Swans are back, and it’s an event so massive, so inconceivably vast and unimaginable, that the very fact of its occurrence drowns out even the loudest of their tracks. Michael Gira, of course, has never been away, continuously pumping out increasingly diverse and intimate music under the name Angels of Light, occasionally dipping his toes back into that pool of intensity on which Swans used to glide. But now he’s taken the plunge again, and immersed himself once more into the sublime brutality of one of music’s most relentless outfits.
Swans’ following being what it is, this was a pretty dangerous move, whichever way you look at it. To produce something that could have equally marched under the Angels of Light banner would still be awesome musically, but integrity-wise would have looked like a cynical cash-in. Equally, to come back properly as Swans had to be done right. Jane’s Addiction and Bauhaus both returned from the grave with good, solid albums, but neither really felt like an event in the same way; and let’s not even think about Axl Rose‘s disastrous attempt at a G’n'R renaissance. But don’t worry on either account.
My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky may have its share of quieter moments, but then so did pretty much all Swans stuff from Children Of God onwards. It’s not the volume that counts, it’s the intensity, although most of this album is also FUCKING loud. It feels like Swans. Actually, it’s weirder than that. What it actually feels like is that back in 1997, the intensity of Swans’ music was so great that it actually bored a hole through the fabric of space/time itself, and Swans fell through it. Into a parallel universe. And in that universe, they carried on making records, carried on progressing along the paths they’d been travelling up until the “accident.” And now they’ve found their way home. Get it? It’s not like they’ve just picked up where they left off, but it’s not quite like they’ve never been away either. It’s like they’ve been here the whole time, and we just haven’t heard them. This sounds like Swans SHOULD sound in 2010.
It starts as it means to go on, with “No Words/No Thoughts,” a full-on assault on the senses which feels like having your face melted off with a blowtorch. While being stepped on by an elephant. With glandular problems. When “Reeling The Liars In” offers us something more gentle, it’s only by way of allowing us to take a breath. And it’s pretty damn relentless in its own right. Right up until the last dying seconds of closer “Little Mouth,” we’re beaten, crushed, burned, and frightened pretty much every step of the way. This is an album that understands the value of musical dynamics better than almost anything else released this year. And, of course, like all good Swans albums, it has plenty of those moments where you find yourself in the middle of a track, unable to figure out how you got there or how long you’ve been there for. It’s like being hypnotised by a good hard punch to the face.
Lyrically, of course, all Gira’s obsessions are present and correct – power, submission, all the Freudian mothers and fathers stuff, death, the Divine, hatred, transcendence… you know, the usual suspects. But none of it feels by numbers. It’s every bit as passionate as the inchoate howl of despair that was Cop, all those years ago, and every bit as frightening. Swans have that weird thing whereby adding more acoustic albums didn’t actually soften their sound, just made it harder on a lot more levels and frequencies. If this is a descendant of Phil Spector‘s Wall Of Sound, it’s one that takes into account his whole “shooting someone in the face” thing. And Gira’s lost none of his way with words – “Ride your mechanical beast to Heaven, ride your beautiful bitch to the ultimate sin,” he commands (yes, “commands” is probably the right word for his delivery) on “Jim.” Who else could write a song called “You Fucking People Make Me Sick?” Who other than the man who long ago penned “Mother, My Body Disgusts Me” and “Raping A Slave?” To reuse the metaphor, while listening to Angels Of Light is like stepping through a doorway into Gira’s world, Swans are like opening a portal into another universe and staring into the face of God; and being driven irrevocably mad as a consequence.
This is a dangerous and beautiful album. It doesn’t have pretensions of being high art – it just IS high art, without breaking a sweat, though you certainly will. All these years on, the heat still hurts. Swans are back, to reclaim the crown of intensity from a thousand Godspeeds (no matter how wonderful a thousand Godspeeds may be), a million extreme metal bands and an entire universe of noise merchants. And possibly to destroy the Earth in the process.
The final paragraph of this review, however, is pretty much all you need to know about this album, though. The rest of it was just me, in the words of Charlie Brooker, “wanking for coins”. Ready? Here goes.
Whoah. Just… fucking… WHOAH.
-Deuteronemu 90210 writes shite from the mouth of infinity-