Scene Point Blank Glowing Man Review
Bands returning after a prolonged hiatus, or re-forming after a break, are rarely able to recapture the essence and/or quality of their earlier existence. When Michael Gira announced the return of Swans it seemed that it would solely be a repeat of the band's earliest style at best. My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky came fourteen years after Soundtracks for The Blind, and it was an album that stood with grace next to historic releases such as White Light From The Mouth of Infinity or Children of God. It was at the time the best one could hope for, a slightly different sound from a beloved band, and a certain drive for something more. However, what followed was beyond anyone's expectations.
With their new line-up, featuring previous members of the band, Cristoph Hahn, Norman Westberg and Phil Puleo, alongside new blood in Thor Harris and Christopher Pravdica, Swans reached even further with The Seer. A two-hour long renovation of the Swans identity, documented through the eleven tracks of the album. The past of Swans, their no-wave attitude towards the rock form, their darkwave extensions, the industrial-esque vibe, everything was present. But, paying tribute to their past was not enough, and Gira and company made bold moves forward. Drone influences might not seem such a stretch, but blues aspects, free jazz ferocity and that mystical approach fitted in perfectly with what Swans represented.
Not many bands (if any) return after a fourteen year break and produce their finest work. The question at that point was: how the fuck can they follow this? And soon enough, the next double album of Swans came along. The Seer and its follow-up, To Be Kind, were the perfect one-two punch, a combination of primal energy, ferocity and chaos. And today, Gira announces the final chapter on the current Swans formation, with The Glowing Man.
As was the case with To Be Kind following The Seer, so it holds true with The Glowing Man. Swans are taking elements from their live shows, playing the material of their previous albums, allowing certain variations and experimentations to lead to newly formed ideas. For example, the title track of the new album contains a section from “Bring The Sun” from To Be Kind. Gira travels even further back, with “The World Looks Red/The World Looks Black” to some lyrics he wrote back in 1982 and were used in Sonic Youth's Confusion Sex. All this introversion, the more free approach in composition, gives the notion that the works from The Seer to The Glowing Man are a continuous piece of music, a soundtrack of the Swans' dark journey through the ages.
At their core, Swans remain a psychedelic rock band, a group of no-wave entrepreneurs. Navigating the rock genre in their own maniacal fashion, trying to reconfigure its essence by disfiguring it. This bleak panorama of dystopian visions needs a very solid scenery to stand upon, and the extended instrumentation of the latest Swans incarnation allows for exactly that. Expanding their sonic palette beyond the standard rock band line-up with Melotron, piano, keys, dulcimer and whatever else they think will work within their piece, is introduced. The dramatization that this brings is stunning, leading to abstract moments of violence and bizarre sonic dissonance, but also to a more basic setting. It is beautiful to experience Swans take on blues and country, making the tone of the genre their own, they can craft an americana scenery in “The World Is Red,” a downtrodden feeling in “People Like Us,” or a pure blues notion in “Finally Peace.” The story-telling that already exists on a high level within the band's concept is enhanced, combined with the psychedelic mindset to bring moments of apocalyptic blues. They dig so deep that the reach the roots of it all, with the tribalistic moments of the title track rendering the song to a prayer-like anthem, a spiritual passageway, with a strong procedural tone in the progression, a ritual taking place right in front of us.
Everything feeds into everything in the last three albums of Swans. The tribal element, the psychedelia, the repetitive patterns, the maze-like atmosphere, the blues, the country, americana, industrial, no-wave, free-jazz, it all washes through the progression of this work. And that has been the most crowning achievement of this band, the handle that they are able to keep in order to make their albums work. The long structures, the endless patterns with their meditative ability act as a constant mantra through which enlightenment is promised. A primal notion, but nevertheless one that holds true. It is not an easy task though, and that is where all the brilliance of Swans is found. Every aspect of their sound is placed to achieve the desired effect, nothing is there to overwhelm, unless that is the goal. The extensive instrumentation is not implemented greedily, the dynamics do not switch on a whim.
Minimalism finds its placed in this bleak universe, abstract and unformed, with the band slowly crafting their next step. Starting from the basics, they add elements, navigate through the terrible winds and the unchanging scenery. It is because of their light touch on these moments that the outbreaks feel that more violent and brutal, moments of catharsis, sparse but still present. Swans are sowing winds through this work and they are prepared to reap storms. Bending and twisting the sound beyond comprehension they are leading into a space where logic and sanity have long departed. As much thought and effort they have given into transmitting an emotional tone, and there is a lot of emotion in all Swans' records, so much is also the drive to reach that primal state. Retracting from any form or containment they visit places where melody and structure do not exist, and the sonic texture is all that remains.
With The Glowing Man Swans add to their legacy. That triptych of double albums, which started with The Seer, reached further heights with To Be Kind and is now brought to an end with The Glowing Man, has proved the shamanic wisdom of this band. Years do not seem to weigh on Swans' creativity, past experiences do not define what they represent. It is stated that The Glowing Man will mark the end of the current incarnation of the band, something quite logical since they have released in total about six hours of music within four years, so it does feel like the appropriate time for a reboot. When Swans first reemerged I was quite skeptical, but now I am strangely optimistic. And at the mean time I can listen to their three, arguably, greatest records.
9.1 / 10 — Spyros Stasis