Until the audience responds at the end of the 23-minute opening track “intro/no words no thoughts”, you wouldn’t assume Swans’ new album We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head is a live concert recording. The thick solid wall of droning sound is as finely crafted as a perfectly mixed studio album as it navigates ferocious guitar storms, church bell chimes, the occasional soft spoken keyboard, and front man Michael Gira’s chanting of cosmic Freudian wails (“Father! I want you to be my father!”).
Culled from 2010-’11 performances in Melbourne, Australia, Berlin, Germany, and New York City, the album is a prelude to the forthcoming The Seer, an album that is being partially financed from sales of a special edition of We Rose From Your Bed. The handmade limited edition of 1,000 units sold out in under 24 hours.
It seems a musical listener will either dig Swans’ music or eagerly dig themselves out from under the weight of their metal machine “god is dead” pretensions. I first discovered them in the early days of the internet when I would troll record company web pages looking for free music to download. Swans gripped me with their progressive noise rock and elusive persona.
They are certainly an influence behind Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and a host of other unheralded noise rock bands. Founder and front man Michael Gira, who is the proprietor of Young God Records (Akron/Family started their gig there), has a commanding voice and aggressive presence that suggests what Jim Morrison might have become if he had abandoned his college boy psych philosophy and embraced the concept that all conflict and oppression stems from the battle between religion and science. On stage, Gira is a dominating and spooky sight, ranting cheery sentiments like, “Kill the child!” and “God is dead!”, as his band pounds out drenches of noise at such an ear splitting decibel, the sound has been known to induce vomiting in the audience.
But they are more than just a thrash metal band with a good gimmick (“They were so good – I puked!”). They create an echoic chamber of sound that can suddenly become hypnotic and soothing, like the warm adrenalin rush after escaping a dangerous fate. It’s very much like the image of their namesake, which looks godly and majestic while floating on a lake, but on closer inspection, is a mean mother that will certainly peck your eyes out and beat you with its wings.
For the initiated, We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head captures a vital and exciting Swans. For newbies, it should make for an exhilarating listen. The album is a rush of energy tempered by hollow and hopeless beats that seem on the verge of self destruction. Droning guitar storms blast into trance-like passages. Dual drummers pound out punishing and complex beats that can suddenly be reduced to an odd and improv-like drumbeat that sounds like the last kernels popping in a bag of microwave popcorn.
Some of the songs are from previous Swans projects and some are apparently from the yet unreleased The Seer. The 72 minute album is best listened to as an entire suite of music for a exhausting, yet rewarding, sonic adventure. In the press notes Gira suggests listening to the album at a loud volume, not for an aggressive intent, but to be genuinely immersed into the soul of Swans, who apparently want to be louder than God.