Swans - Filth
Labour Records
Industrial, Noise Rock
9 songs (36:50)
Release year: 1983
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Legendary yet underappreciated, New York's Swans arose from Post-Punk beginnings to become one of the most ugly and abrasive bands of the 80s, before radically changing their sound with the addition of female vocalist par excellence Jarboe and becoming the opposite, creators of beautiful soundscapes which touched on everything but were very much a part of that strange genre, Americana. Their influence on Metal simply cannot be overstated - their early material especially being the missing link between Killing Joke and Godflesh, and even today, over twenty-five years later, the sheer heaviness and abrasiveness of debut full-length Filth is remarkable. It's driven by twice the usual rhythm section, dual percussionists pounding out slow, intense rhythms like Einst├╝rzende Neubauten distilled to their base elements, whilst vocalist/bassist Michael Gira and Harry Crosby provide a dull clunk and hum - above this, Norman Westberg's single guitar grinds slowly, and Gira's harsh vocals call out a ferocious attack. It sounds complex and enticing, and indeed on a musical level it is, but in practise Filth is stripped down, raw, and angry.

Few can listen to this and come away happy - it's miserable music, a vital element in the messy birth of Funeral Doom, and indeed it can be difficult to sit through the entire duration of Filth for this relentless, almost disturbing bleakness. There aren't noticeable differences between tracks, for the first few listens at least, and it is the complete opposite of easy-listening - moments like the deceptively-titled Thank You seem as much like an engine idling as music in the generally accepted sense. Yet stick with it, persist in the face of unfriendliness, and the deeper you wade into Filth the clearer it becomes, the more sense it makes. The clanging and groans seem less like the random whining of musicians with time on their hands, and more like the aural painting of an extremely clever modern artist, scoring a collapse into madness with the sounds of a construction yard eerily come to life.

Of course, you have to remember not to enjoy Filth if you can help it - around the time of the album's release, Gira attacked a fan at a live show for apparently 'getting into it too much'. I do enjoy it at times, however, the barely-restrained rage of opener Stay Here having a peculiar groove and rhythm that makes for interesting listening. Anyone who has ever enjoyed the odd bit of Post-Punk will certainly recognise it in the likes of Big Strong Boss (the sudden ending to that track especially strange) and Godflesh fans will find Blackout quite familiar. Heck, become engrossed enough and Power For Power will sound catchy and practically danceable, even if it is the slow, jerking dance of a man choking his last at the end of a hangman's rope.

A few years before Napalm Death defined the human condition at its darkest with blasts of speed, Swans did it with slow, deranged, grinding slabs of sound - rock taken and twisted into a mutant bastard offspring of itself. The brief, insane interlude Freak sums it up best, bass twangs and spat out vocals summing Filth's raison d'etre up in a minute's hateful bile. Much like the band, their music seems destined to cower in the corner, away from the light of the mainstream, waiting to be discovered by those few in search of terrifying ugliness for its own sake, and it's partly that which makes Filth so powerful and moving years later. Many consider this a classic - it's a relief to stop listening to it, frankly, although anyone with an interest in the roots of modern extreme metal should worship at the Swans' perverse altar regularly.

Killing Songs :
Stay Here, Power For Power, Freak, Right Wrong
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Swans that we have reviewed:
Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
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