Angels of Light

We Were Alive!

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A limited-edition document of the group's supporting tour for How I Loved You, We Were Alive! finds the quartet hitting the mark both in interpreting past Swans efforts and bringing the newer songs to life. Understandably the emphasis is on more recent and wholly new material, and though it's initially unusual to hear Gira on a live disc without Jarboe as his foil given all the live Swans releases over the years, the whole experience is excellent testimony to his continuing abilities at creating and performing his own strong, distinct take on rock and other musics. With his fellow angels creating a fluid, flowing interpretation for the performances -- Larry Mullins on drums, Dana Schecter on bass and vocals, and Thor Harris contributing a variety of percussion and keyboard parts -- Gira's mantra-like compositions achieve an obsessive state of grace. The apocalyptic How I Loved You opener "Evangeline," for instance, is less overwhelming here but no less gripping, a slow-burn build. Other fierce standouts include the pounding drive of "All Souls' Rising," the performance both chaotic and carefully controlled; "What You Were" and its sudden switch from stripped-down to full-band mode; and a lovely turn on Swans' "God Damn the Sun." All the while Gira's yearning, burnt keening -- a good balance for his voice after so much raging in earlier times, but no less compelling for that -- leads the way. The sound quality sometimes results in a distanced overall mix (it combined desk recordings with a live room mic), which often can bury Mullins' quieter drum work to the point of sensing it rather than hearing it. It's unfortunate but not crippling, and in ways actually gives We Were Alive! a weird texture that's worth a listen.