SWANS
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Power and loss of power, sacred and profane, passion and cruelty, heaven and hell, angels and devils, heartbreak and evil, redemption and damnation, despair and failure - Swans were all of these things, and more...

Swans are one of my favourite bands (probably my second favourite after DAAU), and one of the most influential bands of the 80's and 90's. Originally formed circa 1982, and sadly having split up in 1997 after a triumphant final world tour, the only constant two members, the New Yorker Michael Gira and his wife, Jarboe (originally hailing from Germany), are still very much musically active, although no longer working together - Gira's new band Angels of Light have released two albums since the demise of Swans, and Jarboe is working both solo, having released the second of her albums, 'Anhedoniac', (the first being 'Thirteen Masks') and with the Trepaners, notably covering 'Tame' on a recent Pixies tribute album.

It would be almost impossible to describe Swans' music in generic terms, as the band's musical output changed so radically over the 15 years they were together. Although the line-up changed  on almost every album, Gira and Jarboe followed the same musical course. Staying throughout with the Young God independent record label, their output was prolific. From 1982 until around 1987, Swans' style could really only be described as 'extreme noise terror' - heavy, loud, chthonic, horrifying, cathartic, dark and almost (in some cases) unlistenable, setting out a philosophical agenda which would remain with them throughout - rage, terror, murderous tendencies, alcoholism, self-hatred and self-torture.

The albums released during these first five years reflect this in their titles and beautifully presented graphics and artwork - for instance, the fabulous cover of 'Filth', released in 1983, featuring the 'angry teeth' photograph, seems to sum up very succinctly this musical period for them before you even have to hear one track. Swans' artwork has always heavily influenced my own art, and although many artists have worked with the band, the style always remains very similar - dark, atmospheric, stark, and yet still luminously beautiful, not unlike the music. Other records released during this period are well worth checking out, if you have a strong stomach and eardrums - 'Greed/Holy Money' being the most well-known of them, but also 'A Screw'and 'Cop/Filth'. I can cite one example of how difficult this early music is to hear - I have just heard a story about someone who attended a Swans gig in 1985, and actually had to leave the gig early to run outside and vomit from the sheer noise levels and pain. Turn your stereo down, that's my advice!!!

Insert of 'Children of God' LP

Jarboe joined Swans in 1986, and from the first, the band's style began to radically evolve and reform itself, most noticeably on the 'Children of God' LP. Swans were now beginning to pursue different musical directions and experiment, mainly through the new writing input from Jarboe. Suddenly, beautiful, organic, almost deathly and apocalyptic, quiet songs began to appear, such as the gorgeous 'In My Garden' and 'Blood and Honey' from this album. Now the music began to transcend its former black horror, although Gira still retained his darkness and depressive, alcoholic self-loathing; all the intensity and values of the early output were still intact, without the need for the screaming and decibels. 'Children of God' is the first album on which you can hear both styles represented, as the band made the transition, and it is a much easier and less traumatic experience to listen to....

SWANS by Van De Hulst

To read more about SWANS and to see Photo's and Artwork, please click on the Skull Flash...Click Back to return to the Concert Hall...and click the tiny bats to visit Mandi Apple's Crypt... contact mandi@mandiapple.com if you'd like to talk about DAAU, Swans, Jarboe, Pixies, Levitation, Cardiacs... oh any damn thing at all!

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