Awesome beauty and power
Pieter | Johannesburg | 06/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Swans entered the 1990s with this great work after they had emerged nearly a decade earlier from the New York No Wave that also spawned Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch. Their initial brutal assault of industrial hardcore gave way to a subtle & melodic sound that was still & perhaps even more chilling - like those of the luring Greek sirens - on albums like the atmospheric Children Of God (1987) and the lilting splendor of The Burning World (1989).
They would eventually enrich the decade with rock masterpieces like Love of Life & The Great Annihilator plus the atmospheric, electronic drone experiment Soundtracks for the Blind. On White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity the music had changed again, but not the obsessions of Michael Gira and Jarboe. White Light is an exploration of anguish and redemption in searing laments of somber beauty.
Jarboe's two songs When She Breathes and Song For Dead Time are balanced by Gira's aching drawl on masterpieces like Miracle Of Love and The Most Unfortunate Lie. This majestic orchestral piece of doom-laden remorse with its swirling instrumental textures incorporates children's voices that contrast in a most eerie way with Gira's basso profundo. A similar ineffable effect is created by children's voices in a few rare moments in the film Badlands, although I do not think it appears on the soundtrack album. I remember it also from one particularly spooky scene in the Italian movie Deep Red (Profondo Rosso).
Utter resignation, the triumph of determinism and the futility of resistance are poignantly expressed in lyrics like: "Someone was here before me and they took the possibility away/And without any control or freedom the elements were laid down in this way/So my mind is slowly devoured by the ideas to which it subscribes/And in the end I'm left with nothing but believing the memory of my own lies." Please be aware: the version of Most Unfortunate Lie on Various Failures 1988-1992 is a much abbreviated, semi-instrumental mix that cannot compare with the grandeur of this one.
Elsewhere, Jarboe's inherently spiritual vocals frame Gira's world-weary croak like the silver lining of a dark, disturbing painting. Yes, that's it! The Scream by Edvard Munch in a gilded frame. Perfectly arranged, You Know Nothing is a particularly striking blend of powerful guitar and male vocals transformed by softer segments of Jarboe's dreamy, other-worldly vocals. Expansive melodies created by swirling keyboards & haunting humming are enlivened by layered guitars and flowing rhythms on the aforementioned and on Will We Survive? These rub shoulders with rougher material in the form of the harrowing Failure with Michael on lead vocal and the torrential guitar attack of Power And Sacrifice.
White Light is a gothic cathedral of awesome beauty. Together with The Burning World, Love of Life & Ten Songs for Another World by World of Skin, it contributed the bulk of the material to the compilation Various Failures 1988 - 1992. Those with whom White Light resonates will also appreciate Jarboe's album A Mystery of Faith and the work of Gira's post-Swans band Angels of Light, especially New Mother, How I Loved You and We Are Him.