Skin | Shame, Humility, Revenge | ReviewSacrificial Altars Once, the listenerÂ´s ears were wounds (to quote EinstÃ¼rzende Neubauten). Now, the wounds have been cauterised, to leave this scar tissue, an indelible after-image of suffering. An anomaly in the release schedules means this second collaboration by Gira and Jarboe of Swans pre-dates Gira's recantation about noise in the press, his new commitment to "the song" and the "Love Will Tear Us Apart" cover, by 18 months. But even then, Skin was a radical departure: only a little of its influence showed up in the last year's Swans LP "Children Of God." With Skin, the obliteration beat had already made way for the different entrancements of immobility, serenity, and space.
"Shame, Humility, Revenge" proceeds as much by slow intensification and gradual petrifaction as it does by attrition. "One Small Sacrifice," with its un-stung, disarticulated guitar strum and paired percussion blows, is a precarious, fatigued and deliberate juggernaut progress. "Nothing Without You" could be a Werner Herzog Eldorado-seeking seer transplanted from cinema to vinyl: crevasses and river basins full of drones, plucked strings and disjointed chords that threaten to collapse at each onward step. These are cross-sections of a closed circuit of ancient drives that we'll never escape from.
Gira still imagines submission, slavery, the loss of his separateness. "24 Hours" is the last vestigial link with the earlier Swans' cryogenised beat and their concern with collective exploitation, alienation in work, and consumer fetishes. Elsewhere, "Shame" is about the collapse of identity in desire, worship, dependence. "I'll disappear, I left beneath your skin" runs "Nothing Without You." Identity succumbs to doubt and contradictions, so that in "Everything At Once," he's split in two becomes "someone I don't know." This LP's contracted vistas, its sensory deprivation, mimic Gira's will to be "perfectly like everything around." He will cease being himself by being enslaved or by returning to an inanimate condition.
It's self-denial that articulates itself in religious/sacriligious language. "One Small Sacrifice" is about losing your mind in devotion and in act of communion (almost the mirror-image of vampirism): "If I drink your blood, I'll be like you." Each song acts out the moment of surrender, of falling away from yourself, or of looking at an adored Medusa and being turned to marble.
Sometimes "Shame..." simply follows the path of least resistance for an ominous and entrancing effect. There's the dockside sirens and massively enhanced piano chords of "Cold Bed." Or "The Center Of Your Heart," with its infrequent geiger pulse, ethereal choirs and tide of synths, a little like a Clock DVA interlude. On "Nothing Without You," it's the vocals that are the spoiler, as full of sand and tar as Lee Marvin. But the perfect submission and trance is always within reach. "Breathing Water" is a cumulus of strings and chords ascending without ever reaching escape velocity: as it lustre on "Closer." Perhaps that's Gira's destination. Whatever the flaws of "Shame," He's Lost Control Again, brilliantly.