With only Gira and Kane carrying over from the first EP's lineup, the truly bizarre thing about Swans' first full release is that, in its own angry-beyond-all-anger way, you can actually dance to it at very brief points. Admittedly, spasmodic jerking-around might be the more expected response (and given that Gira physically attacked an audience member at a show around the time of this album's release for "getting into it too much," may be the safer one). But the point remains that the overwhelming angst and death on songs like "Big Strong Boss," with lyrics like "Cut my throat, kill me snake, do what I say, you're the boss, " sometimes gets married close enough to a groove that it's almost surprising. For the most part, though, the drums (courtesy in part of future Young Gods producer Roli Mosimann) pound away almost like a ritual, doomy bass and grinding guitars sound like prime Black Sabbath at even danker levels of destruction, and Gira sounds like he's ripping his soul from his throat every time another lyric is half-barked, half-wailed, sometimes with the help of a little electronic distortion. As might be guessed, the only light in the lyrical tunnels comes from an oncoming train, as song titles like "Power for Power" and "Weakling" would indicate; even "Thank You" has lines such as "This smells sour, burn my face." Norman Westberg's guitar work has a definite power to it, and occasional studio manipulations like the chopped-up/sped-up "Freak" keep things interesting, but by the end it all gets a bit much. In small doses, though, it's great, and early Swans really is like little else on the planet before or since.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett