Michael Gira's legendary noise-makers sign out with one of the most transcendental records of their career.
It's easy to look at the current state of worldwide affairs and denounce this age as the final downward spiral of humanity. Depressingly, for many of those among the most unfortunate it has all too often seemed as though their fates have been prized from their hands; gone in a millisecond with no confirmation of return or purpose. Together with his band Swans, Michael Gira has been the gutter-level voice of primal anxiety and loss since the early '80s. Since their reformation in 2009, they've continued shamelessly to force their apocalyptic purview into practice, becoming ever more expansive and all-consuming in the process; 2014's To Be Kind was the sound of entire galaxies pushing the self-destruct button. The Glowing Man, which will be their final album in this incarnation, is somewhat a depiction of the aftermath. How have our lives changed now that they're seemingly forfeit? Who is left to pick up the pieces?
Though The Glowing Man doesn't provide archetypal answers to those questions, it does reach pretty transcendental peaks via a number of passages. Lyrically it's bursting at the seams with themes of death and rebirth; not new ground in literary terms for Gira by any means, but in the context of this being a farewell of sorts it's more pertinent. Musically it feels like the band has been lifted as well. Whether it's the unfurling pathos of opener 'Cloud Of Forgetting' or the sprawling, disjointed 25-minutes of 'Cloud Of Unknowing', it's all delivered from a decrepit but lofty pedestal. The latter in particular meanders its way through sudden seismic shocks and propulsive, barren hypnotism.
On 'The World Looks Red/ The World Looks Black' there's a shift from immersive cynicism to nightmarish actualisation halfway through, chants of "Follow! Follow!" accompanied by violent stabs of brass and twisted electronics. There's chemical transcendence too via references to heroin and MDMA on 'Frankie M'. Faith is pulled into the equation sardonically with regards to Gira's Bible-imputing intonations. The monstrous title track traverses from Gira in full mental breakdown mode to the band's skull-crushing instrumental nihilism to the ecstatic peaks of volume and intensity we've come to expect.
Femininity is exuded all over this record, as it was on 2012's The Seer. The hellish female accompaniments to Gira's shamanism on 'Cloud Of Unknowing' are spine-tingling enough, but it's the disturbingly dark 'When Will I Return?' that hits the hardest. Sung by Gira's wife, it opens with the line "his hands are round my throat, my key is in his eye..." in a harrowing depiction of domesticated abuse, before becoming more cathartic as she sings "I still kill him in my sleep" before rounding off with repetition of "I'm alive".
As the glistening, soft-industrial bounce of 'Finally, Peace' reaches it's halfway point and and vocal circulation of "the glory is mine", one has to wonder if Gira is laughing at us. Has he finally been proven right after all these years of doom-mongering? Has he become a spirit, his fate finally back within his reach? And yet it feels like there's more to come from Swans. Exactly what kind of future is in store is still an enigma. It's arguable that no group has used finality more ambiguously than this one, and just as the case seems to be in Worldwide, everyday life at the moment, the hope for restoration is maybe the most profound we have.
Key Tracks: 'The Glowing Man', 'Cloud Of Unknowing', 'The World Looks Red/ The World Looks Black', 'When Will I Return?' For Fans Of: This Heat, Sonic Youth