TimeOut New York | Issue No. 126 | Jordan N. Mamone

Gira & Co.'s discography is rich in masterful concert documents, and this pristinely recorded capper is no different.

Over the course of a 15-year existence, Swans built up a solid reputation for blinding intensity and brutal honesty. Leader Michael Gira was so unafraid to explore the limits of the crushingly leaden and the mystically ethereal that his compositions and from-the-gut emotional frankness occasionally verged on the ridiculous. More often, his tunnel vision and severity intensified music of a singular power unmatched in its sensuous physicality and visionary depth.

Swans leave behind a legacy as the most radical aesthetic dissenters from the golden age of '80s NYC tumult rock, yet also as the most faithful adherents to that scene's sternness and experimental edge. A force of extremes and paradoxes, their bowing out with an exorbitant but necessary double-live CD is only appropriate. Swans Are Dead is rough going if you're averse to Gira's obsessively dark, rhythmic repetition, but otherwise it's a rewarding final chronicle of one of the most fascinating forces ever to grace a stage.

Gira & Co.'s discography is rich in masterful concert documents, and this pristinely recorded capper is no different. Swans Are Dead skirts redundancy by drawing from the band's twilight works but also including reinterpretations of old pile drivers; the industrial thuds of "I Crawled" and "Your Property" are every bit as methodical and grandiose as their '84 renditions but now boast aggro-elegant, complex arrangements and the dramatic, seductive pipes of keyboardist Jarboe in lieu of Gira's tough roar. These rewrites fit in perfectly with the more recent stuff (including two all-new epics), which is still huge and richly textured but often similarly mutated. "Low Life Form," from Gira's spartan '95 solo LP, swells into an immobilizing tidal wave, while the once cold, steely "I Am the Sun" turns into a perversely choleric cabaret shuffle.

Although Swans Are Dead splits its discs between a 1995 lineup and the 1997 final tour personnel, the musicianship is uniformly distinctive and flawless. If the set fails in any way, it's due to an inability to capture the volume, imposing vastness and intoxicating vibe of live Swans. But with the band buried and a Huysmansian conglomeration of home stereo, virtual reality and hypnotism yet to be invented, Swans Are Dead will have to suffice as the ultimate sensory blowout.–