Review Summary: Jarring, atonal, minimalistic noise that will rip your skull apart
Before I begin this review, I’d like to start with a little caveat. This album is HARD to listen to. Users with either a) no prior history of listening to Swans or b) no desire of subjecting themselves to auditory pain should probably steer clear of this album.
With that said, let’s begin!
This is a live album, recorded at multiple venues in 1986. The songs don’t necessarily bear any resemblance to what you might hear on the albums; they strip away all the extraneous parts, going down to the raw foundation. Take their rendition of A Screw – an atonal track to begin with – lengthened to over half its original length, with everything taken out but the primal beat and Gira’s sickening vocals. This music is so raw, I had to go to www.thesaurus.com to look up synonyms for “atonal”.
The album opens up with a cacophonous jarring beat, placing the listener in some industrial factory in Eastern Europe without sunlight and setting the course for the rest of the album. The effect is minimalistic and hypnotic, such that as I write this review, I find my head slowly nodding in agreement with the cold thuds and crashes. They let the beat build for a full four minutes before Michael Gira thinks to grace us with his vocals.
Money is flesh / Money is flesh in your hand / You deserve it / You deserve it
You can barely make out the words but it doesn’t really matter. The emotion in them is overwhelming: you can feel Gira’s anger and hatred, and direct it towards yourself as he screams at you. There aren’t even really any instruments backing up the primal clang of the drums (if that noise can really even be summarized as “drums”), but there’s no need for that here. Swans relay the feeling of uselessness and angst with just Gira’s voice and a crushing beat better than your average symphonic black metal band could do with a full orchestra. Even when they do use instruments, they simply play indeterminable, musically ambiguous “melodies” that could really be nothing more than a few notes picked from the bottom end of the piano.
Keep your head on the ground / Keep your head on the ground / Push your ass up / Push your ass up / Open your mouth / Here’s your money / Open your mouth / Here’s your money / Open your mouth / This feels good
This album is, more or less, the ultimate expression of what Swans are. Beyond all the emotions, Swans is the rendition of the domination of one person over another. They are the musical equivalent of raw, industrial capitalism, of rape, of fascism, of everybody’s worse parts magnified a thousand times. They are a cruel catharsis, letting everything out and taking pleasure in it. They are the music you listen to when you’re angry that ends up just making you feel worse. They are not a band to listen to casually…but their force is incredible, phenomenal.