18 September 2016
Swans - The Glowing Man
What has not been said about this band before I start to write this blog? They have torn a path of chaos and beauty, being driven by a deep motivation to create a legacy outside the perceived "normal" music business, doing things on their own terms and making some of the most twisted music I have ever had the pleasure to hear. On this blog, I have reviewed the last two albums - 'The Seer' (review cleverly linked here) & 'To Be Kind' (review cleverly linked here) and they have not failed to impress, both records are pioneering and still out on the raggy edge of music before you fall off into all out noise. With this record, the current incarnation of the Swans will be coming to an end. Whether a new version of the band will appear in the future, who knows on that score. But how has this version of the band ended? How have the final notes fallen and above all, is it any good? Only way to find out is to listen to the music......
1 - Cloud of Forgetting
Starting off with a low guitar that is slow raised in volume, with synths and rising noise around it and strings being rubbed. But it is not intimidating, well in a given sense with Swans as they have always been strangely aggressive. It is also not the longest of introductions when the band full kicks in, it is still sounding as if the aftermath of some great storm has just past and the winds are still going wild, but the strength is just down a faction. At a length of a mere 12:43, it takes about four minutes before the vocals even appear on this song and when they do it feels like the storm if rumbling off to the east once more. But it is not as explosive as 'Screen Shot' from 'To Be Kind', or as spiky & vicious as 'No Words/No Thoughts' from 'My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to The Sky'; but it is not easy either as it will challenge anyone who listens to it with a vocal performance that sounds as if someone is howling at the void and a band who sound as if they are giving everything they have. When the noise does rise towards the end, it does not explode at first. It boils over the edge, letting the tone continue until it drops deep bass notes that signal the ends is coming and with that the quite slowly begins to filter back and the wind is drifting back through the trees once more. I like this song, the reference to being blind is also a reference to M. Gira song 'Blind' which can be found on 'Various Failures: 1988 - 1992', but it feels like a subdue and more intimate opening to this album.
2 - Cloud of Unknowing
On the vinyl version of this album, this is split into two tracks at the 6:04 mark, starting with violin or guitar strings being frantically rubbed up and down as the noise is risen and then it dips back down. This continues till about the 3:15 mark when the drums and guitars all of a sudden burst into a frantic pace and not one that is easy on the ears or the soul until 4:25 when it stops as suddenly as it started and the eerie void of the band starts to fall from your speakers. The odd rumble of feedback, the synth making strange noises, the guitar being strummed and all the while the suspense is riding high. At the 6:05 mark (which would start 'Cloud of Unknowing Part 2' on the vinyl version) the band kick into play once more and it sounds as if the beast has been awaiting to move and they are doing that very slowly and with evil intentions. Even when split into two halves, the second section of this song is almost twenty minutes long and it is a demanding mistress. It is frequently interspersed with the same sort of frantic drums shown in Part one of 'Cloud of Unknowing', big droning sections and massive fills and noise towering over the sound which adds to the tension. The Spanish guitar section around the 13:25 mark is a nice surprise as well and showcases a deep variety of sound that the band has at their disposal. When they heavy guitars, drums and bells announce the end of one of the quieter sections of the song, it feels like walls are being torn down and the attack is heading your way with sanctuary being in short supply. It then ends as suddenly as it began, the bells are still ringing in the silence and there is still eight minutes to go. The ending section of this song is more gentle, it still has that droning note and some beautiful drumming, but it feels as if the war has been won and the rumbles are just aftershocks on the soul. An intense and long experience, it is not even the longest Swans song recorded and it is not the longest on this album, but it is a hard one to be sure and only held together by masters of their craft.
3 - The World Looks Red/The World Looks Black
This is another song with two distinct sections that are once again separated on the vinyl release of the album - 'The World Looks Red' goes from the beginning till 7:12, 'The World Looks Black' goes from 7:13 till the end at 14:27. You can see why the split between the two sections is made at that juncture as it is different as chalk and cheese, they could have even been split as two separate songs, but that would feel like one soul had been split in twain. The first part is droning and very loose, feeling like the noise is drifting and searching for you. The second part is more frantic and has horns thrown in the mix, it is precise and harsh with a degree of intensity that is not as noticeable on the first section of the song. It feels as contrasting a Swans song as you will find, you are thrown between two points and whilst they are different, they could not exist without the other one being attached to it - a very strange and compelling song to say the least.
4 - People Like Us
This is the shortest song on the album, the nearest that this album comes to an interlude and it is a slow and sombre number. It is very loose and it feels like the band are getting warmed up for something bigger, then it ends and I sort of want more to come from this song. Is that a weird thing, wanting a band to make longer song all the time? Probably, but even when they are doing shorter number, they still sound more menacing and meaningful than the best percentage of the popular chart records.
5 - Frankie M
With a vocal drone that shifts in and out like a tide, 'Frankie M' opens with the sound that is constantly shifting and it all feels very fluid, building onwards towards something different and strange. The first eight minutes is drifting noise that rises and falls like the seasons and then, oh it just changes into one of the most intense pieces of noise and alternative drone that I have ever heard from this band. Whilst there are vocals throughout the first part of the song, you do not hear any true vocals till the twelve minute after the band have entered the third section of the song, it is in this section that the song reveals its purpose. It is song that is about someone who has passed away, possibly due to drugs after all the substances that are named in the song. The song goes from drone, to alternative folk, to all out rock/drone towards the end it reaches one of many peaks on this longer and interesting journey. Being just under twenty-one minutes in length, this is a very personal song from that band. It is constantly moving and it is a tribute to a lost brother that towers over this album, giving it a glorious and heartfelt moment that makes the hairs on your neck stand on end.
6 - When Will I Return
With lead vocals from Jennifer Gira, 'Where Will I Return' this song is about a time that she was sexually assaulted and shows the strength and determination to stop the assault. It is not an easy song, the very nature of the song is aggressive and harrowing, much in the same way that 'Me & A Gun' by Tori Amos is so truthful and harrowing. This song puts up a mirror to what happened and it shows everything, it is not designed to be entertaining and it is a perfect representation of the confrontational side of the Swans - they will shine a light on the dark places of the soul, they will make you face those aspects of humanity that some people do not want to hear about and show what does sadly happen all too often. It is harrowing, harsh and brutal, this is one of the darkest places that the band have tread and they do it with such dignity and determination.
7 - The Glowing Man
The title track of this album is also the longest track on offer here, coming in at 28:51 and it starts off with a low hum of noise and droning instruments. On the vinyl version, it is split in two with the first section lasting for 15:02 and entitled 'Bring The Sun' and the second section entitled 'The Glowing Man'. This drifting vortex goes for three minutes and then a driven guitar kicks in, cutting through the void and the song starts to ramp up the intensity level and it is just all out attack, attack, attack until it stops with the same sharpness with which it started and the void returns. Strings are plucked like glass smashing in the stillness of the night, all happening with a strong frequency and repetitive drone. It is a rest period, a sanctuary as the band start once again with a hallowing drone that loops around you and drags you towards the next section of the album. It is droning, harsh noise that keeps on kicking you in the head, it keeps on at you with no remorse and no forgiveness; the only thing that it can do it keep on rising up, keep on moving towards the next section and the tone is spiralling ever higher. Even when it drops a bit, all that achieves is the sound reaching a plateau that is just as menacing and intense when it all starts to fall apart and collapses into itself......and we are not even at the halfway point. Soon, quick and rapid bursts of noise puncture the brief rest bite and it is intensity clothed in sound. The second section is clearly marked as the band hit their stride and the song changes once more, that is the thing with the Swans, they do what you least expect them to do. This section has a different focus, more driven and less loss and free; like muscles are being formed and the attacker is in purist. For the first section of the second half, it is a frantic chase towards who knows where. At this point it is hard to guess what the band are going to do next, but at the moment it is very similar to kraut-rock in feeling and tone. With five minutes to go, it smashes straight into stop/start droning which means that the last section was eight minutes of the same riff and fantastic lyrics which felt a lot shorter! The ending of this is noise, glorious and pure noise with pauses of feedback and drone that keeps on giving to the bitter and destructive ending. This song is one of the best moments on here, it is also one that is not for the faint hearted once again, but that is the same for all Swans material if we are truly honest.
8 - Finally, Peace
The ending track of this album, well it reminds me more of Angels of Light than it does Swans, it is a great track that guides you down after 'The Glowing Man' with a droning tone to the music that does not reach its full potential till the very end as it sounds like it is going to keep the same note playing forever. But after some truly intense sections of music and sound, it feels a little bit strange and out of place. A beautiful piece of music, but not one that reaches anything near what the rest of the album achieves.
If this is the ending moments of this version of the Swans, then they are going out on a high water mark. Eight track long, over four sides of vinyl, two CD's or one beautiful download, it is another gem that continues the fantastic groundwork that has been laid since 'My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to The Sky'. Now, is it the best of this group of records? No, it does not touch ' To Be Kind', but it is not aiming to be the same record, which is one of the many blessings of the Swans; they are always moving forward and that is fantastic. Is it easy, fuck no! It is another harsh and distorted record that will challenge you in ways that only a few bands can. Is it any good? Yes, a definitive yes and it is an album that will grow in stature. But it is still getting the box of kittens’ mark, it is so out there that to give it a mere number seems demeaning to me. What an album, what an ending - the kings are dead, long love the kings.
Crazy cat symbol - This album cannot be marked, so here is a box of kittens
Top track - Frankie M
You can purchase The Glowing Man on Amazon here.
You can visit the Young Gods website, where you can purchase The Glowing Man directly.
You can visit the original-era Swans website here; it does not have purchase links for The Glowing Man, but still an interesting site.
You can follow the activities of Swans on Facebook here.
You can stream The Glowing Man on Spotify here.
You can stream The Glowing Man on Deezer here.
You can stream The Glowing Man on Tidal here.
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