•••SIGNED BY M.GIRA•••
Aside from the early self-eviscerating era of Swans the 2 tours captured on this album are my favorite live recordings of Swans. Somehow, all the different periods of the band came together here, and I remember the performances as being transporting and even transcendent. That's my own experience of course, but my instinct tells me the audience experienced it that way too. The sound quality of these recordings is good-to-excellent, in my opinion. In fact, of all the Swans albums, this is the one I feel most comfortable listening to. I mean "comfortable" in the sense that the recording seems to have captured the performance and intent of the music. There's some reviews below. If you choose to purchase this, yes, play it loud, and I hope it gives you pleasure. - Michael Gira/Young God Records 2008
2/25/1998 | SF Weekly | Dave Clifford
Swans | Swans Are Dead | Review
Attrition‹the act of wearing away a surface through repeated rubbing, or the gradual reduction of will through constant waves of repetition‹is the defining characteristic of Swans. In the 15-year existence of the now-finished group, vocalist/guitarist Michael Gira and a revolving door of contributors‹the most significant of these being longtime vocalist/keyboardist Jarboe‹sought to isolate and exaggerate the limitations of music. Where rhythm and melody traditionally embody a song, Swans have dissected it. Where lyrical themes traditionally ignore the visceral and brutal sides of sexuality, Swans have sought to magnify them.
On early recordings like Filth and Young God, Swans hammered single or double beats of a measure and a melody into plodding tempos. The result was simplistic, brutal, and anti-melodic. But once Gira had mastered the form, he abandoned it in favor of a new sound, one in which chiming Middle Eastern drones were infused with a rhythmic impulsion. The melodicism cost the band a considerable following in the early 90s.
Swans Are Dead, the final act of attrition, contains live recordings culled from their final world tours of 1995 and 1997. Here, as clever as always, Swans' music atomizes rhythm and melody by taking repetition to an extreme, almost aberrant degree, to a point where the music is transformed into a behemoth machine that simultaneously disrupts and illuminates its own internal structure. On the album opener, "Feel Happiness," the rhythm of a standard bar is frozen, as a repeated snare crack and cymbal crash compound beneath drop-tuned droning bass, guitars, and keyboard. Similar to the way a skipping CD or record plucks a small element from a passage and disrupts its logic, the repetition of flowing cymbals and a fragmented guitar melody disrupts a normal rock song.
Many of the songs performed on these final tours were versions of older Swans material, reworked to emphasize certain melodic, lyrical, and rhythmic subtleties. "Blood Promise," the syrupy 1994 ballad, is stripped to a torturous chiming drone of guitars and flaring cymbals. "I Crawled" is reworked from its original crushing plod into a tense narrative with slowly building crescendos.
Still, it is songs like "The Sound" and "Not Alone" that jarringly demonstrate Swans' tasteful flirtation with streamlined melodies. Compounding several harmonies of instruments that swirl continuously in mantra form, the group creates a sound of constant elevation and rhythmic attrition. "The Sound" begins as a murmur of keyboards, vibraphone, and lightly thumping percussion, and a simple melody is slowly built within the repetitive modulation between two notes. The structure has fractured and musical order is, if only briefly, transcended. Which is exactly the aim of Swans' music‹to give the taste of ecstatic annihilation. And here, a blissful farewell.
2/19/1998 | TimeOut New York | Issue No. 126 | Jordan N. Mamone Review | SWANS ARE DEAD
Over the course of a 15-year existence, Swans built up a solid reputation for blinding intensity and brutal honesty. Leader Michael Gira was so unafraid to explore the limits of the crushingly leaden and the mystically ethereal that his compositions and from-the-gut emotional frankness occasionally verged on the ridiculous. More often, his tunnel vision and severity intensified music of a singular power unmatched in its sensuous physicality and visionary depth.
Swans leave behind a legacy as the most radical aesthetic dissenters from the golden age of '80s NYC tumult rock, yet also as the most faithful adherents to that scene's sternness and experimental edge. A force of extremes and paradoxes, their bowing out with an exorbitant but necessary double-live CD is only appropriate. Swans Are Dead is rough going if you're averse to Gira's obsessively dark, rhythmic repetition, but otherwise it's a rewarding final chronicle of one of the most fascinating forces ever to grace a stage.
Gira & Co.'s discography is rich in masterful concert documents, and this pristinely recorded capper is no different. Swans Are Dead skirts redundancy by drawing from the band's twilight works but also including reinterpretations of old pile drivers; the industrial thuds of "I Crawled" and "Your Property" are every bit as methodical and grandiose as their '84 renditions but now boast aggro-elegant, complex arrangements and the dramatic, seductive pipes of keyboardist Jarboe in lieu of Gira's tough roar. These rewrites fit in perfectly with the more recent stuff (including two all-new epics), which is still huge and richly textured but often similarly mutated. "Low Life Form," from Gira's spartan '95 solo LP, swells into an immobilizing tidal wave, while the once cold, steely "I Am the Sun" turns into a perversely choleric cabaret shuffle.
Although Swans Are Dead splits its discs between a 1995 lineup and the 1997 final tour personnel, the musicianship is uniformly distinctive and flawless. If the set fails in any way, it's due to an inability to capture the volume, imposing vastness and intoxicating vibe of live Swans. But with the band buried and a Huysmansian conglomeration of home stereo, virtual reality and hypnotism yet to be invented, Swans Are Dead will have to suffice as the ultimate sensory blowout.
4/1/1998 | Ink #19 | Drew West
Swans | Swans Are Dead | Review
They were, are, and will always be the most powerful band in the world live.
A banshee screams while the Vikings swing hammers and swords into their enemies. I sense sweat pouring from faces. Every soul being destroyed from within the shell it lives. The anger, resentment, and rawness cuts through even the hardest heart. No one ever does it like Swans. Even through the CD, I get goose bumps. I can't explain it. When I watched Swans in Atlanta for the last time, my body went numb. Every hair stood on end. I was waiting for lightning to come through the ceiling and ignite my body. So I ask why? Why must I suffer? Why are they doing this to us? Why does it have to end? They were, are, and will always be the most powerful band in the world live. We have only two CDs to remember them, but they exhibit nothing but perfection. It is Swans. Gira mixed both live recordings and "bootlegs" from fans to capture the emotions. I have never heard a live recording capture "live" like this before, and probably never will again. The songs included do not matter, because they are perfect. The first disc is the final 1997 tour, and the second the 1995 tour. I cannot promote illegal activities to gain possession of this release, but any fan will be happy. Now all that is left is the final reissue sets, and SWANS ARE DEAD.
8/3/1995 | Sound Projector | Ed Pinsent
I find it remarkable how Swans have progressed over the many years of their existence from near-atonal cacophony to trembling acoustic melody without ever compromising the severity or intensity of the effect their music induces. The earlier Swans records, although slow, loud and harrowing, with titles that pretty much say it all ('Raping a Slave', 'Butcher', 'Thug'), always hinted at some delicate sense of beauty amid the walls of guitar noise and shudder-inducing lyrics. Although more recent albums have been perversely tuneful ('The Sound Of Freedom' could almost be Swans' take on Bruce Springsteen) that edgy sense of vertigo has remained undiluted. It is this quality which makes them unique. My first experience of the group Whitehouse (cited as an influence by Michael Gira)ì was quite extreme. I found the records disturbing to such an extent that I had doubts about wanting such vile artefacts in my house. Whitehouse, by their own testament, produced 'the most violently repulsive records ever made'. Whitehouse are all about domination - that is, beating the listener into submission. But where their untrammelled fury is directed outwards at the listener, that of Swans takes the opposite approach. Swans music doesn't name names, but rather focuses on the psychological profile of rage directed inwards; which, with the extremes to which Gira's lyrics take it, seems altogether more disturbing. Whitehouse may scream and rage about what plans they have in store for your bottom, but when Gira howls 'I'll cut off my right arm just to stand in your shadow', and sounds as though he intends to do just that, it is genuinely scary. This double CD marks the conclusion of the group's long and tormented history, with expertly recorded selections from the last two tours. Like Mr Dinger (see elsewhere), Swans are in their element doing one simple thing over and over until one is carried away by its divine momentum. The effect works in a similar way to the principle of Chinese water torture, and on occasion to an apparently similar end. This is not to suggest Swans are just about pain. No, it's more complicated than that, like the dull and vaguely satisfying numbness of a picked-at wound, a second of clarity and calm before a violent storm, extended out towards infinity. Yet in spite of this, even at their slowest and ugliest, Swans remain sublimely glorious and panoramic. There is something very Old Testament at work here. A fitting full stop to Swans' fifteen year sentence.
Swans | Review | Swans are Dead