Swans - Filth LP
Label: Young God
Filth. An aptly named album for a time and a place and a band. Swans' first full album came out in 1983 from the gritty underbelly of New York City, before Guiliani has kicked out all the freaks, criminals and artists. The sound of Swans engorged the primal violence and psychological dread that had been first broadcast under the banner of No Wave a few years earlier. Led by the tyrannical Michael Gira, who probably only learned how to crack a smile some 15 years after the inception of Swans, barked and grunted lyrics which might be easier read as agitprop slogans, decrying the perceived imbalances of power through sex, money, depravity and (later) religion. He controlled and commanded his band to perform pummeling excesses of rhythmic brutality with lurching basslines and atonal splashes of guitar shards forming the barest sense of what could pass for a melody. At the time of Filth, Gira had two thugs - Roli Mosimann and Jonathan Kane - behind drum kits, augmenting their panzerkorps marches with bloodyknuckled sheets of metal tossed into that engine at unpredictable moments and angles. For all of the furious muscularity and self-inflicted violence of Filth, Swans could color their claustrophobic slabs of sound with empathizing spells of existential misery. "Power For Power" is probably the best example of this, with guitarist Normal Westberg (the longest standing member of Swans aside from Gira) chopping the melody that could very be knocking on the door of The Stooges' raga-dirge "We Will Fall". It should also be noted that John Gossard swiped the title "Weakling" for his cult black metal band, and like Gira, used the term not to self-identify but as a damning epithet. The song itself is a depressive trudge of basslines alternating with dissonant guitars, shoved along by a strangely spry rhythm from one of the drummers.
Filth still stands as one of the great achievements of an already highly acclaimed band. It's never been an easy listen, and never will be.