10 May 2014

Swans - The Seer

This band terrifies me.  Pure and simple, they are the soundtrack of my nightmares and I imagine when the void eventually comes to claim me that I will have this band on in the background when I am took beyond the veil.  In the next week, Swans are releasing a new album called 'To Be Kind'.  In preparation for this I am going to have a look at their last few releases since they came back together in 2010.  Originally formed in 1982, Swans were scaring the living hell out of audiences around the world until they originally broke up in 1997.  Always with a shifting line-up, it came as something of a surprise when they did reform, but something that delighted their fans.  The album that this blog about is called 'The Seer' and is their second since reforming, but their twelve studio album overall.  Before I take a step further, look at the cover..... keep looking...... are you comfortable?  If you are, keep looking at it until you skin starts to crawl.  For that is the right frame of mind to approach this record.  This is not going to be an easy ride, so if I'm doing this I am taking the reader with me.

This double album starts off with "Lunacy" and it is very quite to begin with. But soon the drone starts like a storm of insects approaching, the music breaks like the arrival of the bad guys in a western film and you are left at the mercy of Gira and co.  Then it breaks into a chant that sounds like the beaten and down trodden taking arms and approaching the house of their repressor for vengeance and blood; then the wave of noise/drone/folk rises again with the title being repeated again and again.  By the end of this track, I feel like I have been beaten to a pulp - BY ONE FUCKING TRACK! And there is no hardcore metal grunting, no high pitch grime, just power and control. I would pray for my soul if I had one.... Next is "Mother Of The World" is next, this track is almost 10 minutes long and you can see parts of Gira's other band Angels Of Light.  It drones on for almost two minutes before the bass line comes in, and then it keeps on going for a further minute with keyboards coming in and then some wailing (and probably nashing of teeth as well).  After this we are on the express route to the mindfuck of all imagination when the main part of the song kicks in after an abrupt stop around the four minute thirty mark.  This is not easy to listen to by any real stretch of the imagination, yet I find myself lots in the beauty that is available here.  It is scary beauty, a bit like being a mouse that is in love with a cat; but you cannot help but fall for it.

"The Wolf" is next and at one minute, thirty five seconds it is a little is just a tiny rest bite before the title track which is thirty two minutes and fourteen seconds long.  "The Wolf" is a lullaby over some off-putting noise that makes me feel strange, "The Seer" is just long, painful and at the same time intensely hypnotic and joyous.  Starting with a curtain of noise it breaks down to a banjo plucking away and soft drums and electronica, and you know you’re in for a journey through the musical grinder.  As a track it has more than enough time to breathe and find its place - that said I would not expect anything less from Swans, they are experts in making the world seem like a distant world, but during this song I get lost in different universes.  You think that the band has peaked, but they manipulate you with peaks and valleys of sounds and texture.  It is a titian of a song and is not easy, not by a long shot; however, hold on throughout the song, it is truly rewarding. But Swans never made songs to listen to with any sort of easy, also we are only four tracks in and already I feel like I have been through a marathon. But they keep on coming......

"The Seer Returns" is a blessed relief to be honest.  It is almost straight forward and brooding, you can imagine it in the background of the horror film when the people are heading towards safety only to find their doom is at the end of the world. It also features Jarboe on the track, something that some people have been critical of her not being in the full reunion; balls to them, she is an artist in her own right and helps when she wants/can.  Swans have always had a revolving door policy and I am sure in time she will be back again. Anyway, back to the point - the song is fantastic. Next we have "93 Ave. Blues", a noise piece with high strings, striking drums and drone vocals; the dark mirror to "The Seer Returns". It is a good piece, but hard to feel comfortable with.  But by design, this music is confrontational, aggressive, and sinister - of course I love it and when the aggression final breaks down it is so rewarding.  To finish off the first disc we have "The Daughter Brings Water" which is a short and reflective moment to the chaos that has been happening before. It is fragile and a little too short, but well written (did I expect anything else).

"Song For A Warrior" is next and features Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on vocals; it is a beautiful ballad with a stunning bridge/solo in the middle.  I love the fact that this band has so many different facets and styles that this sort of song can still with comfort next to "Mother Of The World". It does the heart wonders to hear music of this nature. "Avatar" is next and starts with something that sounds like insects and then what feels like bells and almost tribal percussion which makes the feet tap of its own accord.  But it keeps on building; you feel that there is something of a terrifying nature going on and that they are actually in pursuit of you.  It starts to get more aggressive as the song progresses and once it finished I realised that it is actually the track of the album, there is more challenging and maybe impression works on here; but this one covers everything that is on offer for the band.  I am so impressed with it and wish it would never end.....

Ending the album is two really long songs - "A Piece Of Sky" is first which has contributions from Jarboe again and Akron/Family who has also been on Angels of Light records as well.  Starting off with drone and strings again, you know that you have to strap yourself in for the battle that is to come. Just shy of twenty minutes, the band are still not finished with your broken soul and want to get that last little piece of free will out of it.  Part way through you have a string section that sounds like rain with a guitar in the background, this breaks into a brilliantly amazing affair of neo-folk that is as good as anything that is on the album. It doesn't seem like all the time has truly past for this album the way that it does, but it feels like a three part play that charms the listener as well as tested them.  Finishing the album it is "Apostate" and this is a big one; starting with a mournful guitar howling at the world that will not answer it's pain, you are then transported into more pulsating noise/drone/neofolk which ends this album with a final act that could have the weaker willed tucked into the corner, whimpering for their loved ones to rescue them.

What can I say about this album then?  It is a strong album, with moments of pain, joy, genius and just outside of the box crazy.  The whole package from the cover the music is brilliant on every level.  This is an album I would recommend to anyone who is interested in being challenged from beginning to end; all of the work here is of the highest quality. However, I would recommend caution to people first starting their journey with Swans; there is some fantastic work on offer, but you can have easier introductions to the band.  But you will ultimately be very rewarded once you have listened to this - breathtaking.

9.5 out of ten - Almost perfect....Almost

Top track - Mother Of The World

You can purchase the album from Spotify here

You can visit the Swans website here

Here is a link to the Young God record label

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For Deezer users, here is a link for you

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