Review Summary: ''When silence falls and light remains...''
It is an uneasy task to describe the music Swans create; almost as difficult as trying to find sleep after hearing one of lead singer Michael Gira’s guttural scream that shatters the often established colorless and monotonous post-rock atmosphere that characterizes most of the songs reunited on Swans Are Dead
. Released in 1998, the album consists of alternate or extended live versions of songs either unreleased before or taken mostly off the Soundtracks for the Blind record
Sometimes, listening to an artist’s prior work help comprehend what their influences are or where they come from and it may give an idea of how they progressed and changed throughout their different releases. In this case, over the course of merely 15 years, Swans have moved from the brutally infectious and industrial Filth
(1983) to the more post-punk oriented albums that were White Mouth from the Light of Infinity
(1991) and Love of Life
(1992) before releasing, in 1996, Soundtracks For The Blind
, a massive 2-disc album that has yet to even be compared to more than 15 years after its release and became highly influential to the post-rock genre.
So here we are, two years later, with Swans Are Dead
, divided in two discs. The first disc (Black Cd) opens up with Feel Happiness
. The song is long, the gloomy atmosphere keeps getting denser and denser as it progresses and it ultimately lets place to Michael Gira’s low and clean vocals which act like a relief and gives a little life to the then mere dead panorama brought by the repetitive drums and guitar works. The opener of the record is a good indication of what is to come: lengthy, hard to digest songs which require all of the listener’s attention to fully appreciate all the little details, be it a perfectly placed cymbal or the scream of someone in the audience adding a sense of rapprochement with the crowd. Prior to knowing Swans, if you keep expecting ‘’that moment’’ where ‘’something happens’’ as a result of a build-up to the like of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, chances are you will miss on the essential and be deceived. The strength of Swans is to create a music that climbs high in intensity to stay high; there is rarely any pitch from where it all breaks down and explodes, even though I could talk about how a simple distorted guitar note in the middle of The Sound
, one of the pieces that beneficiated the most from the live version changes, in part due to the drumming line at the beginning of the song which does not take place on studio version, almost brought me to tears from its pure beautifulness.
Another good example of a song that gained in beauty is Blood Promise
, which passed from 4 minutes on The Great Annihilator
to over 15 minutes on Swans Are Dead
. The slower pace and the post-rock transformation make up for a whole different experience as both songs don’t share much beside their lyrics. Blood Promise
is the last track of the first disc and one of the highlights of the album along with I Crawled
, in which Jarboe, Swans female co-singer, gives an emotional and chilling performance as she mumbles, cries, screams and mourns in despair:
Take What's Mine
Make Me Feel Good
Make Me Feel Soft
Come Into My Room
Put Your Hands On My Throat
Now Choke Me’’
Jarboe’s ability to adapt her voice to different emotions, as sad, angry or depressive as they may be, is remarkable. I Crawled
is closer to the early Swans (Filth, Cop
) in the way it is industrial oriented and as the sharp electric guitar joins the mighty drums in regular intervals while maintaining frequent silences between the hard hits. Prior to this song, Jarboe is invited on stage by Michael to perform Blood on Your Hands
in which she sings, contrary to the studio version, unaccompanied but by a monotonous keyboard note kept all the way through her chanting. It gives a lot more space for her to display her unique voice of distress and all of her talent.
On the second disc (White Cd), the tracks chosen feel more enlightened than on the first disc, which does not mean the atmosphere is anywhere less dense. Indeed, apart from I See Them All Lined Up
, which possibly contains the heaviest riffs off Soundtracks for the Blind
, we hear more of the soothing keyboards that perfectly join the melancholic Jarboe in tracks like Lavender
or the light minimalist xylophone percussions and cymbals that gives The Final Sacrifice
such an eerie feeling even though you’d think Michael Gira has gone insane as he roars ‘’OH JESUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSSS’’.
, the final long track to appear on the second disc is the ultimate Swans masterpiece. The slow and hollowing melody, combining xylophones and ambient, is later joined by single smooth guitar chords and Gira’s depressive singing. The song very slowly progresses until the singer lets place to the beautiful instrumentals, distorted drones and heavy guitars who add up to reach heights that would later inspire many post-rock outfits to take the same path, only to fall short beside Swans magnitude.
Swans Are Dead
manages to show the group at its very best, which is when they are playing in front of a public, without boundaries, going from early 80’s industrial to 15 minutes post-rock drone pieces. One only needs to watch a performance of I Crawled
to understand how the band invests itself into its art; the way the members move with their instruments like possessed ghouls on stage while Jarboe is screaming her lungs out of her tortured body. Some artists put emotions in their music; Swans literally live their creation.