Review Summary: Swans' first album in nearly fifteen years makes for yet another amazing comeback.
Though they were never quite within the realms of heavy metal, Swans are an incredibly influential group in the noise and post-rock circles due to their soul-crushing musical content and particularly nightmarish themes. However, they ended up breaking up in 1997 in favor of differing directions that were offered by projects such as Angels of Light. But like so many others before him, mastermind Michael Gira has decided to resurrect the band. Unfortunately, this has been done without longtime collaborator Jarboe, likely leaving some to question how the project would sound without her.
Even though I am only familiar with Swans' Children of God album at this point, I can safely say that this effort isn't too far removed from that particular era. Things aren't always as aggressive and haunting as before, but there are plenty of moments that show the band's creepiness and versatility. For starters, the band continues to show some great vocal variety in the wake of Jarboe's absence. Gira largely continues to lead the way with his signature deadpan moan, though he does show off a few more melodic croons here and there. Things are also made interesting by the usage of other vocalists on certain tracks, the most memorable of which being the unsettling duet between Devendra Banhart and Gira's daughter on the unusually titled "You F**king People Make Me Sick." One can only wonder if he told the latter about the title beforehand, but the result is a truly powerful one.
Of course, the other instruments do get their chances to shine on occasion. The guitars range from acoustic strums to dissonant poundings and the rhythm section seems to follow suit with particularly militant percussion. There is some unusual instrumentation on tracks such as the opening "No Worlds/No Thoughts" that give things an almost carnival atmosphere.
For the most part, the songwriting on this album seems to be more complex than on previous albums as songs show more ambition than the one-riff incantations that frequently showed up on Children of God. This can best be seen in "No Worlds/No Thoughts," a track made particularly memorable by its four and a half minute long introduction. But other than that, the variety from past Swans album has been retained as songs generally go from heavier numbers to more mellow moments. The heavier moments can best be seen in "Eden Prison" and "My Birth," the latter of which featuring a memorably dissonant main riff.
But the more subdued songs end up the best of what the album has to offer. "Reeling the Lairs In" is worth noting in this fashion thanks to its catchy refrain and gospel flavor while Jim is an unsettling builder that makes use of haunting vocal lines and an almost swinging rhythm. The lyrics also haven't changed very much as Gira is insistent on keeping his hybridized tone of spirituality and nihilism. One particularly interesting lyric can be found on "Reeling the Liars In," an upbeat track that suggests for an ending of corruption and impurity campfire style...
While I am not familiar with Swans' overall discography, I can still say that this is a really great album that their fanbase should really be proud of. While Jarboe is greatly missed, the group has been successfully revived and has some great tunes left to offer. Even though my experience with the band isn't that great, I'm still not sure if I would necessarily recommend this as a first purchase for would-be fans. It's definitely worth checking out, but it might be good to check out Children Of God or something like that first.
"Reeling the Liars In"
"You F**king People Make Me Sick"
Originally published at http://suite101.com