Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Album review: SWANS - The Seer

Highlights: Lunacy, The Daughter Brings The Water, Song For A Warrior, The Apostate

While there are quite a few objective reasons why one wouldn’t want to hear a new Swans record, the singular, intriguing nature of that sort of experience can easily outbalance anything. ‘Experience’ being the key word. The Seer offers sensations you simply won’t get anywhere else; it’s a monolithic, maddeningly grandiose statement of intense, unnerving horror and despair from someone (Michael Gira) who knows everything about horror and despair. Every squeak, every little hissing sound.

Drones? Noise? No melodies? Screw all that. While there’s no question that Gira can come up with a most haunting, Nick Cave-worthy tune (The Burning World is case in point), the man is primarily about that gruesome, dreary vibe that is not so much depressing as depression itself. And on The Seer that vibe is, of course, omniscient. No, you won’t think about taking your own life after hearing The Seer, you will simply be too overwhelmed, too emaciated to think of anything like that.

The Seer is a huge album, in its sound, in its scope, in its length. Two CD’s filled to the brim with hellish chants; dreary minimalism; full-blown soundscapes; and the sheer magnetism of whatever it is that Gira is creating here. The variety of instrumentation is truly astonishing, but what is perhaps even more astonishing is that whichever instrument you might hear on The Seer (be it a bagpipe or even a blues harp), it all merges so naturally with Gira’s music. Interestingly, I did not find it too hard to get into this album – even though the short “The Daughter Brings The Water” is the closest we get to ‘relatively accessible’. It’s cold, it’s creepy, it’s monstrous – but it has that power to draw you in. You can even hear some chilling beauty in Karen O’s vocals (she sings “Song For A Warrior”) or in certain parts of some of the album’s sprawling, lengthy epics (the title track alone lasts more than half an hour). Speaking of which – “The Apostate”, this album’s grand final, is a fucking masterpiece from start to finish. Right here and now I proclaim it Swans’ greatest, most perfect creation. It will suck all blood, all breath out of you with its build-up and mind-numbing intensity.

I won’t even mention the lyrics. The lyrics follow suit. However, who needs lyrics with a sound like that?..

And no, I don’t think I will want to listen to The Seer too often. I’m not even sure I could do that once in a while. But more so than anything released this year – The Seer is a consummate work of art. Think what you want about Swans. Love them or hate them, one thing’s for sure: you just have to admire Michael Gira.

8/10   (The rating is irrelevant)

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