Exploding Head Syndrome Album Review

Album Review / Swans – The Glowing Man
WHEN: 17.06.2016
WHERE: Young Gods Records

Trilogies are usually very difficult to perfect. In my lifetime I’ve witnessed some excellent examples of the perfect trilogy (Back to the Future, LOTR) as well as a huge amount of poorly attempted ones (The Matrix, Iron Man and The Hangover movies). I do struggle to recall many trilogies occurring in the world of music however – obviously this is a feat that could only be attempted by Swans. Arguably the greatest behemoth in music today, Swans have been around longer than I have but have forever churned out solid efforts of how to produce sounds that dances gleefully at the extremes of music. Michael Gira and co have come together for the final time with new record ‘The Glowing Man’ symbolising the end of the band’s current incarnation, and a very worthy end to a scintillating trilogy of records.

The previous two records – 2012’s ‘The Seer’ and 2014’s ‘To Be Kind’ – were responsible for pushing Swans into the spotlight as the band determined to push the envelope as far as possible. With the new record boasting a timespan of over two hours and eight songs full of heavily layered and mind-warping instrumentation ‘The Glowing Man’ is certainly a record worthy of succeeding those, and as a way to say farewell.

As to be expected from a Swans record, there are no easy ways to get into it. It’s opening two tracks ‘Cloud of Forgetting’ and ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ take up the first twenty eight minutes of the record’s lifespan. This duo delivers twisted sounds ranging from pummelling guitar riffs to haunting background vocals and otherworldly noises; Gira’s vocals once again descend into a drawl of insanity that are backed up by further whails and screams from his recruits. All of these elements shroud the atmosphere with a cloud of darkness, immediately recreating the unnerving listening experiences the previous records brought.

There are some reprises from the drawn out material, ‘People Like Us’ and ‘When Will I Return?’ offer up only four and five minute soundscapes but are rigid in the repetitive grooves we’ve experienced from the previous cuts, thereby not really offering much of an escape from the hellish environment we’ve been packed into. These do allow the record to keep some form of momentum going however, which Swans have used expertly inbetween stages of the longer tracks, kind of like it’s way of pulling your head up for air before plunging it back into the water again.

‘Frankie M’ and the title track are my personal highlights for the record as they do offer some moments of accessibility. The former is a near twenty one minute dive into a world full of ghoulish vocals and reasonably calm noises before swelling into an eardrum pounding crescendo of all kinds of sounds, all of which spills out onto the atmosphere. This is quickly followed a pummelling guitar riff that strikes with as much vengeance and anger as the hardest cuts from ‘The Seer’ and ‘To Be Kind’. Gira’s vocals also begin to unravel into this desperate plea of calling out to this Frankie, before once again witnessing another spill of all these elements. The latter is another taste of everything mentioned previously, but does contribution easily the funkiest rhythm section halfway through. This piece of instrumentation illustrates a chase away from all the horror and is a little easy on the ears, but is eventually caught up with all of the terrors as it meets its demise and is pounced upon by Gira’s vocals – this time depicting being eaten alive by Joseph, nice.

Finally, Peace is a fitting way to bring an end to what has been another incredible addition to one of the greatest trilogies in music. It’s idyllic instrumentation is boosted by some (especially compared to what the record brings) angelic female vocals which allows it to hark back to the sounds delivered on Swans’ returning record ‘My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope to the Sky’. It could also be seen as an escape for the band, who have finally free of performing this kind of torturous music for the meantime.

‘The Glowing Man’ is a record that offers a slightly less abrasive approach when compared to its neighbours, but still retains a lot of the harsh undertones and heaviness that compacts each of the three records together. It’s the perfect way to close what has been a perfect trilogy.