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Sweet - Reprisal

  by Jon Rogers

published: 15 / 7 / 2003

Sweet - Reprisal


Often acclaimed in their lifetime fire and brimstone industrial post-goth rockers Swans are back in the public eye with the re-release of their 'Children of God', 'World of Skin' and 'Swans of Dead' CDs. Jon Rogers finds little to feel joyful about

Ever since 1982, New York's Swans has explored the area of remorselessly painful barrage of fire and brimstone industrial post-goth rock. Frontman and singer Michael Gira sang like a slowed-down record of early Nick Cave fronting Throbbing Gristle - after learning the entire contents of the Old Testament by heart. It certainly wasn't easy listening aimed at having chart hits. Anyone that names a record 'Public Castration is a Good Idea' isn't, perhaps, interested too much in attaining commercial success. It was all monotonous, joyless and sounded like the Grim Reaper was just around the corner, sharpening his scythe. The cut and dried good versus evil philosophy in the Old Testament run right through the work of the Swans, particularly on 1987's 'Children of God'. There are those that are damned for all eternity ("The sex in your soul will damn you to hell," 'New Mind') and those that will be saved ("Praise God! Forgive me lord, forgive me now, 'Sex, God, Sex'). Gira's worldview is dialectically split into light and darkness. That dialectic is made explicit not only with the cover where there is a cross on the front and a snake on the back but one CD in this package is white and one black. The contrast is also emphasised in the relentless pugilism of the songs sung by Gira and those softer, gentler ones like 'In My Garden' and 'Blackmail' sung by Swans female cohort Jarboe. As such, 'Children of God' marked something of a departure for the band. Previously, the band had been unforgiving in its full-volume assault of disturbing industrial guitars telling tales from the darkest recesses of the human psyche. And often managed to repulse listeners at the same time. By adding acoustic guitars, flutes and playing-up to Jarboe's serene voice the extremes they added an extra depth to their sound. The album is backed with the 'World of Skin' anthology, which was initially conceived as a catch-all umbrella for an assortment of projects outside of the Swans. In effect, it's one of the group's more accessible outings - but has mixed results. '1,000 Years' is a showcase for Jarboe's powerful vocals and 'Blood on Your Hands' is a bleak, spooky spiritual. Covers of 'Cry Me a River' and the Stooges' 'I Wanna Be your Dog' leave much to be desired though and never manage to equal their harrowing version of Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. 'Blood on Your Hands' also finds its way onto the double live album 'Swans are Dead' which is taken from their tours of 1995 and 1997, the latter proving to be the band's last. Ultimately, one question needs to be answered. Who wants to listen to over two hours of doom-laden miserablism by a band that can, at times, take themselves far too seriously in their quest to make Art? Wading through these two CDs is an up-hill struggle, weighed down with a rucksack filled with concrete. And the view at the top isn't all that good anyway. Particularly unpleasant is the 17-minute 'Helpless Child'. 'Swans are Dead' is really for hardcore fans only. Gira and co could create something of troubled beauty out of their blackness but its not present here.

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Sweet - Reprisal

Sweet - Reprisal

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