It’s been said that if nobody hates you, then you’re irrelevant. More aptly, provoking fierce emotional responses is a cornerstone of endearment, ideally with a balance of both revilement and resonation. For a group like Swans, neither of these have been too much of an issue throughout what is now 4 decades of relevance. Led by Michael Gira and supported by many others, the Swans mission has been undertaken both on record and on stage, both holding near equal importance.
With impassioned reactions managing to be as varied as the legacy itself, Swans mean different things to different people. For some, the synonymous teeth logo could conjure the pounding industrialism of Greed, for others it could be the proto-sludge of Cop, or for new fans, maybe they’re too busy listening to the abundance of post-reunion music to research its origins. Regardless of where you sit, Swans’ output is a many-headed beast, and atop of those many heads lies many hats – the oft hidden, but no less important, live catalogue.
Every iteration of the band, every era and almost every album happen to be represented by a corresponding live album. This shadow discography of live albums is bursting with unreleased tracks, drastically reimagined work, and candid moments, essential in their display of music unrecognisable from the studio. The triumph of Swans live may not be news to many, but this document of 9 live albums, 2 live&demo recordings and 1 suspiciously originated document may shed a light on some spectacular sonic statements of a time now gone and never to return. Discipline Mag now brings you…
SWANS live albums RANKED
Don’t be fooled, Real Love’s title alongside the sketched noose on the cover may convey a sense of light and darkness, though it’s the noose that far more accurately depicts the spirit of this album. While retaining a Swans aesthetic, the imperfectly doodled artwork hugely represents this album’s place as a bootleg.
Sound wise, these tracks follow the pounding, mechanical stomp identified with Swans in 1986. Album opener, ‘Coward’, is a grim rendition, though doesn’t reach the peak levels of misery found in other live recordings. ‘Stupid Child’ travels at crawling pace, ending with a sense of linger that’s marred by confusion rather than coherency.
This release does have some interesting moments. Penultimate track, ‘A Hanging’, has far more instrumentation than its stripped back relative from the studio, though the sound seems to subside by its end. Some quiet achievements can be found in the rare inclusion of album closer, ‘Sealed In Skin’, a rarity from the b-side of Time Is Money (Bastard). Its looped lyrics and monotoned instrumentation building into a grim and mesmerising industrial atmosphere that takes its deadpan gloom even lower.
The usual gut wrenching bass of this era is absent and Gira’s vocals don’t quite have the destitution you’d like. But this album doesn’t really deserve the kicking it’s getting, after all, it is apparently a bootleg that was later released officially (and quite reluctantly, I’d say). It’s not bad, it just doesn’t sound like a moment in time Gira hadn’t planned on highlighting, let alone distributing.
Anonymous Bodies In An Empty Room
Contrary to popular opinion, I strongly disagree with the sentiment that The Burning World is Swans’ worst album. Tracks like ‘Jane Mary, Cry One Tear’ and the soul crushingly sad ‘God Damn The Sun’ give The Burning World lyrical and emotional depth that remain with you long after the album’s conclusion. Unfortunately, neither of these tracks are present on its live counterpart, Anonymous Bodies In An Empty Room, even though they were staples of this tour.
Despite this, there are some rather great moments to be found. The extended version of ‘Let It Come Down’ indulges Gira’s bellow during a momentary period of abstention. The synthy performance of ‘We Will Survive’, which would later surface on White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity, is a memorable moment that somewhat draws back on the mid-80s trend of repetition that builds and mesmerises to a point of mild transcendency.
This album does breathe a bit of life into some tracks from The Burning World, but also feels like the work of a band who were unsure of themselves during a time of significant transition.
For a personal anecdote, the infamous, leather cladded, borderline homeless and usually drunk man named Grant who roamed Brunswick Street in Melbourne’s Fitzroy once shared his experience of this tour with me after spotting my Swans shirt. Initially sceptical of his claim, he told me he saw Swans in London in 1989. His words “I thought they were an industrial band, but then the guy came out with an acoustic guitar!” had enough key details to validate his story. He didn’t speak highly of the show, to which I informed him of the transitional period for the band. Grant is dead now, so RiP to him.
Kill The Child
Despite being one of three releases that represent the Children Of God era, there are some variations between them. With a title like Kill The Child, this unsurprisingly takes place as the meaner, brutish cousin to the other two. But surprisingly, dips its toes into Greed / Holy Money in a big way, this level of cross-contamination being rare across live releases.
It wastes no time entering straight into the thick riffs and taunting lyrics of ‘Like A Drug (Sha La La La)’. Teasing the Jarboe led ‘Blackmail’ at its conclusion, the piercing (rather than pounding) balance of Jarboe’s contributions are swept straight out from under its feet. Like a surprise gang bashing, a particularly blunt rendition of ‘Beautiful Child’ launches almost from nowhere. With loss of innocence sitting around every corner, Gira leaves the track hanging on his demoralising outburst of “shame on its 12 year old soul”.
Being the product of tours from England, Yugoslavia and Germany, it’s hard to ascertain which tracks came from the latter two countries. England on the other hand sticks out like a sore thumb. Word for word chattering before, during and after Jarboe’s powerful rendition of ‘Blood And Honey’ bizarrely includes one spectator’s observation that “it could be louder”. Distracting as these conversations are, from a personal stand point, this small window into a time now gone serves as a fascinating insight into the people in attendance and furthers the narrative of Swans being under-appreciated during the 80s. Unperturbed, Jarboe’s stoic sense of composure builds her icy synth and razor sharp vocals to the song’s crescendo without a shred of focus being compromised. The ideal Swan.
While this bootleg-cum-official may not be the most essential within this list, it still provides some food for thought. Beyond the audience insights, this document serves as an example of the geographical scale of these early tours and the lengths whoever stitched this together went to to make this unofficial release happen.
In financial assistance of 2016’s The Glowing Man, live fundraiser album number 3 slots right where you’d expect it. 6 live tracks, 4 rough demos and 2 and a half hours later, the live segment is very much the driving force behind the release. With an average track length of 22 minutes on the live segment, the atmosphere is more psychedelic and dreamy than found on other post-reunion live documents.
Opening track, ‘Frankie M.’, which isn’t the only track to take a good half hour of your time, is a wild and immersive ride from start to end. ‘A Little God In My Hands’ almost doubles its studio album length, dragging its krautish hook to infinity and lacing it with sirens of guitar, feedback and Gira’s warped vocals.
Disc 2 in no way follows a different trajectory. These tracks open, they build (oh my, do they build) and reach such distant heights, even though you know the crescendo is coming, it’s still like waking in a trainwreck when it does.
The ambition on display cannot be understated, but even with its pristine sound quality, the sheer magnitude of its ambition becomes a hinderance as most tracks reach for a similar goal. If there was more restraint and a little bit more balance, The Gate would have placed higher on this list.
That said, ‘Bring The Sun / Black Eyed Man’ is still a shattering way to end the live segment.
Feel Good Now
While Feel Good Now is the official live document that represents the European Children Of God tour, interestingly, it also carries a tongue-in-cheek feeling the band seems to have had on this trip. The album is littered with oddities, the first sign being the cover photo; Gira with a bunch of children holding Swans flyers somewhere in Europe. But beyond having a framable holiday snapshot on the cover, this ‘Swans on holiday’ record measures its subtle playfulness against some powerful performances.
With 22 tracks, but only 9 full songs, the inclusion of intermission music, transitional pieces and audience interactions are curious additions. After an intro that can only be compared to the strange silence as a band walks on stage, ‘New Mind’ opens the release, exercising a fair deal less restraint than its album version. This reach for grittier pastures being a continued MO shared across tracks. The enraged bellowing of ‘Beautiful Child’ presents a meaner, more frightening Gira. Though the counter weight hangs heavy in this release as both these tracks are tailed and contrasted by Jarboe’s sharp serenades.
In general these tracks adhere to the originals much more than Swans’ usual live offerings, but there is a sense of expansion among some tracks. ‘Like A Drug’ being one such example; its dazed, mechanical form being especially violent, with its exceptional brutality emboldened by its additional few minutes run time. Renamed as ‘Hello To Our Friends’ on this record, this long-form version of ‘Blind Love’ drags itself out for a mouth watering 18 minutes. Long-winded as it may be, few would be left wanting by its conclusion.
‘Our Love Lies’, available only on the vinyl version, is of particular interest on this album. Fusing Swans’ horror and beauty, it piles more and more fuel on the fire, but as the eruption draws nearer, its fade before the climax is frustrating. Ending side B’s 25 minute runtime, it’s obvious this early finish is due to time restraints.
This choppiness is symbolic of this release as a whole, but isn’t entirely unappreciated. It’s cut and pasted from a larger pool of shows than usual (Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, England, Scotland…) and seems to be a rare attempt to share small bits of humour, banter and shenanigans from the tour. The numerous Willie Nelson clips feel like a private joke within the band to confuse/piss off the audience. The argument with an audience member where Gira states, in a tone of total total indifference “I formally authorise you to get your money back” is actually pretty funny, and was likely a great source of entertainment to the band. The holiday snapshot on the cover, its recording on a Sony Walkman (a close relative to the Sony Handycam, a favourite with European vacationers in the 80s/90s) and its underlying humour make Feel Good Now the closest Swans will ever get to a family holiday album.
Not Here / Not Now
The second live fundraiser album, and technically a ‘live and demo album’, Not Here / Not Now marks the bridge between The Seer and To Be Kind. This album also represents the first festival recording of the post-reunion; 6 of the 7 live tracks being recorded at Primavera Sound, Spain and the final being recorded in Melbourne.
Being an outdoor performance, the sound of the tracks have a lot more room to expand outward, rather than crunch back in on themselves as would be the case indoors. This being particularly apparent on the sparse intro and dreamy vocals of opener, ‘To Be Kind’, and the high pitched sirens of clarinet and guitar that open ‘Just a Little Boy’.
“Kill the world better, now” announces Gira before belting out ‘Coward’ from 1986’s Holy Money. Despite the public declarations that advised against expecting any kind of nostalgia during this period, a few bits and pieces managed to slip out from time to time. On this particular occasion, this trip down memory lane is especially appreciated. As one of the few tracks that were given a second wind in post-reunion Swans, a lot of versions have surfaced over the course of these tours. This particular rendition manages a vitriolic grunt that surpasses most of the 2010’s and rivals the 80’s.
Compared to its contemporaries, Not Here / Not Now is less long winded than other live releases. With an average track length of roughly 10 minutes, some of the more ‘digestible’ tracks tear off the veil for successive, long form epics; the immediacy of live banger, ‘Oxygen’, setting the scene for the 44 minute, ‘The Seer / Bring the Sun / Toussaint L’ouverture’. The combination of these three tracks having a Bollywood like ambition to it; the incessant runtime and insane mix of genres pushing you into such a frenzied state of uncertainty, you can’t help but be moved and confused as you develop a yearning to understand what on earth has just happened.
Recorded at The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, an early working of ‘Nathalie Neal’ is what follows. Psychedelic and droning, this particular track is infamous for its blistering intensity that was enough to blow The Corner Hotel’s bass amp. All in all, a fine document of one of Swans’ strongest touring eras upon their reformation.
We Rose from Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head
We Rose from Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head is the unmistakeable compliment to 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky. United by the length of their titles and sharing of tracks, My Father… and We Rose… also enjoy the shared legacy of being the first studio and live albums since Swans’s 2010 reformation.
On the first live fundraiser album by Swans, Gira has lent an exceptionally honest piece of himself to the privileged owners of this release. He gives not 1, but 2 pleas that listeners abstain from sharing this music around the internet, the sacredness of this release being a gift to the financial supporters of the band. While the rough, unfinished demos that grace the latter 24 minutes are far from the primary focus, the detailed breakdown of the creative process and possible re-workings of The Seer’s demos are quite an intimate experience. From a deep focus in a dark room, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Gira isn’t right there beside you.
Although My Father… is generally observed to be stuck in the middle-ground between Angels of Light and Swans, We Rose… feels more like a natural continuation of where Swans left off in 1997. ‘Intro / No Words No Thoughts’ isn’t too far removed from the sound experiments and long form tracks of Soundtracks for the Blind.
The past and future continue to mesh with ‘The Seer / I Crawled’. The rugged, early form of ‘The Seer’ bridging its noise and dissonance into ‘I Crawled’’s menacing and brutal ode to submission and lack of self-worth. Gira sounding less in pain, and more comfortable without his spine. Though, it’s only natural to learn your place over time.
In regards to the Swans reformation, Gira said:
“THIS IS NOT A REUNION. It’s not some dumb-ass nostalgia act. It is not repeating the past. After 5 Angels Of Light albums, I needed a way to move FORWARD, in a new direction, and it just so happens that revivifying the idea of Swans is allowing me to do that.“
Interestingly, there are many glimpses of nostalgia here, but they are not simply cheap, stale artefacts of the past. ‘Beautiful Child’ tries very hard to throw you off the scent entirely, only identified by the fiery eruption of its verse. Unlike its studio self, ‘Yr Property’ serves as a low point to the abrasion. Though, the rising tension of the track is more unsettling than a simple exercise in density. And while ‘Sex God Sex’ has appeared in various forms throughout this list, Gira’s mid-way monologue is exceptionally successful at commanding silence from an entire audience.
With the exception of ‘Beautiful Child’ and ‘Sex God Sex’ (recorded in New York and Berlin, respectively), these recordings are entirely taken from a set in Melbourne, Australia. Gira’s praise for the “beautiful Australian people” seemed to coincide with a peak of interest in Australia and New Zealand (which was also graced with a show during this tour), but was followed by a major decline. While Discipline Mag doesn’t concern itself too greatly with the importance of borders, the fact it operates out of Melbourne can’t be ignored against Oceania’s omission from The Glowing Man tour. This is an especially salty issue under the well-hidden revelation that Swans travelled as near as Taiwan during this tour. Here’s to hoping the isolated islands of Oceania receive more consideration for future tours.
Live in Bochum
Now this recording is a dark horse, one that’s sufficiently hidden from even the deepest of diggers. In fact, its origin is actually unknown and I’m not even sure it should have slipped through the haphazard criteria to make its way onto this list. Uncertain as its origin may be, I do have a suspicion that it once belonged solely to the vast collection of archival Swans performances, all still available for purchase on Jarboe’s personal website.
Being from the Children of God era, this is far from the only artefact representing that material, but it is one of the strongest. The band’s performance here is on fire. Fusing the wallowing baritone of Gira’s voice, Jarboe’s razor sharp synth and vocals, and bass and guitar of Algis Kizys and Norman Westberg respectively, the unstoppably tight ship is particularly apparent from the deck of this uncut, full show.
There is a pain and beauty that spill from these tracks, their continued rise giving way to sheer emotional brutality. Opening with a tormented rendition of ‘You’re Not Real Girl’, flashes of Jarboe’s synth dig a hole from which to watch and wait for the powerfully expanded, ‘Our Love Lies’. This moving track carries you through its build, not letting go till its summit at dizzying heights. These 2 tracks together forming one of the most moving quarter hours of music across this list.
Other notable moments include the expanded versions of ‘God Sex God’, ‘Blind Love’ and the closer performance of Cop’s ‘Your Property’. But beyond the stellar renditions on hand, this is an album of continued confusion. According to the internet, Bochum, Germany’s 16th biggest city, was no stranger to metal/punk/wayward artist’s tours in the 80s, but I don’t know why. Also, how did this show come to be highlighted? Did someone buy it from Jarboe’s website, create artwork, and try to pass it off as an ‘official’ release? I might never know, and aside from the strength of this material, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the obscurity of this recording alone.
The love child of White Light From the Mouth of Infinity and Love of Life’s tours, Omniscience and this era in general are notable points in the evolving narrative of Swans’ sound. White Light… as the final nail in the coffin that sealed the 80’s bludgeoned industrialism, and Love of Life as an often overlooked sister album, recognised for its strengths and weaknesses.
Curiously, the less influential, Love of Life, takes centre stage on Omniscience, coating its tracks in gold. White Light… tracks have been omitted altogether, despite the fact that ‘We Will Survive’, ‘Love Will Save You’ and ‘Failure’ were all setlist staples of this period.
Jarboe’s presence is ramped up, possibly more than on any other release. Her vocal range is on full display with her cover of Nick Drake’s ‘Black Eyed Dog’. ‘Her’ ends with a different excerpt from a 12 year old Jarboe to its original, now detailing her case against parental restrictions on young love. To amplify such innocent childhood recordings to a full audience must have felt like emotional torture and highlights just how vulnerable Jarboe was willing to allow herself be for the sake of Swans.
The jarring elements of this album are many. Opening with ‘Mother’s Milk’, a track that would later surface on The Great Annihilator in a much subtler form, it belts its sombre rendition right out of the park. Sounding like a well groomed climax, alas without any build, ‘Mother’s Milk’ comes in swinging and simply does not let up.
You won’t hear this about many of Swans’ releases, but the uplifting spirit of these tracks wouldn’t be out of place on some more adventurous party playlists. Omniscience takes the sad and sorry sounds of White Light… and Love of Life and emboldens them to the point of being, dare I say it, fun.
The most marketed post-reunion live album also stands as one of the most essential. With a slight pressing jump of 3000, 3 exclusive new tracks and a runtime that surpasses all other releases (which is no small feat), Deliquescence is a journey through the excessive outer limits of Swans’ untamed ambition during this era.
At 48 minutes in length, album exclusive and opening track, ‘The Knot’, stands as Swans’ longest track, ever. Despite its length, and despite managing to achieve more in a single track than many would in an entire album, ‘The Knot’ is still more than just a pissing contest. With roughly 5 movements, the ambience and atmosphere of its introduction is in minority, with the few gasps for air being mostly swallowed by a sea of noise and unwavering dissonance. A sharper edged pummel from Greed/Holy Money springs to mind, as does the expansive nature of Soundtracks for the Blind’s more realised tracks. But these comparisons stand for reference only. ‘The Knot’ digs its own, unique, burrow, feeling like the work of a band who set the bar too high, but lacked the good sense not to attempt jumping back over it. Riding out the track is akin to a bludgeoning that simply won’t end, leaving few sonic boundaries unchallenged, and leaving even fewer without a total sense of disorientation.
The move to ‘Screen Shot’ and ‘Cloud of Forgetting’ are enough to let the dust settle, adding a touch of clarity that introduces the second unreleased track, ‘Deliquescing’. Clocking in at a refreshing 10 minutes, this track has more of a lingering quality than the long-winded assault of ‘The Knot’. With an emphasis on the journey rather than the destination, ‘Deliquescing’ still climbs to some spectacular heights and makes full use of Gira’s wailing and Norman Westberg’s scratchy guitar noise that feature throughout the album.
Disc 2 finds itself more directly orientated with The Glowing Man, but also includes the third unreleased track, ‘The Man Who Refused To Be Unhappy’. The track doesn’t appear entirely without premise as it has apparently taken cues from The Glowing Man’s ‘The World Looks Red / The World Looks Black’, though with a good injection of energy. The repetitive, krautrock edge has an almost punk like energy, and more than ever, seems to resemble the urgency of the hook to Sonic Youth’s 1983 no wave track, ‘The World Looks Red’. The lyrics for this fine slice of Sonic Youth memorabilia were infamously written by Gira, and is, of course, homaged by ‘The World Looks Red / The World Looks Black’ on The Glowing Man.
Ending with ‘The Glowing Man’, this is a rare moment where the studio form is preferred to its live counterpart. Maybe this is the result of Swans’s statement being well and truly made by this point on Deliquescence, or possibly due to the fact that The Glowing Man is far more dependent on the title track as a concluding piece of the puzzle. But regardless, it’s a powerful half hour by any measure and stands as an impactful component of this momentous album.
Public Castration Is A Good Idea
The title says it all. Uncompromising, punitive and wildly deluded, this is the holy grail of sonic punishment. If you think blast beats and speed are the staples of brutality, this collection of 8 tracks from Greed and Holy Money’s 1986 tour of England will bluntly annihilate that claim with a snail-like crawl. True masochists like to take their time and Public Castration is a Good Idea takes great joy in its sluggish prolonging of pain.
From the moment ‘Money Is Flesh’ opens, the sickening pounds of bass and guitar hold the same note for its entire 12 minute duration. With 2 drummers on stage, the almost 2 minutes without percussion is only realised by their crushing introduction. The hopeless feeling of a poverty stricken death march is only exacerbated by Gira’s submissive insult, “you deserve it”.
Gira’s performance itself sounds more machine than man. His barren, joyless demeanour being the product of endless, unstoppable industrial productivity as he hounds, taunts, and attacks a weakened population that rely on the comforts of capitalism and religion in absence of free will or independent thought.
Rarely can drum kits alone express so much emotion, but the stripped back drums of ‘A Screw’’s introduction instil an unmeasured sense of dread and fear so great, tales of involuntary defecation no longer seem far-fetched. On full display is the slow, brooding pace, even at the hands of 2 drummers, that makes this release so barbaric. The percussion’s sedated crawl being as violent and calculated as ritualistic torture.
Throughout Public Castration…, the discomfort of silence is a driving force behind its sadism. The theory, ‘less is more’ reveals itself between the huge, silent pauses between notes. But in the case of Gira, this is especially true, having performed most of these shows wearing nothing more than a towel.
The audience member who sings out the lyrics to ‘Cop’ before ‘Stupid Child’ strikes me as a bit odd. When Greed and Holy Money were released, there were allegations of ‘softening up’. More astutely, the move was toward a greater emphasis on atmosphere, something that some have argued was no less challenging. The music on display here highlights Swans’ capacity to remain stoic in their tectonic abilities, yet the nerve of this observer to suggest deviating from their uncompromising objective is utterly shocking. It should be noted that this album is not an exercise in total destruction, rather, it provides oil to a machine run at maximum capacity that shows no qualms in expending the expendable. This is Swans at their most violent and most stubbornly unstoppable in their pursuit into a black void of soul-swallowing noise.
Swans Are Dead
The Swans catalogue does not mess about, and this list of live albums is no exception. The stiff competition on hand is only separated by fractions of difference. Though one of these albums shines brighter, resonates further and covers more sonic territory than its others. Sitting at the top of this list, and within reach of some of Swans’ finest moments, is the irrefutable, Swans Are Dead.
Swans Are Dead is perhaps the cruelest release of Swans’ entire catalogue. Released in 1998 as the swan song to their 1997 disbandment, Swans Are Dead is the culmination of everything Swans had done, and was the spring board into what they would become. Taking the filth and drudgery of the 80s, the tenderness and melancholy that followed, the sound experiments, expansiveness and the outer-body transcendence and tightly packing them in a box sealed with razor wire. The scars upon opening coming from the realisation that you would never again get to see this incarnation of Swans ever again. The woe of this death being so great, it sits within range of some of the 90’s most painful musical tragedies.
From its droning introduction, the three Gira-led tracks that introduce disc 1 are no less enthralling then they are brutal. Unreleased or finding a home in various other projects, the unclear origins to these three tracks only serve to further mystify. Through the emotional howl out the tail end of ‘Feel Happiness’, to the slap-in-the-face perversity of ‘Low Life Form’ and endless crunch and noise of ‘Not Alone’, the opening half hour harnesses the devastation and unending captivation that characterise much of this record.
Though collaged from an array of European shows, disc 1 is a fairly accurate depiction of the 1997 tour’s setlist. This kind of all-encompassing performance no doubt coming with a huge physical and mental toll. So it’s only fitting that after his deep, performative investment, Gira hands the baton to Jarboe. Standing tall and strong against its preceding weight, her a capella performance of ‘Blood On Yr Hands’ continues to stir the pot of tension, albeit with sharpness rather than density.
If Jarboe’s dynamic range has ever been doubted, her shattering performance of ‘I Crawled’ and ‘Yum Yab’ should well and truly quash the naysayers. Jarboe’s place became less and less fixed over time, eventually proving herself to be a great chameleon of the avant-garde. Collaborations with all manner of artists have been rife, ranging from Justin Broadrick, Atilla Csihar, Merzbow, and Neurosis to name a few. But before any of this, she was earning her stripes, and proving her own destructive powers right here on this album. The strength of ‘I Crawled’’s gutturals likely earning a great deal of credibility in heavier corners.
Swans being Swans, disc 1’s 1997 pan-European tour for Soundtracks for the Blind has next to nothing from that album, and disc 2, the 1995 Norway tour for The Great Annihilator drowns in Soundtracks’s songs. The mere 3 minutes, on both discs, that celebrate their corresponding albums feeling like a big piece of tomfoolery. Of no laughing matter, though, is the long-form reckless abandon of the tracks ‘The Sound’, ‘Helpless Child’ and ‘Blood Promise’. ‘Blood Promise’ in particular undergoing a striking transformation of spiritual proportions. Reining in the moody ambience of the studio, almost quadrupling its run time and fleshing it out with a powerful performance that gets deep under the skin.
Again, the second wind of ‘I See Them All Lined Up’ swells the sounds from its intoxicating studio version, leaving Gira’s desolate lyrics gasping for air, being as vivid as it is disorientating. But these tracks do beg the question; why would Swans pull the plug during a period of such essential creative vibrance? The reasons are varied, but come, in part, from Gira’s frustration at stubborn preconceptions of the band. Notions of being the loudest band in the world, and Gira himself painted as some kind of morose handler of doom weren’t exactly conducive to the Swans objective. And the romantic and working breakdown between Gira and Jarboe surely didn’t help matters either.
While there may have been a questionable decision or two, waning passion was never a fate Swans would endure. Through its numerous contributors, few wouldn’t believe in its mission, even if they would question their own place within the band. Even through adversity, packing everything they had in the cannon and letting ’er rip through Europe for the final time was always Swans’ only option. Swans Are Dead is the hallmark of that legacy, the stamp of a band who were so illogically committed, their forward trajectory had to continue unmarred, even in the face of death.
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