way of being progressive. Swans later releases will adopt more progressive elements as time goes on, but don't look for them here.

Some people might find it interesting that Kurt Cobain considered this E.P. his fiftieth most favorite album ever, even though he called the album "Raping a Slave" after the 2nd track. The album has also been known as "I Crawled", but the band refers to it as "Young God" so that is considered the official title.

If you do like the dark, depressive sound of Swans earlier music, then this is a must have. The E.P. itself may not be available now because it was eventually combined with the album "Cop". The overall sound is the same as that album and also "Filth" but slightly more experimental. It has been considered the most brutal of all of their releases. I personally find it easier to listen to it in the E.P. format because it is so harsh and repetitive. It's easier to take early Swans material in smaller doses like this.

Because of the inclusion of this album on the re-issue of "God", it is now only an album that will interest collectors and fans. For that reason I give it 2 stars.

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 Die Tür ist zu by SWANS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1996
3.96 | 6 ratings

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Die Tür ist zu
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This album is considered an E.P. even though it runs for almost an hour. I think the reason for the E.P. label is because it is actually a collection of outtakes, new German versions and live versions of previous songs. It was released only in Germany between the albums "The Great Annihilator" and "Soundtracks for the Blind" This is a very post rock sounding album which incorporates droning at times, starkness and minimalism at time and harshness and extreme loud passages at others. This creates a very versatile album with hardly a dull moment. This will be a track by track review of the album.

1) Ligeti's Breath/Hiflos Kind is a very extended german-language version of "The Helpless Child" from the album "Soundtracks for the Blind" which was to be released later. This track is over 20 minutes long and was the longest track thus far by Swans. The first 8 1/2 minutes is mostly a drone which alternates between noisiness and quietness in long doses. The sound is always moving, at one point the drone is played underneath a calliope sounding music and at another point the drone is more to the foreground and competing with sounds like a crowd or mob-like noise. The music stays quite interesting and then suddenly gets quiet as the vocals stars, in German. This is a beautiful song and a very surprisingly great performance by Gira, the language not being an issue as the melody is very nice. The music stays quiet for a while and then builds to where some strong guitar chords are stuck around the 15 1/2 minute mark. It stays instrumental and almost mid-tempo as it plays out the rest of the song. A great track full of a lot of sound, beauty, dissonance and dynamic changes. For twenty minutes, this goes by quite quickly.

2) A track from Gira's solo "Drainland" album called "I See Them All Lined Up" gets the German language treatment next in a track called "Ich sehe die Alle in einer Reihe" . This one alternates from a spoken word sounding vocal track with minimalistic dirge-like background to a very loud guitar driven instrumental, almost reminiscent of Swans early work. Stark and very heavy at times. No level of beauty is evident here.

3) Surrogate Drones is a short drone piece.

4) YRP is a new version of the old Swans tune called "Your Property". Originally, this was typical Swans loudness and brutality when it was originally released. Now, it is given a stark, sad sounding feeling with a drone going on behind the vocalization this time by Jarboe. This is a live performance in Astoria London. It's very nice to hear her take on the old Swans tune done before her time with the band. It's like, the flip side, or the story from the other person's point of view. At times her voice is almost mid-eastern sounding as she laments with the music. The ending starts to pound along with the drone and crashing cymbals before it stops and shimmers along for a while. Very nice track.

5) This one is called "You Know Everything" and is a very altered version of "You Know Nothing" from the White Light album. The vocals are done as spoken word by a taped child's recording. Suddenly half way through the softness of the track is crushed by a very loud passage with a full band at full volume, but the softness returns and finishes the track. Very nice except for the part as it approaches the middle when the child's voice becomes repetitive.

6) An acoustic rendition of the track "M/F" done by Jarboe at the radio station VPRO on December 14,1994. Her vocals are very harsh against the simple guitar accompaniment as she tries to push the harshness of the original.

7) "Soundsection" is another live track from London. Gira has vocal duty on this one. It has a typical post rock sound following the same format as many "Godspeed You! Black Emperor" songs with a variating drone, mid-tempo percussive sounds with a slow crescendo, except it has Gira's trademark vocalization, deep and harsh. It could easily be mistaken for a live GY!BE track if it weren't for the vocals.

So, this is a good album for those who love the harshness and imperfections of the first albums but don't mind a lot of variety added in. Sure, it is not cohesive because of the variety of tracks and sources, but that works to it's advantage. For brand new Swans listeners, this is a great introduction to their music, especially the music that was being made during the middle of their career and as the first incarnation of the band was splitting up to work on other projects. But you also get a taste of some of their earlier works in the loud passages, it's just not as repetitive. Again, this is an E.P. but it packs the punch of a full album and lasts just as long. Not their best, but it is one of their better ones because of the variety here. 4 stars.

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 To Be Kind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.94 | 106 ratings

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To Be Kind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 'To Be Kind' - Swans (68/100)

Before even getting into To Be Kind as a musical work itself, it's an amazement unto itself that people are getting this worked up and divided over a rock album in 2014. Beyond my reservations for Swans' latest (for which I have many) that keep me far from agreeing with the considerable demographic backing it as the 'Album of the Year', I think that's a pretty awe-inspiring thing to see, particularly when the perceived mainstream has long-since declared that 'guitar music is dead'. Oh well, [%*!#] them; in my books they're proven wrong with every new day.

There's a bit of reservation that comes with the mere act of writing about Swans, a band who've amassed a mythology and fanbase willing to go to the graves with them if the need arose. More than that, as an undoubtedly 'experimental' band, Swans have a style and approach entirely to themselves; an antecedent knowledge of drone, post-rock or avant-garde music would do well to prepare a listener for Swans' sonic barrage, but never enough to the point where they wouldn't sound novel in some way. In other words, the only way to have truly been equipped to comfortably approach a new Swans record, would be to have already listened to Swans in the past. At some point in time, the initial discomfort is unavoidable.

I'd dabbled in parts of 2012's The Seer before approaching To Be Kind, but not nearly as much so to call myself experienced, much less a fan of their work. Much like The Seer, To Be Kind is a mammoth two hour investment, with a coy interest in stringing its listeners along the umpteenth degree of excess. Whether musical excess is appealing to you will largely determine your experience of To Be Kind.

I've listened to the album a few times from start to finish now, and while the familiarity certainly helps in appreciating the finer nuances of this maze, each listen makes Swans' excessive qualities less mystifying and a little more irritating. Regardless whether a song here is five or thirty-five minutes, they're usually given a similar amount of central ideas to draw upon. The album's centrepiece "Bring the Sun" has already nurtured some notoriety in this sense; after repeating a single crushing note ad nauseam (a hundred times, maybe?) there is a transgressively slow build in tempo and intensity. From there, indecipherable noise is contrasted with dark ambient soundscapes and sampling. By that point, twenty minutes have passed. The remaining fourteen minutes in the track ("Toussaint L'Ouverture") is an almost Floydian exploration in the "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" tradition; Michael Gira screams French revolution-era slogans atop this, and eventually it reverts to the ear-splitting noise. This is less a criticism of "Bring the Sun / Toussaint L'Ouverture" than it is a blunt description. Even basic accounts of the music here will have a tendency to come across as hyperbole.

Repetition and patience is arguably stretched to an even greater length with the track "Oxygen", barraging the listener with a few dissonant ideas, repeated and blatantly overused. Experiments in excess like the repetition on To Be Kind give the impression that the repetition is used as an end unto itself; where supposedly cutting-edge artists try to 'one-up' their predecessors by getting more extreme in some sense, Swans have taken otherwise palatable and contemporary motifs and overused them to the point where I wonder if enjoyment hasn't given away completely to superficial irritation by the time Swans finally unveil a new idea.

To To Be Kind's credit, each one of the songs here is distinctive. "Screen Shot" is about as accessible as Swans' monotony gets here. "Just a Little Boy" sounds like David Lynch might have conjured with a more expansive set of sounds. "A Little God In My Hands" is a favourite of mine, where the dissonance and excess gives way partially to a playful (though undeniably tense) atmosphere. While the song is far from the album's strong suit, To Be Kind offers a considerably stronger first half. Even then, there are some highlights; "She Loves Us" is probably my favourite track of the whole two hours; a dark psychedelic reconstruction that doesn't seem to get boring in spite of its repetition. The album's title track- capping off the album- is also memorable and, at least relative to Swans' recent output, surprisingly tender. O'course, on most of the other albums you've likely heard this year, "To Be Kind" would stick out like a necrotic, lovelorn thumb for its ominous atmosphere.

Maybe it's unfashionable to say so, but I don't think Swans' songwriting is so impressive, especially not considering the lavish acclaim that's heaped upon them. Rather, any strained appreciation (most often an odd fascination rather than outright enjoyment) I've had for To Be Kind lies in the balls-out bizarre and nuanced way the music is arranged and recorded. The sampled laughter on "Just a Little Boy" never ceases to feel terrifying on the heels of Gira screeching about his vulnerability and humanity (of lack thereof); it gives the impression that some ungodly force is making a mockery of human suffering. An unhindered enjoyment of "Screen Shot" is made difficult by the band's trademark longwindedness, but the calculated manner Gira steadily builds layers of sound is impressive. Even the most violent, visceral portions of the album have been arranged with a master's attention to detail. The noise comes by as a jagged whoosh, but if you listen hard enough, there are plenty of individually things going on at once; it's like pulling back a strip of bark on a rotting tree and seeing a world of life at work below the surface. It's often disgusting and ugly, but there's a sure beauty in the way it all comes together.

Try as I might, To Be Kind doesn't offer up its secrets easily. Decryption has been one thing, but actively enjoying the album is worlds more difficult. Things like Michael Gira's incessant repetition of the opening note on "Bring the Sun" are fascinating as novel experiments in concept, but actually listening to it, the innovation often feels more annoying than sincere. Still, the fact that a single album could stir so many conflicting views in me says something for Swans' power, both as artists and as enduring provocateurs.

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 To Be Kind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.94 | 106 ratings

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To Be Kind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Kazza3

5 stars This is the first album I've heard from Swans, and it certainly won't be the last. What makes it so fantastic is not just the content but the consistency- for me, a long album is a dicy prospect- but the way in which Swans manages to make these two hours so continually intense and captivating, with not a single dip in quality, is frankly incredible and something very, very few other bands could do.

Swans are listed under Post Rock, which is fair, but this isn't your grandma's post rock- it's raw, aggressive, primal, from the quiet delicate sections of the first half of 'Kirsten Supine' to the roaring, abrasive 'Oxygen'. The mix is clear, but raw and punchy, and balances the soundscapes with the attacks of the band. The rhythm section is incredibly motoric and driving, the guitars loud, and Michael Gira delivers real guts to the varying emotions of the vocals. The centrepiece, of course, is the the half-hour long, 'Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture', a stunning crescendo and instant post rock classic.

This astonishing album cements Swans' deserved place here at PA, and really is a modern masterpiece.

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 To Be Kind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.94 | 106 ratings

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To Be Kind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by LearsFool

5 stars Album of the year 2014, Michael Gira has once again led his legendary band Swans through the making of a masterpiece, and another in the vein of "Soundtracks For The Blind" and "The Seer" specifically. "To Be Kind" mainly hinges on Gira having not forgotten the power of brutal drums and bass from the early days of the band, slumming around New York City playing their industrial-via-No Wave to often less than receptive audiences in self imposed sweat loges, while vehemently hating the other No Wave bands for admittedly no apparent reason. Here, this sonic brutality is sent through the ringer of the epic, dark, horrifying, and varied take on post rock the band and most of Gira's side projects have been doing since "Soundtracks", in the early days of the genre. Right from the throbbing bass that opens the opener, it is clear that perfection was achieved once more. The double track "Bring the Sun"/"Toussaint L'Ouverture" is the centrepoint of the opus, with the former a powerful and epic piece of drumwork, leading into the crazed darkness of the latter. This is followed with "Some Things We Do", a great closer for CD1 and what some commercials I've seen would sound like if done in a dystopia. CD2 is no slacker, either, with "She Loves Us" an excellent example of post rock done by way of Aphrodite's Child's "The Capture of The Beast", ever strange and seemingly crawling with chains. And "Oxygen" proves a surprisingly good track; there is a reason, after all, it has gotten a single release with several remixes of itself. The vocals of Gira and the supporting chorus just make this album, in the end, more than the instrumentation. Swans just continue their run of outstanding experimental albums, crafting a top release of this year, of all post rock, of all their own records. And this beast shows no signs of stopping. Their future, and so ours, is bright and unpredictable.

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 Cop by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1984
3.23 | 17 ratings

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Cop
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

3 stars AllMusic calls this album one of the most darkest albums ever recorded. I have to agree. This is dark sludgy metal, brutal to the bone with no light whatsoever. Grinding metal, slow pounding drums and deep dark vocals run through the entirety of this album. Listening to this, you have to admire the focus and the determination to keep this music at an almost constant tempo, slow and trodding, like a herd of dinosaurs wading through a thick tar pit with no hope of deliverance. Each track features a gruesome sounding guitar hook that is mostly played over and over with a thumping bass. There is some amount of melody apparent in a few tracks, like "Butcher". The vocals, sounding more like chants from a prehistoric tribe at times and other times like crazed horror movie murderers, are sometimes repetitive and other times exploratory. The main theme here apparently is sexual domination and submission. To me, there is nothing sexual about it, but I guess we all have our own tastes. But I do have a degree of appreciation for the way the sound is explored.

Anyway, it's a tough one to listen to, but if you love this kind of music, it seems to me that it is interesting enough and would be one that you would enjoy. The production isn't bad either. This music is a far cry from what would come later. A female vocalist would be added after the release of this album which would bring some needed variety to the sound of The Swans. Also, more ingenuity would be added to the music, hence the reason why this music is included in the Archives. It is actually quite surprising that buried in this music is ingenuity. As you slog your way through their discography, you will continue to hear the evolution of their sound. As far as this album, there unfortunately is not a lot of prog, but you can hear a tendency to post metal, and this will eventually evolve to full fledged math rock. As for this album, we will have to settle for 3 stars. Good, but non- essential.

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 Children of God by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1987
4.62 | 33 ratings

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Children of God
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

5 stars This album sees a lot of improvement in the sound of Swans. There is still a lot of loud guitar, but it's not dirty and unrefined like the first albums. But it is till heavy, that is, when it is heavy. Now the Swans are branching out to explore other things.

Swans is music in the extreme, previously loud, hard and heavy, but now that wall of sound is breaking up a lot, the lyrics are a lot more understandable, but they are still just as dark. Never has the label extreme music been evident as much though as on this album. The first track is on the heavy, loud and metallic like you would expect, but the 2nd track sung by Jarboe is on the extreme soft side. I wouldn't call it minimalistic, but it's like a completely different world, except for the lyrics which remain dark. This contrast continues through the album, with Michael Gira mostly leading the loud tracks while Jarboe leads the softer tracks. If you haven't heard Gira's voice, imagine a voice as deep and dark as the lead singer from Bauhaus and then go down about 5 notches. We're talking "John Wayne" deep. So his singing is really without much of a melody. But it works here. Jarboe however, is more dynamic and has quite an impressive range, though she typically on this album stays within the same range within a song. I was actually surprised at how low her register can go as in the song "Blood and Honey".

In the past, the instruments were quite repetitive, churning out heavy riffs at extreme volume. I find in this release, the instruments are still repetitive, but now that the wall of noise is broken down, you can hear the band experimenting with new sounds and new timbres. On this album, you get surprise appearances of a flute, an oboe, a harmonica, strings and you also get background vocals.

Even though this all makes the album sound more accessible than their earlier albums, believe me, it's not. This is dark music and it is still extreme, just not as loud as before. To appreciate the music here, you have to make a commitment to listen. This album is all about contrast, the contrast of good and evil, or maybe, there isn't really a contrast at all. You have to listen to get the nuances of this music, the brilliance of it and this appreciation doesn't just come on one listen. It takes time. But it is good and it is progressive and it is original. Are you ready for it? This is not your mother's prog and she is not going to save you once you click the "play" button. This is one of the landmark Swan albums, and remember there just wasn't anything out there that was like this when it came out, especially in alternative music. I have to go with 5 stars on this, but that doesn't mean it is for everybody, so be warned.

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 The Burning World by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1989
3.12 | 15 ratings

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The Burning World
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

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.

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Thanks to angelmk for the artist addition.

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