Swans | The Great Annihilator | ReviewThe Great Annihilator is another sweeping rock opera. This is the eighteenth Swans record released since 1982's Filth set a precedent for painful soul-searching dirge. Their first new release in three years, it combines the hard-hitting percussion of the earlier albums with the prettier, ballad-heavy later songs.
The Great Annihilator is another sweeping rock opera. Songs are accented with samples and eerie keyboards, supported with powerful drumming by Ministry's Bill Rieflin and other guests. Snippets of horror-movie soundtrack back Michael Gira's low thorazine crooning. The music is tightly orchestrated, with dynamics added by rhythmically chugging acoustic guitars and keyboards sounding at times like the stringboards of a broken piano, or a demented new-age synthesizer.
Gira, a lugubrious songwriter on a par with Ian Curtis, has a way of hitting the lyrical nail on the head with one deft slam of his hammer. When he says "I love everyone," we know exactly what he means (he doesn't). His words are disturbed expulsions of fear and anger that take on a sarcastic, bitter tone, as in the opening lines of "She Lives!": "Now I just want to thank you for going insane; every second that you suffer is a loss that I gain." Gira bellows from deep inside his thin frame, his delivery calling up a crooning, Sinatra-esque characterÂ—perhaps a bit more monotone: a calm, mellow front masking something ugly and forbidden.
Jarboe's singing styles vary from childlike voices to climbing choral backups sung with space-odyssey breathlessness. The outstanding song here, "Mother Father," with Jarboe leading, is belted out with delightful viciousness. "Buried Child" uses whispers to call up a Macbeth-like witches' spell. Certain songs suggest the funereal, march-like beating of a drum on a slave ship. The Swans are a dark band, often criticized for their solemnity. The lyrics' visceral, graphic quality is not for the faint-hearted, nor is the music. But given the right mood, this record is uplifting, hypnotic: "dissolve your body today, there is no in- or outside." Float on, SWANS.