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Album Review: Swans - The Seer

2 October 2012 | 11:07 am | Brendan Telford

The Seer is easily the best thing Swans have ever done.

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New York's brooding soothsayers of annihilation Swans started out in the 1980s as a viscous, nihilistic counterpoint to everything ever considered 'rock', their agonising brutality and despair giving way to something almost resembling mainstream music, albeit with blunt trauma embedded in frontman Michael Gira's acrid lyricism. On latest album The Seer, there are touches of every sordid phase that Gira has ever spat upon.

Opening with Lunacy, it could be expected that things are going to be sedate, at least by Swans standards. A choral chant-like vocal with backing choir has us in an apocryphal daze. But things coalesce into a vibrating, cacophonous vacuum, sucking everything into it. The musical palette is vast, incorporating dulcimer, clarinet, violin, various shades of shit-kicking distorted guitar – yet all is focused on torturing the sound, forcing things to combustible realms and beyond. Gira's metronomic panting alongside a menacing guitar line at the beginning of Mother Of The World; the gravelly march through blasted plains of The Seer Returns; the squalling, screeching dissonance of 93 Ave Blues; even the rustic opening of The Daughter Brings The Water holds a blackened undercurrent of desolation and despair.

Gira surprisingly states that his quest is to “spread light and joy though the world.” Other than the majesty of Karen O-led Song For A Warrior, it's hard to see on surface level how this could be. Yet the industrial metal grind of the title track, all 32 minutes of it, hints at what he means most of all – often the beauty of something isn't realised until it's torn asunder. Brutal, dissonant, apocalyptic – The Seer is easily the best thing Swans have ever done.