Prog Archives Glowing Man Review

The Glowing Man - Swans 

A newcomer discovering the music of Swans through any of the band's recent albums must feel like Vasco Nuñez de Balboa seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time, confronted by something almost unfathomably vast, immeasurably deep, and more than a little intimidating. Their latest in a series of epic two-disc releases is also possibly the best of the bunch: a potential masterpiece waiting to be acknowledged, although the effort may require some patience.

This is a group able to elevate Post Rock monotony to a very loud, very intense dramatic art. Few other acts have the same knack for transforming a single note - minor key, of course - into an ungentle 30-minute dirge: ebbing, flowing, slowly collapsing, even more slowly reforming...all of it overlaid by Michael Gira's droning poetry, likewise stretching every labored syllable into a dark and secret mantra.

His lyrics read like the lucid dreams of a manic-depressive shaman. I would consider quoting a sample, except that every stanza is like a vortex sucking the unwary visitor into a bottomless abyss...

The band behind Gira, including new KING CRIMSON drummer Bill Rieflin (listed as 'Hit Man and 7th Swan'), aren't just musicians: these are ascetics with amplifiers and guitars...lots of guitars. Together they create an almighty racket, dense and powerful but rimmed with a mysterious fluorescent light. Rieflin's guest appearance is appropriate: the music shares a loose kinship with Robert Fripp's more esoteric soundscapes, as heard in the waves of choral voices opening "Frankie M" (two of the backing singers are credited simply with 'atmospheric voices').

But the album isn't all ambient rock. Sometimes it actually rocks, especially over Disc Two, where the music comes into sharp focus. Check out the 29-minute title track, which really lets out all the stops. After a long, heavy, hypnotic prologue the song shifts gears suddenly upward into a relentless, atypically urgent groove, recalling the stronger motorik rhythms of early CAN or classic NEU! It's an incredibly tense performance, resolved at (long) last by the surprisingly handsome melody of "Finally, Peace": an upbeat, album-ending anthem currently lodged in my head like a spike of pure radiance

The total experience is no less inscrutable or demanding than other Swans albums I've been exposed to. And yet somehow it seems more accessible, or maybe I'm just growing more accustomed to the band's challenging, monolithic style. On principle I would never award five stars to a new album until it's withstood the test of time. But the entire two-disc package is almost long enough to pass that trial in a single sitting, so why wait? Like death, like taxes, like the apotheosis of Gira's unique musical vision, some things are inevitable.