KCW Today Glowing Man Review

Swans The Glowing Man

Whilst most planned musical finales tend to fizzle rather than sizzle (stand up The Final Cut and don’t take a bow! Ever!)  Swans have had a career defined by a brutal refusal to play by anybody’s rules, even their own. (perhaps especially not their own) The Glowing Man, the final album by the current line-up of the 2010-era Swans, is yet another curveball that announces the band’s dissolution not with a bang but with a triumphant drone.  

From 1982 to 1997, and then again from 2010 until now, Swans’ leader Michael Gira has charted a fiercely uncompromising path. Something of a mercurial (if not actively terrifying) band leader he has re-invented Swans several times, often on what feels like little more than whim, with new iterations bearing little resemblance to previous ones. Along the way, Swans have drawn from no wave, art-rock, industrial, sludge, drone, folk, and more while flagrantly disregarding genre boundaries. This being said they have never even vaguely threatened the charts, even fans of their recent run of classic albums would probably run screaming from anything from their early period.  

Gira first created Swans by raining stinging hammer blows of noise and brutality onto unsuspecting audiences, he once described the experience of being in Swans as being like “trudging up a sand hill wearing a hair shirt, being sprayed with battery acid, with a midget taunting you” A description not a million miles of the experience of listening to their early work (the climax of this phase of the band probably an EP named Raping A Slave. There are those who are nostalgic for this phase of that band, but their numbers are rather limited).

On The Glowing Man, for almost two hours, Swans prefer to work with whispers rather than roars. On their last two records (The Seer and To Be Kind) they merged motorik groove, brutalising riffs with an almost religious intensity that fused together into an altogether new form of orchestral rock; The Glowing Man by contrast is more slight, almost on the verge of fading away. Gira and co. spend much of the album suspended in a kind of ambient trance, scarcely growing louder even as their parts grow denser and hint at more emotional volatility. The sum is deceptively sedate but far from an easy listen. On tracks like Cloud Of Unknowing (the title taken from an anonymous work of 14th century Christian mysticism, because why wouldn’t it be?) Swans create a feeling of drowsy menace that’s thick enough to drown in.  

When Gira announced this Swans incarnation would end, he referred to “LOVE” ( all in caps, he’s that sort of guy) as his reason for working one last time with his long-time band on The Glowing Man. Of course, Gira was not talking about the over-sweetened form we often get in pop music. The love in his music is as terrible as it is beautiful, a wrenching act of spiritual determination. Swans make this sound effortless, though, in a fitting end to a remarkable chapter of their career.