On their 12th studio album, Swans complete their step into otherworldliness begun on past releases, dissolving in sounds and monumental pieces that have no equal in today’s post rock.
While “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” (2010) was like a strange hybrid of Swans’ and Gira’s follow-up band project, The Angels of Light, “The Seer” incorporates elements from all periods in Swans’ dark and brooding career. One shouldn’t throw around terms like “magnum opus” too often, but the monosyllabic ecstasy of Swans’ anti-blues on “The Seer” actually fulfills all requirements. At two hours in length, the album can get in line with the monumental releases Gira put out in the late ’90s, sprawling double albums that wrapped up the band’s legacy with live recordings, loops, soundscapes and studio fragments. And, in a similar vein “The Seer” incorporates material that has been around for the last thirty years, according to Michael Gira.
As all the best works by Swans, “The Seer” is apocalyptic in both the original sense of “revelatory” and the more commonly understood meaning of “end-of-the-world,” “destructive.” The title track is a 32-minute monster that opens with dissonant, hellish noise. With its chiming bells, it is the brooding dark twin of Pink Floyd’s “High Hopes,” a spiritual journey into another world, from which a song slowly crystallizes after five minutes, and then, in turn, transforms into a trance-inducing mantra. (Played at loud volume, this should get rid of all your annoying neighbors – or family, for that matter.) At the end of this gigantic eruption, Gira’s singing is reminiscent of Can’s Damo Suzuki. Compared to Gira and his Swans, all the other post rock groups like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai are only navel-gazing apprentices – a fact they would probably acknowledge immediately. Gira could have released this track alone and it would have made its way into my “albums of the year” list, but accompanied as it is by “A Piece of the Sky” and “The Seer Returns” with its mantric, liturgically repeated line of “Put your light in my mouth” it is a marvelous, overwhelming masterpiece. These three tracks alone would have made a great hour-long album.
“Avatar” and “The Apostate” will make all krautrock- and psychedelia-loving hearts leap for joy. Get your brains bashed in by the mesmerizing loop world of “Mother of the World.” Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sings on the tranquil “Song for a Warrior.” Other guest vocalists include members of Low, former Swans member, Jarboe, and even two members of the fantastic, but unfortunately now-defunct Cerberus Shoal, who were themselves highly influenced by Swans. The quiet, eerie coda of “The Daughter Brings the Water” closes this colossal work with a well-placed less-is-more approach. Until now, “White Light from the Mouth of Infinity” (1991) and “The Great Annihilator” (1995) have been my favorite Swans albums. Now “The Seer” nudges its way to the fore, creating a majestic troika that is more than simply music. Some people go to church, others listen to Swans.