Swans - The Seer 3xLP
Label: Young God
Swans, Version 2.0 continues with The Seer, and how could it not be monstrous, epic, and utterly all-consuming? When Michael Gira reactivated the Swans several years ago, he did so with the intent of constantly touring the band, who furiously and methodically pounded through every set with Gira devilishly commanding to his band "More, you fuckers, MORE!!!" The songs which dominated the universally acclaimed 2010 album My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky became grotesquely engorged during the live sets, with each track telescoping in length and straining with each note, each rhythmic smash made more intense than the previous one. The shows were exhausting from the perspective of the audience, and Gira's marathon-length sprint must have been hell on the band. But unlike previous incarnations of Swans, it was obvious that Michael Gira was full of joy in orchestrating all of this controlled mayhem.
So, we come to The Seer - an album devised as a template malleable to the pressures of the Swans live performances for their 2012 tour schedule. Even outside the context of the forecasted mutation, The Seer is a beast of an album. The opening number "Lunacy" is a brightly charged march through dissonant guitar monochords and militaristic snares, before giving over to a wild-eyed chorale featuring the vocal talents of Mimi and Alan Sparhawk of Low. With Gira in charge, the emotional fragility that's emblematic of Low becomes lupine in its collective howl. "Mother Of The World" reprises the jackbooted rhythms found on the first Swans records, with a jagged guitar chord scraping bloodily against the unrelenting groove. The title track itself is a 32 minute piece that lesser bands would have used as an entire album with its massive crescendos of drone-rock pummel crashing down to a doomic plod and extended passages of slumped distortion, as something of a breather before ripping into another frenzy of gleeful obliteration.
With the much ballyhooed appearance of Karen O on the brief, lilting number "Song For A Warrior," we have more of an intermission for the band to shake out their arms and ears before Gira launches into another lengthy percussive workout, which is exactly what he does on "Avatar." Lockstep grooves for drums and bells rise up through a drone-rock ascent of guitars, bass and vocals uttering languid melodies throughout before Gira commands the drummers into an furious crescendo of control, power and noise. "A Piece Of The Sky" slowly unfurls through a shimmering drone density with plenty of Ligetti references but is probably also a thoughtful homage to Gira's amphetamine driven deconstruction on the brilliant Body Lovers side project from 1998, with a temperate Swans lurching forward into a near symphonic ballad. The finale "The Apostate" is a 24-minute vehicle for the screeching drones of lapsteel player Kristof Hahn, emitting dive-bombing raids across the throttled basslines, yelped vocals and of course those interlocked rhythms.
So yeah, The Seer is just as good as everybody has been saying.