Sound Lab Glowing Man Review
The Glowing Man
By Kevin Orton
Once again Michael Gira and this latest incarnation of Swans have spawned a work of terrifying beauty with The Glowing Man. “Surrender” Gira bellows on the opening track, ‘Cloud of Forgetting’. Which is good advice when it comes to this stirring and intense album. After the ‘Cloud of Forgetting’ draws to a moody close with Gira growling, “children run” we’re soon caught up in the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’. Beginning with some unsettling atmospherics, ‘Unknowing’ is a restless, sometimes harrowing journey which at times, breaks into a thunderous gallop and at other times, pulls back hard on the rains of this runaway Nightmare of a song. There’s a lot going on here and its never boring but clocking in at over 25 minutes, the listener is left slack jawed with hair standing on end. And its only the second track.
‘The World Looks Red/The World Looks Black’ is a much more concise offering. A beguiling track that sprints forth from the gate, never letting up, ending up in a trance like, tribal groove with Gira chanting “Follow the sleeping man.” All going to show, no one and I mean no one makes music quite like Michael Gira. ‘People Like Us’ follows and is exemplary Swans. “We’re drifting goodbye on a rust colored cloud over opium friends”, Gira croons in his dead pan manner. Where a lot of tracks on this album are slow burners, this one cuts to the quick. In his notes, Gira referred to it as a "goodbye song".
After being led blindly through 12 minutes of uncharted sonic terrain, fraught with eerie atmospherics and propulsive bursts of noise , ‘Frankie M’ kicks in. And its a kick in the gut. “Frankie M, Frankie M, rise again, rise again, Frankie M, Frankie M, heroin, heroin” Gira chants mournfully. Clearly this is a tribute to a long lost friend. “Butterfly, break the glass, stab his eye” he implores, then begs the question: “Frankie why?” It’s an intense song that manages to be both hair raising and moving. No easy feat.
On ‘When Will I Return?’ the acoustic guitar is brought out as the comely voice of a woman sings, “When will this pig man stop?”. Then were greeted with devastating lines like “I’ll still kill him in my sleep,” and “I’ll scream until he’s gone”. When the full band kicks in she sings triumphantly, “I’m alive”. Powerful stuff. In his notes on the album Gira writes, “I wrote the song ‘When Will I Return? specifically for Jennifer Gira to sing. It’s a tribute to her strength, courage, and resilience in the face of a deeply scarring experience she once endured, and that she continues to overcome daily.”
The title track is another long slow burning track that lurches and explodes and meanders for nearly eighteen minutes before grabbing you by the throat. The piece ends, crashing down to earth in an orgy of cacophony. Clearly born out of improvisation, it features a section from To Be Kind's , "Bring The Sun'. As with a lot of Gira's longer pieces, there is something symphonic about it in an avant garde, Glenn Branca sense.
The album concludes with the aptly titled ‘Finally Peace’. It’s a rousing and haunting anthem. “Your glory is mine” Michael and Jennifer Gira sing in waves of ghostly overlapped vocals. While its an oddly uplifting closer, there’s no denying there’s also something unsettling about it at the same time. The kind of contradiction and complexity Gira and Swans excel at.
Long, slow burning and atmospheric. Propulsive fits and bursts. Relentless intensity. Gira’s deep growling vocals. Like many a Swans album, The Glowing Man conjures an eerie, twilight world full of both the gossamer and the ferociously bestial. A welcome addition to the Swans/Gira cannon.