Swans – K422 Records – 1984

I Crawled / Raping A Slave

Young God / This Is Mine

An early slab of noise from New York’s Swans released in 1984, four real grinders to settle your nerves to. Great stuff, get everything you can get your hands on by this band.

Text below by the ever helpful wikki pee diah?

The earliest known lineup of Swans comprised Gira on bass guitar and vocals, Jonathan Kane on drums, and Sue Hanel on guitar. Hanel’s only recordings with the group are on the compilation Body to Body, Job to Job, but the ambiguous personnel credits do not make it clear on which songs she performed; Kane stated that “Sue was the most fearsome guitarist we’d ever heard in New York. She was unbelievable.”

Hanel did not stay long in the group, and by the time of their recording debut, she had been replaced by Bob Pezzola. This lineup of the group also featured saxophonist Daniel Galli-Duani. The debut EP, Swans, released on Labor, is markedly different from anything they would do later. The plodding tempos and distorted, detuned guitar work is reminiscent of such post-punk outfits as Joy Division. However, the minimal chord structures owe more to blues, while the jazz instrumentation and awkward time signatures are evidence of Swans’ roots in the No Wave scene of the late 1970s, which had more or less collapsed by the release of Cop. The closest reference point to the early Swans sound, as pointed out by one internet reviewer, is probably The Birthday Party, although far less overtly satirical.

In the same article cited above, Kane compares Swans to blues icon Chester Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf. While this comparison might initially seem unlikely, there are in fact some similarities worth noting — the music of early Swans was often based on a single riff, played repeatedly to hypnotic effect. Some of Burnett’s songs — especially the songs penned by Burnett himself — have a similar structure and quality. Their early music was typified by slow and grinding guitar noise, and pounding drums, punctuated by Gira’s morbid and violent lyrics (inspired by Jean Genet and the Marquis de Sade), usually barked or shouted. Critic Ned Raggett describes Swans’ early recordings as “aggressive beyond words.”

Their first full-length release, Filth (1983), featured driving, choppy rhythms and abrasive drums. The whole is reminiscent of earlier No Wave bands, such as Mars, and the work of Swans’ contemporaries, like Sonic Youth’s Confusion Is Sex and Kill Yr Idols; but Raggett contends that “early Swans really is like little else on the planet before or since.” Filth was the first album to feature guitarist Norman Westberg, who would play a vital role in much of Swans’ music, and would be featured on every subsequent studio album other than Love of Life.

Lyric sheet to these tracks uploaded

Cop (1984) and the originally untitled Young God EP were both released in 1984 and re-released together on CD in 1992. This release has been known by several names, usually by one of its two A-sides, such as “I Crawled” or, infamously, as “Raping a Slave”. This release is often confused with their self-titled debut. The music continues in the same vein as Filth, and is again vaguely reminiscent of heavy metal music played in extreme slow motion. Swans were, in this era, comprised of Gira on vocals, Westberg on guitar, Harry Crosby on bass guitar, and Roli Mosimann on drums. Gira’s vocals had changed slightly, becoming slowly more melodic, although the snarl still remained. Some of the songs on the EP, particularly “Young God” and “I Crawled”, have an actual vocal melody, if rudimentary, hinting at the sounds of future releases. Young God is considered by many to be the best of their early albums for this reason.

A good night out…

  1. Nic
    October 3, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Nice one (once again), Penguin…

    This period (1st 2 albums and 1st 2 12″‘s) of the group has produced some of my favourite records…
    ‘Cop’ is an absolute monster…

    They were also one of the loudest bands I ever saw live: the sheer physicality of the sound perfectly complimented the compositional approach and lyrical content…

    I tuned out of them not long after ‘Holy Money’, but these early records really stand up for me…

    The term ‘Grindcore’ is largely derived from an appreciation of Swans…

  2. Chris
    October 3, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Absolutely stunning band. I saw them on that first UK tour too (The Venue, Edinburgh). have never in my life encountered anything approaching that level of physicality in volume, and i have seen a lot of very loud acts. for about a fortnight afterwards everyone’s voice i heard sounded like they had inhaled helium. Still, the manager of a certain record shop shat himself when they struck up the first song.

    Lost track of them after ‘children of god’ myself, but having recently seen a dvd compilation charting their career i fully intend to get hold of some of their later recordings as well now.

    the album version of ‘a screw’ and ‘stupid child’ off the ‘public castration’ live LP were always my favourites.

    Wish I still had the T-Shirt 🙁

  3. betab
    October 3, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    awesome – haven’t heard this for years but it’s as good as I remember

  4. Ian
    October 3, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    I was at the Venue gig in Edinburgh too, friends of ours who stayed across in Market Street (other side of the train station from the venue) said they could hear The Swans loud and clear. If I remember correctly they were meant to play at Nightmoves in Glasgow the next night but it was cancelled after the promoter found out about the venue gig, and the fact that The Swans wanted to use the same size PA system as the Ramones were using at the Barrowlands earlier that night. Not sure how true that story is. The Ramones were crap that night, I couldnt hear much anyway. Perhaps it was a good thing The Swans cancelled, one night was maybe enough. Algis Kizys is the only bass player I’ve seen breaking two (TWO) bass strings during a song, which he did when he and some other Swans were Foetus’s band at the Town & Country Club, 1988. Impressive.

  5. stirmonster
    October 3, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    ha! i was at that edinburgh gig too. people around me were in tears from the volume. i tried to see them the next night in glasgow but as ian points out it was cancelled as the owner of rooftops took fright at the size of the pa. i saw michael gira alone with his guitar last summer and whilst obviously nowhere near the volume it still had the same power. i got to speak to him for a wee bit and told him i thought that edinburgh gig had permanently affected my hearing. he apologised and said he was young and stupid back then.

    ian – i was also at that foetus gig at the town & country club!

  6. star23
    October 3, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    fond memories from the same first uk tour, hanging out on brighton promenade pre-gig while the swans soundchecked in the zap club beneath our feet…the earth moved literally…do legendary gigs still happen these days ??? answers on a postcard 🙂

  7. Penguin
    Penguin • Post Author •
    October 3, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    SUNN O)) give it a good go when they perform, with their brand of Swans inspired dirges. The loudness of the performances also are similar.
    Check them out on Southern Lord label, as well as a host of other beautiful packaged artists on that label. Advert over.

  8. Nic
    October 4, 2008 at 12:04 am

    I’ve seen Sunn O)) quite a few times, and they do reach Swans-ish levels of volume: strong physical experience…

    Om can get pretty loud too: last time I saw them, my fillings were shaking…

  9. Chris
    October 4, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    With respect, I don’t see how Sunn O)) can ever be compared to early swans. I’ve seen Sunn O)) a few times myself and though they’re sonically loud they have none of the organic, visceral dynamic of Swans, whose performances are about the closest evocation of a soundtrack to Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ as I can imagine and in terms of ‘theatre’ were more Artaud than Sunno’s ‘hammer house’ druid schtick.

    hey Nic, that reads like one of your posts 😉

  10. Nic
    October 4, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    The comparison was (I think) focused more on the physical presence and weight of the sound, Chris, rather than the content or intent…

    Swans certainly have a deeper resonance due to their interaction with literature and performance art (although Gira’s ‘borrowing’ of Beckett’s prose style occasionally grated for me)…Their sound is indeed Dionysian…
    whereas Sunn are much more about surface (which is particularly apt for a band stemming from the Metal genre – and their ‘live persona’ is – to some extent – humourous)…
    I think Sunn’s approach to sound is very different too: it’s much more laminar and focused on exploration of timbre and time…It’s a Saturnine sound – distanced, cold, alien, crepuscular (which – I feel – the Swans were not – and didn’t intend to be)

    Both groups are probably too different to invite a reasonable comparison beyond the issue of volume…

    It DOES read like that, Chris: you’re learning, son…

  11. Stockholm monster
    Stockholm monster
    October 18, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Just noticed this post, sorry if I enter the discussion a bit late…

    My friend and I spent some weeks in London in June ’84, and saw loads of bands… Test Dept (at Cannon Street railway station), Play Dead, UK Subs, Rubella Ballet, In Excelsis… we also went to see The Fall at The Heaven, with Swans supporting. I had never heard them before, and was quite shocked by the volume and Gira’s menacing stage persona. Anyway, I was later told that this was the first ever gig by Swans in the UK (possibly even the European premiere?). Anyone else that were there that can confirm?

    Also seen them twice during the farewells tours of 96-97, and a Gira solo concert and reading at a spoken word event over the last few years. The early material as represented by this EP is great allright, yet I prefer the later incarnations; albums such as “Love of Life”, “White Light From the Mouth of Infinity”, “The Great Annilihator”, and “Soundtracks of the Blind” are some of my favorite music of all time.

    I can see the comparison with Sunn. Another band that approximated the power of Swans was Godflesh. I remember attending an early 90ies Godflesh show, which was a bit of a deja-vu experience, reminiscent of 1984 era Swans.

    Cheers, Marten

  12. Alex
    October 20, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Incredible band. Wish I could’ve seen them back them, but I’m too young. I’ve heard so many stories of the intensity of their shows around 85/86. Sounds like… the best thing ever, really.

  13. Nic
    October 20, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Marten – Justin (from Godflesh) is an old friend of mine, and there’s quite a lot of quite deliberately Swans-inflected elements in their first couple of records…

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