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Swans - The Great Annihilator CD (album) cover



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3 stars The Great Annihilator could be seen as something of a return to their darker beginnings, or on the other hand as a predecessor of their later development in "Seer" and "To Be Kind" (the next release "Soundtrack for the Blind" is quite different, though). Although there are three calmer songs on it, it's vast majority is dark, heavy, archaic, guitar oriented, and driven by monotonous rhythms, and as such it is among the most consistent Swans records. It also represents a turn after a number of more melodic records with folky elements, of which there are hardly any here. Obvious influences are darker new wave music such as Killing Joke, Joy Division and Dead can Dance, and on the other hand I feel reminded of early Krautrock; the beginning could have been in Amon Duul II's Phallus Dei but for the more 90s standard production here, and some of the more hypnotic parts make me associate early Can (this will become much stronger on Seer).

The monstrous wall of sound sometimes comes quite close to Seer, but Swans are just slightly less wild and crazy and more disciplined here. I like how the drums keep a good balance between a machine-like steadyness and well-dosed hints at urgency and overdrive, showing where this could go without really going there already (again, Seer is two steps further). Gira's voice is rather monotonous here, which gives the thing a stronger goth feel than other of their records. Also they didn't yet have the nerve to play out their orgies to 15+ minutes. Quite a number of songs are faded out and some faded in, making me believe that they may actually have been part of longer sessions, but they didn't yet consider it a good idea to put them on a record in full length.

The Great Annihilator is dark and atmospheric and I'd think it was an important step for the band foreshadowing what they'd be able to do in the 2010s. It's a good record for those who like this kind of atmosphere. On the other hand, it has a somewhat incomplete feel to it with a number of ideas tried out that would only be elaborated later, and is perhaps with all its obvious influences not as original and autonomous than many other Swans-releases. I like it but for my taste it's somehow eclipsed by Seer and To Be Kind, which I got to know earlier and which are far more radical and unique. Had I known this already in the 1990s, who knows, I may have given it more stars.

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Posted Saturday, September 5, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars After the comparatively accessible gothic rock sound that Swans adopted on White Light From the Mouth of Infinity showed signs of cracking at the seams on Love of Life, The Great Annihilator seems to have been a conscious attempt by Swans to try and find a new musical direction without necessarily being too sure about what it should be. A lot of the post-punk thorniness of their early material comes back here, though perhaps a bit slower, and at stages it seems to be fumbling its way towards the post-rock sound of Soundtracks For the Blind without quite actually arriving at it. It's an interesting transitional album but it's very much a work in progress between two peaks of their accomplishment, rather than a major pillar of their discography.
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Posted Saturday, November 19, 2016 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars Despite respecting the fact that Swans went way out of their previous sound with their albums from The Burning World through to Love of Life, I can't help but feel underwhelmed by the vast majority of the results that came from it, as despite the production being incredibly lush and immersive, I found a lot of the songs in these albums to sound extremely similar to one aother. The more depressive tone set here was one that I also personally found far less engaging than the intense anger and hatred conveyed during the no wave era of the band, and found that a core part of their identity ended up becoming lost once the dark, eerie atmoshere was all but completely removed. The Great Annihilator is somewhat a return to form for Swans in this case, having a darker tone and applying a similar approach to some of their older material, with repetitive, droning rhythms that often can feel extremely empty and cold, no matter how dense the song actually happens to be. While this isn't a perfect album, as it still suffers from being overlong and occasionally dull, it's nonetheless one that I find great enjoyment in listening to.

Despite going in with a relatively new style on this album, there are definitely still strong gothic overtones throughout many of these tracks, the soft backing vocals providing many tracks with an ethereal feel, as can be seen in the opener, In. I Am The Sun is the first real song however, and it definitely sets a precedent that this is going to be a different listening experience to past albums, having a fast pace and powerful intensity without becoming abrasive or noisy in the process. The deadpan chanting that makes up the bulk of the track provides a disconcerting, ritualistic tone to the song that's further heightened by the pounding drums that make their way into the mix as the song goes on, adding another layer of depth. She Lives takes this repetitive, eerire feeling another few steps further with having the bulk of the instrumentation be limited to the same couple of echoey chords being repeated ad nauseum, the underlying melody being repeatedly disrupted by this much louder riff, backed up by equally as loud drums. The results of this are that you're left with one of the most desolate songs I've heard, the intervals between each repetition creating what feels like absolute silence, despite the droning notes underneath. The more conventional songwriting from previous albums gets shown on Celebrity Lifestyle, although I prefer this track to the vast majority of the ones from those previous 3 albums, the melody being considerably more engaging than the vast majority of them, and it's just all around a really good song. Mother_Father surprised me thanks to the massively different vocals that Jarboe sports here, being considerably more raw, whilst the backing vocals have an almost triumphant edge to them. This is definitely another really enjoyable song that shows a particular energy rarely witnessed in Swans' catalogue.

The album becomes considerably more mellow past this point for the most part, the tempo and volume being greatly reduced and far more melody coming in, as compared to the atonality of She Lives or the raw vocal performance on Mother_Father. Blood Promise and Mind/Body/Light/Sound are both especially notble for their quality in this field, the latter especially due to the sheer density of the instrumentation and the hypnotic repetition of the phrase "Mind Body Light Sound". Jarboe's increased presence on this albun is another reason why I find it to be so enjoyable, as many of the songs, even when not necessarily at the forefront of a particular track, will still often have some clear presence within, such as the backing vocals of I Am The Sun, or the distorted vocalisations on Warm. I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention Killing For Company, which is one of the absolute best songs on the album, being extremely mellow and honestly beautiful, despite how twisted the lyricism may be, the slow progression of the track paving the way for fragile backing vocals over some downright breathtaking, sombre instrumentation is nothing short of incredible. While less memorable, I'd be willing to say that the second half of the album is superior to the first, which was already an absolute gem, and manages to display Swans creating amazing, soft music far better than their gothic rock albums ever could. (despite personally finding The Burning World to be a genuinely great album as well).

Despite perhaps being a bit more unfocused than past albums, I find the sound and identity that Swans found on this album to be exceptional, blending the darker, more intense nature of their early work with their soft, melodious middle era work, leading to a great album overall. The energy present in songs like I Am the Sun contrasts perfectly with the softer, more subtle moments such as Warm or Killing for Company, and create an album that manages to have enough variety without ever feeling scattershot in the process, coming together to make the best Swans album since Children of God.

Best songs: She Lives, Celebrity Lifestyle, Killing for Company

Weakest songs: Where Does a Body End?

Verdict: More varied and generally interesting than the middle era of Swans, utilising the darker overtones present on albums such as Greed or Children of God to provide the listener with an experience that's equal parts beautiful and unnerving. This is possibly a good choice for starting point of Swans, as it shows a bit of their various styles while remaining relatively accessible.

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Posted Tuesday, September 24, 2019 | Review Permalink

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