Michael Gira and his sonic cohorts gave birth to Swans in the famously bleak, dystopian cityscape of early 80’s downtown New York. Minimalist, ritualistic and downright brutal, the band delivered a relentless assault to the senses—swallowing you gently and gradually into a dark and morbid liturgy, or mercilessly enveloping you in violent bursts of sound. No boundaries, no idols, just a restless cast of characters surfing no wave, a nihilistic era’s fierce and fearless sonic “renaissance”.
Michael Gira & Christoph Hahn. Credit: nriko.com
After experimentalist, avant-garde and mellower melodic explorations, Swans bid their fans farewell in the latter half of the 90’s—only to make a comeback in a majestic tale of re-emergence in 2010. Michael Gira’s desire to resurrect the band saw him pull together an impressive line-up, mixing old collaborators with new. A battle-ready sextet determined to bring unaware 21st-century listeners one of the most sweeping and immersive experiences on stage.
As a result, a forward-looking blend came to channel the uncompromising, urgent spirit of the past. The initially inexperienced instrumentalist Gira was now a possessed maestro, taking daring plunges in the front line with his guitar, while leading a well-rehearsed, barbaric symphony of drums, bass, lap steel guitar, dulcimer and gong—among others—to a blazing climax.
While this largely resonates with old fans, it is especially relevant to new listeners growing up with more sinister, sophisticated and well-concealed undercurrents of violence. Listeners that welcome that hidden brutality surfacing through sound, leading to surprisingly sincere confrontations and, ultimately, sublime catharsis. Swans cater to your primal instincts and fears. Some emotions are, after all, and should remain unrestrained and this band goes through them along with their audience. That is a tough, daunting task.
Their fascination and power to “lead the music forward into unexpected terrain”, in Gira’s words, draw listeners into a new realm. Like floating out of your comfort zone for over two hours, while catapulted through multiple sonic dimensions. It is a process often anguished and spooky, but one that forces you to inhabit your skin unconditionally and fully. Experiencing their repetitive, swelling riffs and intervening ceremonial passages, witnessed in albums like 2012’s The Seer, is entrancing and nothing short of revelatory.
Credit: Jens Wassmuth
Michael Gira sadly announced that Swans 2016 release The Glowing Man, which also comprises more quietly powerful, brave pieces such as When Will I Return—will be the last one with the current line-up. Much as their therapeutic noise extravaganza and quasi-spiritual movements will be missed, another phase is through. Their tour of Europe throughout October and November will be the audience’s last chance to see them stretch, distort and lift their material to the stratosphere, guided by their own impulses into the unknown. Until Gira re-emerges, once again, with new companions at the far end of the tunnel.
For additional information on their schedule visit Young God Records.
Michael Gira. Credit: Lino Brunetti
Swans drummer Phil Puleo
Percussionist Thor Harris
Michael Gira: Credit: Cyrille Choupas