To see Gira and his bandmates slowly build towers of sound only to kick them over, is like witnessing and participating in a kind of group primal therapy. This is particularly clear on songs like “Just a Little Boy (for Chester Burnett)” where he bleats from the perspective of a child’s id. On the tremendous “Black Hole Man” which closed both shows, Gira moans with profane existential angst: “I’m an asshole man / I’m a black hole man.” That song, which explodes with dissonant sound, transforms into an uptempo bottom-heavy groove hurtling towards the same chaos that the song emerges from. It is the clearest sonic expression of these aforementioned ideas. In this way, it is obvious why Swans might appeal to the extreme music fan or the experimental music fan. Sure their brutal distorted guitar parts are produced at deafening decibel levels, but the show is something closer to an orchestral performance, abandoning the posturing and historical baggage of the guitar hero, and other rock and roll show cliches.
Swans’ music is as much about preserving a musical moment as it is about building toward a narrative arc. And yet, when you reach the end of it all, the general feeling is uplift not despair. It’s a maniacal cackle in the face of mortality, or like submerging in an ice bath after having been locked in a sauna. It is the effect of being broken open, not simply broken.
Swans press images courtesy of Young God Records.