This album is actually really good in a lot of ways. Too much reverb here and there, but not as intrusive as some other Swans releases (I used to be infatuated with Phil Spector and naively figured that adding reverb could get the same effect). Anyway, I think this album holds together well. It was a complete nightmare to make (but then, all the Swans albums were!).I lived in a tent in a mosquito infested studio right next to Cabrini Green in Chicago for what (?) something like 3 months, rarely leaving. Band members and Jarboe and Bill Rieflin etc came and went, and somehow we crafted this thing into what it became. I can still listen to most of this sometimes, so that counts for something. There's some reviews below if that's any help to you - Michael Gira/Young God Records 2008
The San Francisco Bay Guardian
Jan. 25-31, 1995
by Neva Chonin
The Swans are a study in metamorphoses. In 1983, when Melody Maker magazine dubbed the NYC noise mavens "a deeply repulsive form of audio pornography," it was more a compliment than a slam. Cacophonous, confrontational, and unrelentingly loud, the band used vocal rants and bone-crunching distortion to achieve unparalleled levels of sonic pain.
Then, around '87 or so, rock's ugliest ducking found its inner Swan and blossomed into a vehicle for sweeping, complex arrangements of keyboards, strings and evocative sound effects. Vocalist Michael Gira traded his guttural growl for the croon of a balladeer, and the latter-day Swans were born.
Their 12th album, The Great Annihilator, is a majestic symphony of haunting melodies and shifting moods. Spirituality - or rather the absence of it - provides the linking motif. With a kinetic industrial goose step, "She Lives!" plays with chanted images of madness and martyrdom, while the jagged coda of "Celebrity Lifestyle" lays the groundwork for a cutting look at material dreams: "She's just a drug addiction/ And a self-reflecting image of a narcoticized mind." "Warm" forms the album's thematic center, overflowing with ethereal vocal loops and drums that patter like raindrops accross the lyrical landscape. On "Mother/Father" and the mantric "My Buried Child," vocalist Jarboe outdoes herself with a spectrum of darkly distinctive voices.
Taken on its own, this album is a vivid example of how to combine the dissonant with the dulcet while retaining a dangerous edge. Viewed in the context of the Swans' 12-year journey from audio pornography to majestic romanticism, The Great Annihilator serves as an epic apotheosis.
1/1/1995 | Puncture | Paula Keyth
Swans | The Great Annihilator | Review
The Great Annihilator is another sweeping rock opera.
This is the eighteenth Swans record released since 1982's Filth set a precedent for painful soul-searching dirge. Their first new release in three years, it combines the hard-hitting percussion of the earlier albums with the prettier, ballad-heavy later songs.
The Great Annihilator is another sweeping rock opera. Songs are accented with samples and eerie keyboards, supported with powerful drumming by Ministry's Bill Rieflin and other guests. Snippets of horror-movie soundtrack back Michael Gira's low thorazine crooning. The music is tightly orchestrated, with dynamics added by rhythmically chugging acoustic guitars and keyboards sounding at times like the stringboards of a broken piano, or a demented new-age synthesizer.
Gira, a lugubrious songwriter on a par with Ian Curtis, has a way of hitting the lyrical nail on the head with one deft slam of his hammer. When he says "I love everyone," we know exactly what he means (he doesn't). His words are disturbed expulsions of fear and anger that take on a sarcastic, bitter tone, as in the opening lines of "She Lives!": "Now I just want to thank you for going insane; every second that you suffer is a loss that I gain." Gira bellows from deep inside his thin frame, his delivery calling up a crooning, Sinatra-esque character—perhaps a bit more monotone: a calm, mellow front masking something ugly and forbidden.
Jarboe's singing styles vary from childlike voices to climbing choral backups sung with space-odyssey breathlessness. The outstanding song here, "Mother Father," with Jarboe leading, is belted out with delightful viciousness. "Buried Child" uses whispers to call up a Macbeth-like witches' spell. Certain songs suggest the funereal, march-like beating of a drum on a slave ship. The Swans are a dark band, often criticized for their solemnity. The lyrics' visceral, graphic quality is not for the faint-hearted, nor is the music. But given the right mood, this record is uplifting, hypnotic: "dissolve your body today, there is no in- or outside." Float on, SWANS.
1/1/1995 | Option Magazine | Lang Thompson
Swans | The Great Annihilator | Review
This music is both grandiose and meticulously detailed.
For nearly two decades, Swans have pursued their own vision despite fickle fans who don't want them to change, critics who don't really listen and several indifferent record labels. But they have faith in the compelling power of their work, and remain undaunted by trends and pointless expectations. The group's newest album, The Great Annihilator, as always, demands an open ear. Put too much faith in the printed word and you might think the lyrics excessively weighty. You might wish the beat was less static, that the vocals were more varied, that the mood a bit more optimistic. Which only means you'd be happier with the Go-Go's. This music is both grandiose and meticulously detailed; rather than pop's recklessly forward momentum and instant gratification, Swans write pensive songs with unflinching but subtle humor. They layer sounds rather than put the melodies up front, giving lines of chiming guitars as much weight as the trance-like drumming or the direct vocals. The cumulative result is beguiling and moving. "She Lives!" is a series of moody, minor-key tumbles between sparse piano chords, distorted guitar riffs and Michael Gira's tense vocals. "Mother/Father" could almost be an offbeat club hit with it's danceable (but eccentric) rhythm, Jarboe's weaving vocals (and screams) and the sheer sonic splendor of massed guitars. Though destiny to be as underrated as other Swans' albums, The Great Annihilator is compelling, thoughtful music and a good way to enter the Swans' unique world.
7/28/1995 | Washington Post | Mark Jenkins
Swans | The Great Annihilator | Review
The best songs here manage to transcend trendiness
(Special to the Washington Post)
On their earliest albums, Swans made brutally basic proto-industrial music. The band gradually mellowed, however, incorporating acoustic guitars, female vocals and Eastern melodies into a style that led to an alliance with a major label. The relationship didn't last long, but the group (long based in New York but now resident in rural Georgia) hasn't entirely abandoned its sound from that period. Its latest album, "The Great Annihilator," successfully incorporates aspects of both eras.
By now, combining a sinuous crypto-Islamic vocal with a fierce beat is not a novel idea. Still, Swans meld the two with more potency than most; such songs as "Celebrity Lifestyle" and "Mother/Father" (the two "Annihilator" tracks recycled on a new three-song CD) are both ethereal and earthy. Indeed, the best songs here manage to transcend trendiness. By contrasting floating melodies with thumping beats—and M. Gira's bass vocals with Jarboe's soprano—Swans crafts music of such incantatory power that lyrics about the "place in space where violence and love collide" don't seem overreaching.
Swans are an experimental rock band formed in 1982 by Michael Gira. Initially part of the no wave scene, Swans have, through various iterations, contributed to the development of noise rock, post-punk, industrial, post-rock and more.