Swans | The Great Annihilator | ReviewRating: Four stars The Swans are a study in metamorphoses. In 1983, when Melody Maker magazine dubbed the NYC noise mavens "a deeply repulsive form of audio pornography," it was more a compliment than a slam. Cacophonous, confrontational, and unrelentingly loud, the band used vocal rants and bone-crunching distortion to achieve unparalleled levels of sonic pain. Then, around '87 or so, rock's ugliest duckling found its inner Swan and blossomed into a vehicle for sweeping, complex arrangements of keyboards, strings and evocative sound effects. Vocalist Michael Gira traded his guttural growl for the croon of a balladeer, and the latter-day Swans were born.
Their 12th album, The Great Annihilator, is a majestic symphony of haunting melodies and shifting moods. SpiritualityÂ—or rather the absence of itÂ—provides the linking motif. With a kinetic industrial goose step, "She Lives!" plays with chanted images of madness and martyrdom, while the jagged coda of "Celebrity Lifestyle" lays the groundwork for a cutting look at material dreams: "She's just a drug addiction/ And a self-reflecting image of a narcotized mind." "Warm" forms the album's thematic center, overflowing with ethereal vocal loops and drums that patter like raindrops accross the lyrical landscape. On "Mother/Father" and the mantric "My Buried Child," vocalist Jarboe outdoes herself with a spectrum of darkly distinctive voices.
Taken on its own, this album is a vivid example of how to combine the dissonant with the dulcet while retaining a dangerous edge. Viewed in the context of the Swans' 12-year journey from audio pornography to majestic romanticism, The Great Annihilator serves as an epic apotheosis.