by Freq | 2017-05-07T18:00:29+00:000000002931201705 18:00
With the latest phase of Michael Gira‘s Swans project drawing to a close, the bundled and remastered edition of The Great Annihilator and Gira’s solo album Drainland could hardly have come at a better time for new converts who are interested in learning about the band’s history.
The Great Annihilator is a snapshot of a fascinating point on their journey from the early grind and industrial noise of Cop and Filth to the transcendent excesses of The Glowing Man. Following their controversial foray into major-label-friendly folk-pop, The Burning World, Swans began to combine and fuse all the elements they had previously focused on, and in the process created something much greater than the sum of its parts. As a result, their penultimate studio LP before prematurely announcing their passing on the live album Swans Are Dead is simultaneously one of their most accessible and most varied releases.The blistering percussive mayhem of “I Am The Sun” rubs up against the majestic goth-rock of “Killing For Company” and the ethereal fairytale sounds of “Warm”, making this a great place to start for anyone blown away by their latest escapades and who wants to track their development. In many ways, a lot of The Great Annihilator predicts Gira’s later work with The Angels Of Light, though there’s always that near-crushing relentlessness that characterises Swans in any of their phases, even in the album’s lightest moments.
Of course, Jarboe was still on board at the time, and she gets a lot of time to do her awesome vocal thing here; “Mother/Father” is the sound of some crazed and ecstatic rite, while “Mother’s Milk” is a terrifying trip into the darker reaches of folk music.Having moved on from the shock tactics of their early days by way of the twisted religious excesses of Children Of God, The Great Annihilator follows White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity on their path towards their later cosmic transcendence — the title refers to a black hole in the Milky Way (1E1740.7-2942, for those of you who don’t have Wikipedia), and “Mind/Body/Light/Sound” is a glorious and all-encompassing ride into the cosmos that resides within the human brain. And at the other end of the spectrum, “Celebrity Lifestyle” is a scabrous rock tune, the darker, seedier cousin of The Burning World‘s “(She’s A) Universal Emptiness”, and “Alcohol The Seed” a pre-post-rock booze confessional.
Gira always said his solo album Drainland, also included here, was a companion piece to The Great Annihilator, so to have them both together at last is only fitting. It’s a more intimate affair, again prefiguring The Angels Of Light, though it has its moments of epic grandeur as well. Another booze confessional, “You See Through Me”, relies on a low chanted vocal mantra played through the filter of a collapsing relationship, and “Where Does Your Body Begin?” is the campfire twin of The Great Annihilator‘s “Where Does A Body End?”But for me, the highlight of Drainland is the closing track, “Blind”, which is in my opinion the finest song Gira has ever written; a worthy contender for a fight with Cohen or Dylan. A raw, naked expression of human frailty, self-delusion and arrogance, its hypnotically circling arrangement makes you wish it could go on forever. “But I was younger then, and young men never die; when I walked out in the sun I was strong, clear-minded and blind”, sings Gira, while a beautifully choral Jarboe provides a haunting backdrop.
Quite simply, it’s a masterpiece, and were I ever to become famous enough to appear on Desert Island Discs (come on, we’ve ALL played that game with ourselves, right) there’s a very good chance it would end up being the one record I’d save from the waves. Which, given Gira and Swans’ love of the infinitely beautiful and destructive, seems kind of right.
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