Swans' Most Terrifying Songs


In a recent interview with The Fader, Michael Gira of Swans claimed that he took acid 300 times before he turned 14. That's a lot of acid for a young buck. That's a lot of acid for any buck. A whole lot. I took acid about 78 times before I turned 18 (and I haven't used it since). That's not nearly as many trips as Gira, but it's a pretty solid number of trips, I think.

One of the many things experimenting with acid taught me was how to listen to music differently. Long before I heard Merzbow or Wolf Eyes, I tripped and listened closely to the droning ovens and hissing dishwashers at the Pizza Hut where I worked as a lunch cook. Six years later, when a friend turned me on to proper "noise," it wasn't too shocking. I also learned that some albums and some songs contain particular moments that can totally shatter and terrify; my whole world can be flipped upside down, turned inside out and burnt down to the ground with a single lyric or guitar squall or cymbal crash.

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On one occasion, I recall some friends and I were a few hours into a trip, listening to Pink Floyd's The Wall. Everything was cool until "The Trial" hit, and the line "Good morning worm, your honor" totally crushed me. It rubbed me way wrong, and I couldn't get it outta my head. I kept repeating it. "Good morning worm, your honor." Each time I pictured the waking worm that was about to determine my fate. Being judged by a worm just didn't seem fair, and I didn't understand how I'd ended up in such a precarious position in the first place. Thinking about it now, 15 years later, "The Trial" still creeps me out.

Across the Swans discography, from Filth (1983) to The Seer (2012), such moments abound, especially on the early and late recordings. Gira is a master of terror, and the 300 acid slabs he sucked as a boy likely helped him hone this skill. He can devastate your world, flummox your grip and throw you into darkness. But if you look really close, there's oftentimes a bright light shining somewhere that can potentially lead you back up from the pit. In preparation for Swans' show at Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday night (Swans return to Bowery Ballroom on October 28), here are ten terrifying moments from the band's catalog.
"Blackout," from Filth (1983)

Gira's most disturbing when he's barking orders. On "Blackout," and much of Filth, the lyrics consist mostly of these commands. He's the master, you're the slave. "Don't talk until you're spoken to," he says. You do what you're told. You sit in the corner, and you shut your mouth. It's not so bad. But then he yells, "Don't breathe." So you don't breathe. You hold your breath. And you die.

"Freak," from Filth (1983)

One of the most brutal songs that Swans ever made, this track slashes like a spiked whip. It's Gira kissing the depths of despair and self-loathing, making even Black Flag sound like music for a happy-fizzy party. "Come here you freak," orders Gira. "I saw you crawling last night, big erection in your hand, you rule the world, you're gonna murder somebody weak." Welcome to the war of all against all.

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