Swans and the Nihilism of Our Age


“She’s just a drug addiction,

and a self-reflecting image of a narcotized mind.” –Swans- Celebrity Lifestyle

No other band, in my opinion, captures the essence of our times better than Swans. We live in an age where the divine has been thrown away, where moral standards are slipping quickly, and while on the whole we are wealthy, general unhappiness and depression seem to be on the rise. Nothing is elevated, nothing is sacred.

Worship of celebrity has replaced worship of the divine. A blind belief in complete freedom has replaced the belief that complete freedom might be an unhealthy thing indeed. Most people need some order, some guidance, direction and something higher to place trust in and take comfort from.

Swans seem to me to capture this perfectly, particularly in their early music. The narrators in their early songs are pathetic, perverse, lonely, self-loathing people who are searching for something higher, be it God, money or a dominant leader-figure.

“Open your mouth,

here’s your money.

Open your mouth,

this feels good.

Here is your money,

this is love.

Open your mouth,

here is your money.

Holy money, holy love.

Holy money, holy love.” –Swans-A Screw (Holy Money)

The music on these early albums (Filth, Cop, Greed and Holy Money) is an abrasive mix of thunderous drums, roaring bass and screeching guitars that bring to mind factory machinery. It might not be an enjoyable listen to most people, but it certainly is effective at conveying decay and a desolate, hollow existence where only vices bring respite.

“I need alcohol to open my blood.

I need alcohol because it opens my head.

I need alcohol.

I need alcohol.” –Swans- Alcohol the Seed

The sickness that causes the “death of The West” is not primarily outwardly imposed upon us. Our apathy, our indifference, our general, widespread nihilism is the primary problem; without it our problems could more easily be identified, and I belive, overcome. Swans’ music from this period (the 1980’s) is so compelling to me because it wallows in this mindset, the everyday nihilism, completely.


Michael Gira, Swans’ frontman and chief songwriter, has since the band’s reformation in 2010 (Swans was inactive, or dead as it were, between 1997 and 2010), given it a more overt religious, or perhaps more accurately, spiritual bent. The focus of the lyrics are now more directed towards something divine, and frequently addressed to God or written from the point of view of a divine entity; which certainly is fitting given the sheer power of the music.

I intend to cover this, and their live performances, in a seperate, upcoming article.

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