Swans / M. Gira | The Great Annihilator / Drainland | Review

Rolling Stone

Great Annihilator ***, Drainland ***

A decade ago SWANS were a seminal noise band, a contemporary influence on Sonic Youth and a predecessor to Nine Inch Nails. But Swans' aggressively ugly music—loud, slow and monotonously grinding—combined with singer M. Gira's queasy lyric stew of sadistic sex and violence guaranteed a limited audience. Since then they've somehow perservered largely unheard, on the fringe's fringe. Even more surprising given their monotonic original sound they've evolved.

The current Swans consist of Gira on vocals, guitar and miscellaneous sounds, and a woman named Jarboe on vocals and keyboards plus whoever they can get to fill out the rhythm section. The music has opened up a great deal.

New Age electronic pastels are as likely to be part of the mix as the band's signature metallic harshness. What have remained are Gira's transgressive lyrics and brutal attitude. Annihilator is rife with tales of mutilating murders either in love with their victims or the power of their own cruelty. Gira structures his songs like repetitive loops—a few bars and you've usually heard the whole scheme—and this lack of resolution, of catharsis, contributes to the overall ominous feel. Add to this Gira's deep, weary drawl—monsters, while never appearing, sound disturbingly human—and you have horror stories for grown-ups.

On his solo album, Gira's music tends to be sparse, but old obsessions are maintained. On two songs, "You See Through Me" and "Blind," he drops his gargoyle disguise long enough to let you glimpse the genuinely disturbing personality underneath. You get a feeling of what feeds his horrid fascinations, and it's riveting.

With Gira, you get one man's unpleasant feeling forged into expressive grotesqueries reflecting a darker side of life that seems genuine and compelling.