SWANS — Cop (review)

SWANS — Cop album cover Album · 1984 · Metal Related Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
While many will claim that the 80s were one of the worst decades for music but i must disagree wholeheartedly since some of the most original thinking musical entities emerged from this period. On the aggressive side of the musical equation, the punk and metal that had been gaining steam in the late 70s and early 80s really took off during this period. While punk and post-punk had splintered into a gazillion subgenera, metal on the other hand was only starting to see the potential of different styles emerging from the hard rock that had developed it a decade before. Out of all this craziness came SWANS whose unique style to this day is unclassifiable as they exist in their own musical universe but was even more the case in their beginning days. This NYC band led by Michael Gira existed in a strange gray area between punk and metal although they were technically part of the short-lived no wave noise rock movement.

Their debut album “Filth” set the tone for their abrasive unrelenting assault on melody with undulating waves of distorted noise grinding in a jarring rhythmical fashion like a thousand jackhammers pounding the city streets in unison and only slightly deviating from each other until a true cacophonous din results. On their second album COP, the band of four continues this aggressive assault and takes it even further with even heavier bombastic drum and bass beats accompanied by screeching downtuned and dissonant guitar riffs along with Gira’s tortured soul vocalizations that preceded the world of black and death metal by several years. It’s no wonder that early SWANS have been cited as one of the major influences for the heavy down and dirty approach of sludge metal because the thick guitar riffs that buzz to infinity create one of the loudest albums of the early 80s as if the band recorded this in a deep industrial bunker in the darkest recesses of the cockroach filled underbellies of a post-apocalyptic world.

While many comparisons have been made with doom metal and i can honestly see those connections, i find COP is more of a unique fusion of snarling punk attitudinal posturing with heavily cranked up adrenaline inducing distortion from the guitar and bass akin to the early extreme metal of Venom and Hellhammer with a bombastic drone-like march of a souless percussive drive that hypnotizes by sheer brutal force. Part of the allure is the ambiguousness of the subject matter at hand with lyrics flirting with scenes of sexual domination in unseen corners in dimly lit dungeons. The tempo on COP is much slower than “Filth” which adds a sense of valium laden dread to the abrasiveness of the fuzzed out guitar tones grinding the eardrums into audio submission like the morbidly obese woman on the cover depicts in utter despair. COP took the art of ugliness to perfect heights as the holy trinity of audio, visual and emotional impact impaled the listener from all angles.

COP is almost universally deemed SWANS’ most brutal album and i doubt anyone could disagree once encountering this seductively repulsive sonic terror. If the guitar dissonance and vocal anguish wasn’t enough, the drum and bass experience a hypnotic repertoire that is jagged with off-kilter time signatures that succeed in disrupting melodic flow in every way possible. Both “Filth” and “Cop” as well as the two EPs of the same era are cited as a major influence on bands like Godflesh, The Young Gods and the 90s sludge gods Neurosis with an almost tribal rhythmic drive gone horribly wrong into arhythmic sado-masochistic sonic torture sessions. This is not one for the faint-hearted by any means. After this album, Gira would incorporate the feminine charm of Jarboe to the band’s sound which would change the band’s style and sound drastically. However on COP, these guys pumped out one of the most monstrous and tenebrous death marches of all the early 80s. While bleak, this stuff is morbidly beautiful in its own way as it creates its own musical lexicon.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
1 year ago
Not everything could be as OMG wonderful as this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NW7VnHnX3LQ

Vim Fuego wrote:
1 year ago
The 80s were a mix of awful crap, one hit wonders who shouldn't have even got that far, and some blossoming new genres. Of course, I didn't hear any of the new stuff til years later.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
1 year ago
You have to remember that some people who lived through the 80s had to endure a lot of inferior crap and even in the metal world, glam metal left a bad taste in many people's mouths. Many of the bands we love today were virtually unknown back then. Same goes for every decade. We're kind of spoiled now that we can sift through every possible thing a decade had to offer without censorship by the TV police. I don't have a favorite decade. They're all really interesting in different ways
Unitron wrote:
1 year ago
I forgot, Swans is also on ProgArchives so that makes sense as I'm sure you posted this review on there also. While I get that there was a lot of cheesy stuff to make fun of with New Wave, but for every Culture Club you have really good stuff like Talking Heads, Blondie, and Cybotron.

I can never decide which decade I think was better, the 80's or the 90's. I'd say those are the two best decades, for metal at least.

siLLy puPPy wrote:
1 year ago
Butthurt prog fans say that :P
That comment was directed at them specifically but anyone who beats up on new wave, synthpop or 80s cheese in general have also said that. Of course for metalheads like us, it was a golden age :)

Unitron wrote:
1 year ago
"While many will claim that the 80s were one of the worst decades for music..."

Who besides butthurt prog fans have ever said that? I don't think I've seen that said by anyone else.

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