Swans: The Seer – album review

SWANS: The Seer (Young God Records)
CD/DL/LP
Out 28th August

We’re all going to die! Everybody knows this. It’s what might happen next that does our heads in.

Is there a heaven? A hell? Do we go anywhere? Do we come back? Does it hurt? Will we be saved? Are we in a whole lot of trouble? What – the fuck – will happen?

Lots of people (with a range of frequently-sordid motives) claim to have all the answers you could wish for. But, deep down, there’s always the doubt. The big, big question always comes back to you and you alone.

This latest Swans album has no solution. But as a soundtrack to your own ‘big thoughts’, it’s very effective. Michael Gira famously sang ‘God Damn The Sun’. It’s a funny thing to say, but it’s also rather more pensive and honest than the Polyphonic Spree viewpoint (Hey! It’s The Sun) or the Spiritualised one (Oh Happy Day!).

The Seer is not a happy album, but it is hugely mesmeric, densely textured and staggeringly intense. Over something like two hours, it dips its gothy toe into all things gnostic, Daniken-istic and scary. Teutonic, Wagner-like war cries are laid over cataclysmic explosions, screams, squeals, moans and promises of plenty of misery. Which is nice.

Standout track is ‘Lunacy’, which seems to evoke utmost cruelty, loss, despair… at the hands of what might be a mighty, mocking, emotion-free creator. Or maybe it’s about the ancient astronauts, coming back to Earth to find us in our monkey skins, waking us all up with the devastating news that our childhood is over?

‘The Daughter Brings The Water’ and the massively long title track would seem to pursue this theme in different directions. Always rather cleverly, though.

Gira is no Kurt Wagner, so you’d be wise to ignore ‘The Wolf’, which is delivered growly acappela style to surprisingly detrimental effect. But that’s a bit of a nit-pick when the rest of the album is so strong.

Swans have a clear grasp on what gives music its power, versatility and awe – and they don’t pussyfoot around. This is scary, discomforting stuff at times.

It’s not a record you would want to hear on your death bed – but any time before that should be dandy.

Andy Barding

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2 comments on “Swans: The Seer – album review”

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  1. I think it’s a great (double) LP and the usual quality you’d expect from Gira & co – whether SWANS or Angels of Light. Nice to see Jarboe return on a couple of tracks, as well as Low and Akron/Family…

    ‘The Wolf’ is fine and very short – more Angels of Light Sings Other People and contrasts well with the half-hour title track. I think ‘The Seer’ is one that you probably need to explore over a few months since it’s 2+ hours of fun that does seem to reference most of SWANS prior output.

    ‘Mother of the World’ is the track I like the best so far; good to see ‘The Burning World’ has finally been reissued. Hope this means the similarly deleted ‘Ten Songs from Another World’, ‘White Light from the Mouth of Infinity’, and ‘Love of Life’ come out again….

    The recent live LP is worth getting too and transported me back to their fearsome late night performance at Supersonic 2010 in sub-zero conditions. My co-gigger was almost destroyed by the volume….

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