Only band leader and vocalist Michael Gira and drummer Jonathan Kane remained from the original lineup. This is the first Swans release to feature the experimental and noisy playing style that the band's early work would become known for. The album's distinct sound is partly the product of a new lineup featuring two drummers (Roli Mosimann and Kane). It also marks the first appearance of future Swans regular Norman Westberg.
In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau found the album "fun" and described its music as "no wave with five years of practice, too messy for mysticism and too funny for suicide." In their retrospective review, AllMusic's Ned Raggett wrote, "early Swans really is like little else on the planet before or since."Piero Scaruffi described the album as "the ideal soundtrack for mass suicides or nuclear holocausts. Gira's agonizing roars echoed against a wall of sound as brutal as hardcore, as depressed as Joy Division, as strident as industrial music, as distorted as psychedelic rock, as loud as heavy metal."