By 1986/7 Swans had run its course with the physical assault of sound that we had employed previously for the most part. I wanted to move on to other things and didn’t want to get stuck in some style, which in our case had the potential of becoming cartoonish if we’d continued in that direction. So I pushed the music into unfamiliar territory. We spent 6 weeks in an old isolated medieval sawmill in Cornwall England “experimenting” and hashing things out. Even though there was the inevitable tension between myself and the musicians at that time, I remember that episode fondly and miss everyone involved…sigh. Everyone did a great job musically, as well as imbibing with enthusiasm the local brews and eating huge amounts of free food. Jarboe came more to the fore as a presence too. The line up of Gira / Kizys / Westberg / Jarboe / Parsons was a really good version of the band - one of the best live versions of Swans ever – actually much more intense and visceral in performance than in the nuanced takes of the songs on these recordings. Lyrically, I’d always seized on abstract subjects like money/power/sex/work, etc., and I was watching a lot of Jimmy Swaggart on TV (the televangelist), and I thought he was a great rock performer, so I stole his thunder as best I could. I didn’t want to mock the religious impulse, which would have been a typical thing to do at the time, but instead to get inside it. Everyone wants to lose themselves in something bigger than they are. I don’t know if this is a bad thing or a good thing. Anyway, Children Of God was a major turning point for Swans and the musical tendencies that are first engendered here were fertile ground for the remaining future records. Around the same time Jarboe and I did 2 records under the name World Of Skin. Some of it’s good, some of it isn’t (my opinion) and a large assortment of that material is included here as a second disc, for historical purposes. If you’re interested, there’s a live Swans album from the time that ain’t so bad. YGR doesn’t release it but you can find it here: www.atavistic.com
…. - Michael Gira/Young God Records 2008
Remastered and edited from original releases to essential tracks, combined with World of Skin.
1/1/1990 | Alternative Press
From the 100 best records of the decade
SWANS Children Of God (1987)
By C. Elliot
Pat Robertson's bid for the presidency, the oxymoronic Moral Majority, Bakker's fall from grace: These events were met in a head-on collision with Swans' perfect blend of sound and themes, their musical brawn contrasting with Jarboe's soft passionate blasphemy. "We are Special. We are perfect. We are born in the sight of god" she sings on the last title track, opting for the best salvation money can buy, the promise of expired suffering, But not before Gira's condemnation of every last one of us, "The sex in your soul will damn you to hell," he bellows on the opener, "New Mind." He's ready to make us receive the new mind, be brainwashed, do whatever it takes in light of this damnation, and so the album coalesces in a series of never relenting haunts. Early records were made of the shock of crunch and grind alone; on Children of God, oboe, piano, flute, harmonica, and cello are incorporated as each song alternates between hellish hopelessness and quiet mourning.
Religion comes equipped with a trail of blood and unthinkable sin. Ultimately, cowering in the darkest corners leads one to search for the light. There's blood on all our hands. For Swans, love is a drug, work a humiliation, and mortality a cruel joke. What we do to convince ourselves otherwise can't compete with this record, and it's still downright scary, and beautiful, to hear.
ALL MUSIC GUIDE REVIEW
Review by Ned Raggett
Kicking off with "New Mind" -- which, while having the same general pace of most earlier Swans songs, also sounds distinctly different with its clearer, inventive arrangement, call-and-response vocals, and Gira's declamatory but not screamed lead vocal -- Children of God finds the band making their own particular great leap forward. The simmering changes that were apparent in the albums just before this one's release fully come to the fore, as Swans take the courage to explore both their huge-sounding, bombastic side and gentle, if often still disturbing, delicacy (due credit especially to Westberg, Kizys, and Parsons, possibly the best musical lineup Swans ever had until the final years). The results are fascinating, ranging from the spare piano melting into ambient feedback of "In My Garden" and the twisted gospel blues of "Our Love Lies" to the acoustic guitar and organ on "You're Not Real, Girl" and the raging pounder "Beautiful Child." Equally importantly, if not more so, Jarboe now assumes a full role with Gira as co-leader of the band; while all lyrics are still Gira's, the two share lead vocal duties (though aside from the title track, no duets) throughout the album. The weary, evocative croon which Gira developed into his major vocal trademark here emerges to full effect (though he can still roar with the best of them at points) while Jarboe's cool, rich tones are simply astounding, as evidenced on an even more compelling version of "Blackmail," originally from the A Screw EP. Though Children is dedicated without any apparent irony to Jesus Christ, Gira's words remain as irreverent, challenging, and obsessed with overarching issues of religion, power, sex, love, and control as before, but with an ever-increasing depth and beauty to match the lusher musical textures. With flute, oboe, and strings adding further texturing to the often quite lovely songs created by the band, Children remains perhaps the key album of Swans' career -- the clear signpost towards their ever-more ambitious albums in the future.
12/1/1988 | Forced Exposure
Swans | Children of God | Review
Once again the Swans seem eager to wrap up another phase and blow open whole new doors of exploration. Putting the stupifyingly great Skin records into proper context, Children of God sprawls all over the current Swans vortex; higher key swoon, straightish power-chord moves, mystic spirituality. That last part is not the easiest thing to come to terms with; I'm not gonna sit here and try to tell what it's all suppose to signify, but it's not surprising if you've been following the last coupla releases, and more importantly, in their context. It somehow doesn't really bother me. A coupla years ago I was dreading the potentially noxious results of each successive Gira & Co. move. Now I simply can't wait. - JJ
7/18/2003 | pitchforkmedia.com
| Brandon Stosuy
Swans | Children of God / World of Skin | Review
love, human frailty, and the midnight beauty of black orchids
As a college radio DJ in the mid-90s, I once played "God Damn the Sun"-- the coda from 1988's The Burning World -- for over an hour on repeat. Every time the song faded, I placed the needle back in the starting groove and waited for the tentative drones to begin again. The Swans' bleak eulogizing mixed perfectly with the snow outside the station window, and I imagined passers-by who could hear were realizing we'd found the proper soundtrack to wait out the winter, literally and figuratively: "When, when we were young/ We had no history/ So nothing to lose/ Meant we could choose/ Choose what we wanted then/ Without any fear/ Or thought of revenge/ But then you grew old/ And I lost my ambition." In actuality it's a more temperate song, set to the dusty alcoholism of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano , and the snow...I was just being dramatic. But Swans-- for all their bombast-- avoided succumbing to the same high-school theatrics during their band's fifteen year existence, contrary to what you might have been told.
Formed in 1982 and fronted by vocalist and guitarist Michael Gira (currently busying himself with Angels of Light and Young God Records), Swans included a revolving cast of unrelentingly deft and like-minded downtown players, most significantly vocalist/keyboardist Jarboe, who's pitch-clear voice contrasted diabolically with Gira's deeper-than-hell bellow. Perhaps because of his fire and brimstone intonation-- which makes Ian Curtis sound like a pistol-whipped soprano-- Swans were often pigeonholed as a too-dark, almost laughable gothic experiment. The assessment is reductive and tone-deaf: at their best, Swans seamlessly layered no-wave and heavyweight industrial pounding with streams of erudite Middle-Eastern drones, drop tuning, monolithic sheets of noise, harrowing, force-fed dynamics, and gorgeously lilting strings and acoustic guitars. Add to this adventurousness Gira's dark tales of warped love, lusty damnation, torturous addiction, and soul-sickened existentialism and you've got yourself one of the more interesting musical takes on the underbelly of human nature to crop up in the last two decades.
Most of the band's work went rapidly out of print, but Gira has graciously remastered and reissued much of it on Young God. The blistering Children of God , for example, was originally released in 1987 and reissued ten years later as a double CD with World of Skin , a compilation of tracks from Skin, a Gira/Jarboe collaboration focused more on Jarboe's ethereality. World of Skin compiles Blood, Women, Roses (1987) and Shame, Humility, Revenge (1988), albums from the same time period as Children of God (1987).
Children of God , one of the band's strongest releases, established Gira as an Old Testament tyrant obsessed with the nature of love, human frailty, and the midnight beauty of black orchids. Much of Swans' earliest work on Filth and Young God found the band fixating on single beats in a brutally sweeping, industrial cacophony, in many ways the realization of the theories of the Futurists. Later, with the addition of Jarboe, Gira brought more varied sounds into the mix, melding hooks and spatial variation to the unwavering rhythms. Children of God stands as a solid example of this transition: the maniacally heavy drone of the album's opener, "New Mind" gives way to the fragility of Jarboe's "In My Garden". This is one of a dozen wonderful juxtapositions here; in its expansiveness, Children of God brings to mind disparate touchstones: Joy Division's factory-worker melancholy, more elaborately atmospheric Black Metal bands like Emperor who deal in swirling beauty and intensity, Big Black for pure aggression, and old-time softness of traditional folk.
On Children of God , Gira's brief lyrical declarations have also begun to evolve into a larger sense of storytelling (he in fact published a hypnotic collection of Gothic short tales, The Consumer , on Henry Rollins' imprint 2.13.61 in 1996). On later recordings like The Burning World (1988), the details of the prose equaled the atmosphere evoked within the music.
World of Skin is less accomplished, its quiet introspection lacks the maniacal propulsiveness of Swans. On the plus side, tracks like "Breathing Water" and "One Small Sacrifice" anticipate Gira's later work with Angels of Light, albeit in a more skeletal, funereal form. Here, though, Jarboe's vocalizing often errs on the side of the new age: her interpretation of "Cry Me a River" is static (to be fair, Gira's remake of "I Want To Be Your Dog" is equally ho-hum) and "We'll Fall Apart" sounds like the precursor to some hopelessly lightweight Sarah McLaughlin's malaise. On the other hand, "Blood on Your Hands" is a lovely dark-night spiritual harmonized by Jarboe and other singers. This track also shows up on The Swans Are Dead , a mind-blowing documentation of their final world tours of 1995 and 1997. Live, it grows into a sinister solo alto with a slight drone humming and other ambient noise in the background.
Despite the misfires on World of Skin , to experience these carefully paired documents as a singularity is an intense study in contrasts and linkages as well as a compelling look at a particularly fruitful moment in the development of one of America's more ecstatically uncompromising, idiosyncratic, and sadly overlooked composers.