New York based band with their first record release in 1982. "Broke up" in 1997. Started out as very dark and brutal, but mellowed out somewhat towards the last releases. The lineup varied over time but lead singer/guitarist/frontman Michael Gira has been in the band from start to end. Two other members Jarboe (vocals and keyboards) and Norman Westberg appear on a majority of the albums. Other notable members include Roli Mosimann (drums and percussion), Algis Kizys (bass) and Theodore Parsons (drums and percussion). Bill Laswell, Anton Fier, Bill Rieflin, Martin Atkins and Nicky Skopelitis have also played on Swans albums and that might help place Swans on the map if you haven't heard them.
The early releases (e.g. Filth, Cop, Greed), are aggressive, distorted, dissonant, and bleak to the point where it is almost a physical experience listening to them (recommended in small doses). The album Children of God (1987) marked the first step towards a slightly more accessible and melodic sound. Not that it isn't brutal and aggressive in parts (e.g. "Beautiful Child","New Mind"), but some of the tracks are outright beautiful.
The next album, The Burning World, continued on that path and the distortion was turned down another notch: some of the tracks are entirely acoustic.
The last album The Great Annihilator was in a way a step back towards the more aggressive (abrasive?) sound, but not to the point where you get exhausted just by listening to a few tracks.
The band stopped recording under the name Swans in 1997, but the members are still active. Michael Gira and Jarboe have solo careers as well as the side project Skin.