Listening to an album by American noise rock experimentalists Swans - especially their most recent output - is an experience like no other, the musical equivalent of popping on an Oculus Rift headset and skydiving straight into the unknown. 2012’s ‘The Seer’ and it’s 2014 follow-up, ‘To Be Kind’, were both widely celebrated as the band’s most ambitious and accomplished work from an incredible 34-year career. ‘The Glowing Man’, their 14th studio release, is as wildly abrasive and mind bending as you would expect and, just like its two predecessors, it too is a phenomenal piece of twisted art.
Opening pair ‘Cloud Of Forgetting’ and ‘Cloud Of Unknowing’ are both brilliant reminders of Swans’ superlative majesty. The former is punctuated by a sumptuous array of ambient sounds and Michael Gira’s anguished screams whereas the latter takes flight after a nerve wrangling slow build of screeching guitars. ‘Frankie M’, which begins the second side, is an utterly arresting 20 minutes of music. The journey to its glorious core takes time, but when it does finally arrive it hits like a typhoon, an industrial swirl of cacophonous white noise before its insistent beat and snarling guitar drones emerge from the ether and take over.
Despite integrating an excerpt from ‘To Be Kind’’s ‘Bring The Sun’ into the ear-splitting title cut, this corrosive and wondrous record feels more in line with Gira’s other dark masterpiece ‘The Seer’. ‘When Will I Return’ begins with discordant acoustic guitar tones and finishes as a strident, unforgivingly apocalyptic death march. It’s made all the more powerful by the aid of Gira’s wife Jennifer, who contributes some beautifully fragile vocals. There is room for more conventional material though and the tortured blues of ‘People Like Us’ and the terrific closer ‘Finally Peace’ ensure some balance.
With a running time of just under two hours, ‘The Glowing Man’ may prove too punishing for some but those willing to invest time in its fiery depths will discover yet another remarkable Swans album. The world’s loudest band bow out (for now at least) in the grandest and most welcome fashion.
Words: Luke Winstanley
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