Swans' Most Terrifying Songs

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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.

See Also:
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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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11 comments
audibleimage
audibleimage

Great selection -failure, is a blue collar journal to familiar to thee grandson of Irish coal miner vetereran amputee of as 2 - but always happy to see us gran kids, and hide the troubles behind his eyes. What's the song were Harbor talks softly and sensualy to " father" for about four minutes than took an entire shure BROS sm58 in here mouth and blasts out some death metal guteral vocals that would make canibal corpse or nalpalm death wince and go back to the drawing board? Hearing it you could feel the rage unleashed, seeing it live, she seemed small and almost fragile then this explosion of vocal ( naive of me and sorry ladies, but I thought done larger framed fellow with a square jaw and prison tats would take over - nope just her , and well justified honest unbridled rage with the band in full violence behind her ... Uh I think I and any everyone took a jump back, I could speculate on who or type of recipient this song is dedicated to - but let's just say he's in deep shjt if not already a shallow grave) Who needs size and muscle when you have hell furry flying out of every fiber if your flesh So many more, so many more , ahhhh what an incredible band its been since swans are dead that I saw them last I know I missed out any other east coast rain shows???? What's up with that williamsburg gig, damnit and missed Durham too ... Any thing else between here VA to Atlanta to Ny ? Please let me know !!!! audibleimage@gmail.com Damn. I think I missed out this time and too far and few between Much love and respect to the tribe of Gira!!!!

birsa.non
birsa.non

I would have added "Killing For Company" and.. well... "Love Will Save You"....

davidhall99
davidhall99

great article - this needs to be done for Today is the Day also.  anyway, great work.

capn
capn

Time is Money (Bastard) is the scariest, hands down. 

gpacketjr
gpacketjr

Gira is not the one singing on "You Fucking People Make Me Sick", it's actually Devendra Banhart.

Will
Will

no "My Buried Child"? for shame.

de1061
de1061

The only thing terrifying about those songs is how shitty they are.

elliottsharp
elliottsharp

@j_arthur_bloom Seeing them in Philadelphia on Saturday. Stoked.

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