Review Summary: Swans essentially deliver White Light part two, as well as their most flat out gothic record to date.
The musical career of Swans is an anomaly, to put it lightly. I don't think there are too many albums in their vast discography that sound truly similar, at least in the way most other bands tend to do things. While you could compare certain records to one another in their catalog, it’s quite rare that more than two of their records will sound similar. Because of this, there were probably a lot of fans that felt alienated as the band progressed further into softer, more melodic territory on only their third album. As the evolution kept going, they were becoming more and more folky, gothic, and epic as well, which was quite different than the brutal beginnings of albums such as Filth
. While they hit a few bumps along the way, as to be expected, this era is where most of their masterpieces were made. So, after the grand, symphonic masterpiece of White Light From the Mouth of Infinity
, we were given Love of Life
, which is a quite interesting point in the band’s career.
Starting from the point when Jarboe joined the group, Swans were slowly moving further and further into gothic rock territory. Albums such as Cop
were dominated by crawling riffs, Michael Gira’s disgusting vocals, and absolutely gigantic walls of noise. Starting from Greed
though, Swans began incorporating more and more folk influences, beautiful vocals delivered by Jarboe, and less focus on pounding the listener into submission, and more focus on creating a hypnotic experience. While they stumbled on this a few times, they created a masterpiece with Children of God
while in this phase of their career, but then they took a sudden turn. Out came The Burning World
, which was a poppy, folky album that felt quite familiar compared to the rest of Swans discography, despite being something we hadn’t heard the Swans do. But, they quickly got back on track with White Light From the Mouth of Infinity
, which was a hypnotic, symphonic, and gothic masterpiece of an album. As for Love of Life
, it could best be described as the closest Swans ever came to making gothic rock.
I wouldn’t hesitate to call Love of Life
the second part to White Light
, for a variety of reasons. At this point in their career, Swans were shifting into the most accessible form they would probably ever become, besides The Burning World
. The Great Annihilator
is perhaps the peak of this sound, but certain songs on this record sound very prototypical of the sound that would later be incorporated on their next effort. Take for example “The Other Side of the World”; this could probably fit onto The Great Annihilator
, but it could equally fit onto White Light
. Lots of these songs will incorporate the same accessible structures of Annihilator
, but at the same time include the orchestral instrumentation of White Light
. On top of that, songs such as “Amnesia”, the title track, and “God Loves America” almost sound like gothic pioneers the Cure. They feature the walls of synths, the gothic crooning, the tribal drumming of Joy Division, and the beautifully dark atmosphere, all things that could be recognized from Pornography
Now, while it’s easily the most traditionally gothic Swans record, that’s where the album kind of falters. Occasionally, the instrumentation or songwriting will sound a bit derivative, almost imitative of certain gothic acts, such as the aforementioned Cure. While it certainly has the sound of Swans, with samples and Jarboe’s voice in particular, a large chunk of the ideas in here feel like they were borrowed from various gothic acts such as Joy Division, the Cure, and the Smiths. Also worth mentioning is the fact that every two or three songs, they feel the need to include at least one interlude under the name of “(---)” for some odd reason. Occasionally, they will work quite well as a break between songs, but other times they just feel like filler.
So overall, Swans have basically delivered White Light
part two. Now, this isn’t a bad thing in any sense, but unfortunately some of the ideas seem blatantly taken from other acts. There’s no need to mention them again, but occasionally songs will sound strikingly similar to their gothic peers, which is both good and bad. Other than being White Light
part two though, it could also be described as the bridge between the epic White Light
and the more accessible Great Annihilator
. So, this is an album that is deservedly underrated, but it’s still a very satisfying listen in the end.