The Hammer and the Anvil:

Paul McEnery | Axcess Magazine

Once apon a time, a couple of New York noise bands were up each other's arseholes…

...on tour together, recording each other's songs, redefining the state of aural attack. Sonic Youth and Swans are different bands now. Youth went overground (ahem) the year punk broke. Swans drove the hard road into a ditch last year—but breaking up has been a creatice breakthrough. Fifteen years later, Axcess is proud to present this address on the start of the art of noise. Dead Alive: An apparently endless wake wound down this year upon the release of a double live CD entitled, with trademark gallows humor, Swans Are Dead. And on that note, Swans frontman Michael Gira wrapped up the most bitter and ecstatic act to ever hit the stage.

Anyone who caught the last two tours (and is there a fan who didn't?) found it a memorial of comforting familiarity, a rough combination of a merciless flogging and voices from the other side. Perfect funeral music, in other words. If you need the live Swans experience translated any further into words, I suggest you check out Gira's captivating rant on the web site (

But for a dead guy, Gira sure moves fast. ...Dead is being instantly followed by a spoken word album called The Somniloquist. Previous cheery lyrics have included "And one by one their throats are cut, and each one sings his choking song...and I feel good and I feel fine." As the poet of transcendental misery put it: "You can bet that my winning personality shines right through," Move fast, they're only printing 2000 copies. Jarboe too has a limited edition solo album called The Anhedoniac which you can only get from the Swans website. As you might expect, "multipule voices, personas, demons are more prevalent than ever before."

The brings us right up to date, and to Gira's most ambitious new recording. The cruelest month has brought us The Body Lovers, the first of three solo projects in what we're led to believe is ambient music or, to quote the man himself, "a single track of shifting, mutating, mangled, musical and non musical passageways of sound." None of the tunes have names—titles are for wimps now, apparently—and the opening cut alone is a vicious pounding screeching barrage that gives Metal Machine Music a run for its money.

What comes next needs serious stones to listen to. As everyone knows, Gira and Jarboe have had their differences over the years—just check out the slice of life on Drainland, featuring a vertile tape of a row between the two of them over booze and money. It's a harsh, ugle, and godawful true moment, but it's nothing compared to the second cut where Gira drops in a long tape of Jarboe sobbing in just the most gutwrenching manner. It's characteristically painful, honest, and unsparing. As always, Gira is cutting the listener not one inch of slack. This is how the world is, fucker, deal with it.

The same musicians Gira graverobs in The Body Lovers also make up the new band, Angels of Light, which features members of Cop Shoot Cop and Ministry. Angels are already in rehearsal and will release a CD and tour as soon as the weather is sufficiently bleak. Plus, Gira is producing Windsor for the Derby, the band who opened for the Swans on the farewell tour, for his own label, Young God Records.

And if that's not enough, the Swans back catalogue mop up continues with Various Failures 89-93, which collects the bits Gira can stomach from Love of Life, White Light and Burning World, and the other World of Skin sides. (The fact that Gira is the only person in the world who hates those records seems neither here nor there.) The "dollar" albums will be next, leaving a legacy of six double CDs, packaged in an eloquently grim cardboard, embossed with gold and silver.

In other words, the cortege may have ground to a halt, but the mausoleum isn't finished by a long chalk.