I've been on a pretty big Swans kick for a while, so, in honor of the release of their new Oxygen EP, and my current obsession, I thought I would share my thoughts on their debut album, Filth, which, coincidentally, just got reissued on vinyl, among other formats.
Swans of yesteryear were significantly different in sound, though strangely similar in their overall approach. Repetitive song structures bordering on numbing and simple but infinitely analyzable lyrical material are present in both iterations, but whereas the current band prefers more haunting and subtle textures, Swans at their debut were direct and brutal. Two bass players bludgeon and stab with extremely dissonant and aggressive chords while a guitar produces feedback laden drones, accented by booming drums and large pieces of metal being slammed together, which all act as the bed track for Michael Gira's erratic and monstrous vocal performances. His voice alternates between yelling, growling, barking, and any other aggressive shade you can think of. This is Swans on an aggressive streak that would continue through the early 80s, peaking at the Young God EP.
Swans shows were notorious for their stand offish nature. Michael Gira would have the club promoters turn the heat way up to produce a sweat lodge feel, stomp on the fingers of any one touching the stage, and even go so far as to run into the crowd and assault any one he saw headbanging, which is an act he loathed. You can get some of this feel in the double CD version of this album coupled with Body to Body, Job to Job, which includes an appended live performance from the Kitchen, which I found amazing. Unfortunately, it seems this material, along with their debut EP (which has been attached to other versions of Filth), will not be included on this new reissue, so if you're looking for some more Swans, I'd probably go with one of these other versions unless you're interested in the vinyl.
As an album, it's one of the most brutal you'll ever hear. It's kind of hard to picture what people must have thought of this album when it was originally released in 1983. These were the days before a lot of truly heavy and disturbing music, so this sound must have been overwhelming. This album is pretty remarkable, and listening to this album and then to To Be Kind, it's kind of amazing how far the group has come creatively. Like their namesake, the sound of Swans is beautiful, but it has been made notorious for its aggressive and ill tempered nature.
In continuing my obsession with all things Michael Gira, I just ordered the Body Lovers/ Body Haters project, along with his collaboration with Dan Matz. Really excited to hear what those sound like. Also excited to hear the new releases coming out soon, like the new Wu Tang, the new Ghostface, and of course, the new Smashing Pumpkins. I'll probably be sharing my opinions on those within the next few weeks.
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