Selected Press Quotes 1982-1992

1982 | 1983 |1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1991 | 1992


Simply put, this is some of the most powerful music I have ever heard. There's no coming up for air, absolutely no exit.


Forget the paradox of a band playing brutally aggressive music while taking their name from the most graceful of creatures. At CBGB recently, SWANS roared out a set of muscular tell-tale heartthuds which had the audience stupefied in spine-straight positions. Call it Anglo-Saxon anxiety at the farthest outpost of the r'n'r beat. You can't dance to it, but boy, can you throb.

A crashing, whomping, searing, fierce thing. This is a terrific live band. Gira, barefoot, muscles rippling, hangs off the mic like an angry Christ anchoring the hurricane of noise swirling around him. Their masochisms and violent sensibility can border on the ridiculous, but it's all pretty much in keeping with this striking and creative band.


SWANS' "COP" makes PIL sound like Buck's Fizz. We're talking heeeeavy. We're talking lead weights at the bottom of the Thames. The NYC quartet are already becoming legends. They flaunt rock'n roll religions with the cynical mirth of antagonistic exorcists. People in the Sounds office hide under their desk when this record hits the turntable.
- SOUNDS 1984.

Their plunging into the depths of power and degradation is universal enough, but there's a black intensity to their sound. Theirs is a sound of the outer limits of violence turned inwards, to create an implosion that is a release, of sorts.
- NME 1984

Even slower and more crushing in the effect of its white-noise guitar, disturbing drum patterns and mesmeric tape loops. Likewise the subject matter - jobs, power, punishment, the police - is grotesquely inflated and then burst. It's the pus, blood, and shit of everyday life taken to the furthest extremes artistic license affords. Yet like all extremes, honesty is at its core.
- SOUNDS 1984.

This bonecrushing sound, played in a language of ugly bass frequencies and drum parts of iron purpose, takes rock's force further than it's ever been pile-driven before.
- NME 1984


Their message is that power of any kind ultimately brutalizes and dehumanizes those who wield it as well as those who submit to it. For some listeners, this one included, SWANS provide a bracing jolt that no other music can deliver.

No light is admitted. It grinds on harder and harder, every dribble of moisture wrung out. The rock stops here.

It's hard to imagine a less companionable record. The brutal guitars, cruel drums, relentless intimations of collapse are all too detailed, too insistently monolithic to be called simple noise. So what do you call it? Call it SWANS.

Expertly produced, the new SWANS 12" is stimulating, thought provoking, and most of all, troublesome. It leaves you hoping you'll never have to meet them in the flesh.


A deeply repulsive form of audio pornography.

People pay to watch M. Gira rant and slaver warm yellow strings of spittle onto his naked torso. Pay money.

Having existed on the fringe of the NY underground for five years, the SWANS are about as much fun as watching gangrene set in. But fun isn't exactly what SWANS are all about. Their music of cruelty is filled with silences as studied and meaningful as Japanese Noh theater, and their concentration, tension, and hypnotic repetition and haunting intensity redefine white noise: in the SWANS world it's black noise for gray matter, music that is genuinely physical and visceral, a ritual of pain that leaves one drained.

Oh...My...this isn't seduction, this is rape. Purveyors of the most physically intense music I have ever heard live, SWANS are an aural illusion of contrasts which simply shouldn't work. One of the all time loudest bands, their silences are perfect, and the slowest rock ever performed leaves one hyped-up to terminal speed freak levels. Quite extraordinary...So why did I, for one, walk out of the club, erection in hand, and no immediate home for it? The aphrodisiac lies somewhere in SWANS' chemistry of sheer brutal volume and crushing rhythm. And all one can do is stand agog and sway.
- SOUNDS 1986.

SWANS records are undeniably cathartic, and their live shows are even more so: when Gira is on his knees, writhing under white light, bellowing into his microphone that just moments ago he shoved down the back of his throat, there is something intense, hysterical, and kind of moving.
- THE BOB 1986.

This is pure Love. Something like pure War... the grind or the screw for the SWANS is the arena where brutality and humilation can be fantasized, perverted or simply fucked into oblivion. Pure, raw, energy, molding a new flesh around exposed nerves.
- NME 1986.

It's not real pretty, but it's sure as shit bigger than you.
- SPIN 1986.

The repetitiveness of their slow rhythms is one of the most effective music I have ever heard, even if it does become eventually intolerable.

This was some serious shit, and made the likes of Motorhead seem like pansies in comparison. Not 'cause it was extreme, but because it was so precisely drilled out. Jarboe's Mirage (sampler) keyboard chords were enough to shatter walls, yet they didn't crackle up into a mayhemic mess. Same for the more standard instrumentation, and most amazing of all, Gira's vocals stood right there on top, crystal clear, which seemed almost illegal or something. It might take me three years to fully come to grips with this one, really.


Time and time again, SWANS plunge purposefully into dense, dank, hypnotic pools of heated passion and frightful power. Once you cut through the squeamishness that this ensemble seems to engender in even the most hale-hearted, what SWANS are about is powerfully stated sound, powerful feeling, and power itself... If you can't make this music part of your life, then you ain't living.
- SPIN 1987.

And it's ugly, and it's difficult, and it's long and sometimes wearying, and peculiarly beautiful, and utterly essential.
- NME 1987.

A tremendously exciting maturation for one of America's most powerful musical forces.

A total and utter must. Children of God is one of the releases of the year, if not the latter part of the decade. A monster-piece. Obtain it at once.
- ROCKPOOL 1987.

On the opening cut of Holy Money, A Hanging, lifeless voices chant in harmony, raising specters of a slave gang in hell as vicious drumbeats and gongs sound like some monstrous taskmaster. Over it all lead singer M. Gira, singing so low and slowly he sounds like he's on the wrong speed, delivers such lyrics as "Dear God in heaven... I'll hang for you"...Few bands rival the SWANS when it comes to black humor...then again, some days you just have to get it out of your system.

Nobody, I mean nobody, writes lyrics like M. Gira. Almost always they are blunt statements written in a brutally frank and unadorned style. They delve into feelings and yearnings we all have but which we normally hide because they make us too queasy to acknowledge. They deal with the degrading aspects of power, domination, and submission and the horror of simply BEING. The words may look banal on paper, but when Gira sings them with a voice that could scare the holy excrement out of God, they become infernally powerful...He rarely leaves his NYC apartment, and says the worst thing about the city is that it "contains a large amount of people".
- CREEM 1987.

Like a sledgehammer to your solar plexus... Hell, you can even frug to this, if it doesn't kill you at first.
- SPIN 1987.


Faced with such a maelstrom of sound - never unregulated noise - the listener has few options. Dancing is impossible. Watching is mandatory as Michael, in varying states of undress, somersaults or shoves his bare buttocks into the front row - faces who lap up the absurdity of the spectacle. Alternately, one can stand rooted to the spot and be sucked into the communal exorcism SWANS now offer. A Church of the New Mind, with Gira singing like a hellfire preacher drinking gasoline and spitting brimstone, SWANS have placed rock and roll on the alter and sacrificed it to give birth to a unique musical vision and sensualist empire. Get down on your knees and pray with them. Immense.

Children of God works. As austere and solemn as a Bresson film, it's almost as potent. After showing us empty sex, a drowned lover, and a man holding a child while threatening to kill it while screaming "This is my only regret: that I ever was born" SWANS take us to heaven, which is just another word for death.

SWANS keep getting better. They might even surpass previous Godhead efforts.
- ROCKPOOL 1988.

A tremendous record...The group has grown several new colors on its tonal pallet and evince subtlety without giving up the erg of raw, rank, power...Once again the SWANS seem eager to wrap up another phase and blow open whole new doors of exploration...A couple of years ago I was dreading the potentially noxious results of each successive release - now I simply can't wait.

Intensity is perhaps an overused word in critics' circles, but there's no avoiding the term when it come to SWANS. This is one intense group. They're a lot more, too - sacrilegious, visceral, hypnotic, disturbing, entrancing, and in a sense, repellent. That is, their world view offers precious little hope. The fact that all these things come into play, though, makes you appreciate the SWANS experience. They play rock'n roll that's out on the ledge.

SWANS, the band Michael Gira has led since 1982, has entered its third phase. The early SWANS played fast, angular, post-punk; then the group shifted to slow lurching drones topped with discordant noise and lyrics about brutal conjunctions of sex and power, dominance and submission. The latest SWANS lineup kept the old power, but the guitar noise and dissonance were now gone - replaced by simple repeated chords and riffs, and there were gentle, folkish tunes featuring the band's new female singer Jarboe. While blood and death still show up in the SWANS lyrics, so does a new symbol of power: God.

Pretty, yes. Lightweight, no. Underlying all this are heavy omnipresent currents of power - more power than most bands will generate in a lifetime.


SWANS manage to sound as astonishing "soft" as they did "abrasive"...a fabulous and fantastic single that invites you to dream.

Dangerous and priceless, The Burning World flames from a tinder of crashing hearts, lost minds, and unexpected mercy...The inevitable tides of rhythm, the hypnotic drone of the voice, leave you with the marvelous and sick sensation that you are staring fascinated at a beautiful slice in your own wrist...only by passing through so many frames of darkness could SWANS approach pure light.
- SPIN 1989.

As befits a man who named his band after a shape of Zeus, Gira sees his dark world in sweepingly poetic terms, by turns mythic, Biblical, and Shakespearean. Gira's intensity is more believable in his live glowering presence - but at its best The Burning World approaches a haunting clarity equal to the band's epic vision. - THE WASHINGTON POST 1989.

Whereas once SWANS were merciless in their aggression, beating the body with the loudest slabs of squall extant, the band - which has been revamped - are now wholly mesmeric...Bare footed and bathed in sweat, Michael Gira swaps vocals with Jarboe, the latter a kaleidoscope of loose silks, and it's swiftly clear that confidence has replaced the old arrogance...They have played themselves out of the corner of noise-works and into a terrain of subtle mood swings. Exit an iron fist in the face enter a caress. The audience loves SWANS. Unbelievable.

The Burning World is disarming in its depth and trance-like musical power, a startlingly honest record.

Their ticket out of the noise jungle they themselves created...Genuinely new and exciting.


In a sense White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity is easy listening, and that's because it's such a pleasure to get lost in its bruised but blissful panorama. Intensity like a shower of colors all raining in your face...Infinity beckons...It's fucking magnificent and anyone who chooses to mock the ambition and / or deny the result is clearly possessed of sensibilities more commonly associated with single-celled pond life.

Too sedate and even pretty for their early noise-and-bludgeon fans, and too stately and bleak for pop fans, SWANS secret weapon is Jarboe, whose presence has brought the group a marked melodic pull that has made the music satisfying.
- OPTION 1991.

The SWANS have never flown to the beat of other drummers. What makes them truly unique is their use of anger or ego couched in lullaby melodies and drifting revels. There is a sense of decay on this record that surpasses all previous efforts, a feeling that something is not quite right in the world. Where bliss gives ground to demons, where the sublime becomes the horrific, where earth and death meet in pitched combat.
- ROCKPOOL 1991.

Making maybe the most powerful music of any grim-reaper dirge-rock outfit in this city or any other, gloomy and noisy in its early years, SWANS have evolved by stripping it down to an intensely focused funereal mantra, anthemic and operatic, the logical successor to other great bands like the Velvets and Television. Records like Children of God, The Burning World, and White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity contain some of the most fiercely bleak rock elegies anyone ever opened a vein to. When the apocalypse comes, it'll most likely come to NYC first , like everything else, and SWANS will be here playing the theme music.

It's no coincidence that SWANS made big noise throughout the '80s, their huge venomous slabs of muscle-music chronicling the Greed, Filth, Holy Money that made the Burning World run. The SWANS didn't roll over and play pop, take the money and fly, or allow their all-too-brief flirt with the Big Boys to sour them into oblivion, and it's a testament to the strength and steadfastness of the unit, and most particularly, to the sound-merchant behind it all.
- REFLEX 1991.

"White Light..." doesn't make any concessions to appeal to previous noise days. There is that concern for song structure as well as sound structure. There is an emphasis on emotion that straddles the line between aching and saccharine, fear and bombast, complacency versus insecurity. "White Light" features the kind of warmth reserved for embracing the thing that is most dangerous to the individual. Long hard stares just don't come any more alluring.

Expansion of an originally raw hard rock sound is something that's worked to the real benefit of such bands as Sonic Youth and Social Distortion. Like them, the SWANS are proving that moving forward doesn't always mean surrendering your individuality and purpose.
- CREEM 1991.

It's still Michael Gira's obsessive show, as his search for heaven and hell - in both mind and body - continues on its fascinating, sometimes harrowing way.

Here's Michael Gira and Jarboe totally at ease with melodic consonance at last. SWANS now play a very emotion-laden, symphonically thick and sacredotally toned stuff. It's honestly majestic and very moving indeed.
- YOUR FLESH 1991.

It's hard to remain objective when faced with the beautiful noise of paradise burning, worlds collapsing, memory failing, numbness setting in...White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity is simply the most accomplished, melodic, and aesthetically pleasing collection of songs this NYC-spawned arthouse hardcore troupe have yet produced.
- NME 1991.


They chime, they drone, they dazzle, they daze. And the force of their depth charge bass lines makes you think dinosaurs might still be walking the earth...They set their controls for the heart of the sun...Grace mixing with danger, a heady swirl that is also physically intense, an abstruse sense of physical cleansing and catharsis.

For once Gira doesn't create a thing of beauty in order to destroy it. He just allows the thing to blossom and fills it with joy, a rare and splendid pleasure Love of Life is all-embracing, a triumph of perseverance and ingenuity.

SWANS have never been more powerful or more beautiful. Agreed, they don't deliver the voyeuristic thrill they once did when Gira thought he was Christ (or at least gave us a convincing impression he was thinking so) and was obsessed with themes of domination and abject submission. But even without the apparent extremism he is as compelling as ever, probably more so...There's something larger than life, louder than love, about SWANS. And when Gira comes out alone to sing Failure you want to scream out "You're not a failure, you're Goddamned Prometheus!", or something.

Love of Life is the first SWANS album to resolve the band's urge for a larger audience with its knack for creating music that loves getting on peoples' nerves...SWANS will trounce their demons and forever dance in a flickering spot of neon light.
- SPIN 1992.

Love of Life, a highly disciplined new work from the SWANS, is stunning, a deep and resounding soundscape which cannot be ignored.

This is SWANS best album, tightly woven with strands that are both seductive and disturbing. Given its emotional clout, the noise terrorism tactics of yore seem clumsy by comparison.
- SELECT 1992.

The SWANS have followed up last years' White Light with an equally disturbing, haunting, revelated glimpse into the post-modern world of society gone mad, emotions entombed, and hope and faith, elevated to new, precarious levels. A dark gem.
- ROCKPOOL 1992.

Pounding drums, crashing cadences, and slowly shifting melodic patterns are lusciously orchestrated into hymns of despair, loss, love, and other eternal questions that Gira will probably never come close to answering but few others choose to ponder with such hard-headed dedication...Mad Michael's on our side at last.
- NME 1992.

Forging through a decade of change and discoveries, SWANS converge upon a crossroads of tangible sensations and mystic dreams. Michael Gira and Jarboe, along with old and new collaborators, create layer upon layer of depth, yet free themselves from the weight of previous releases, pulling you into bliss among the rocks.
- CMJ 1992.

The SWANS have been around for ten years - a lifetime in the world of "Alternative" music - and in that time they have kept several giant leaps ahead of others, and themselves, for that matter, and have avoided stagnation and sameness Step One: Relax. Step Two: Listen to Love of Life all the way through at least twice. Step Three: Be amazed.
- THE ROCKET 1992.