The Upshot: Two-disc culmination of the direction the band has taken since its reactivation seven years ago, stripping Michael Gira’s lyric themes to the core amid colossal walls of sound.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
If you’re gonna announce that your latest album is the last by this particular iteration of your band, you better have something special on your hands. Fortunately, Michael Gira does with The Glowing Man, the fourteenth album by his band Swans and, as advertised, the final project by this version. (The intention is to have a rotating cast of players after this.) The culmination of the direction the band has taken since its reactivation seven years ago, The Glowing Man brings it all home.
The first two songs on disk one serve as opposite sides of the same coin – “Cloud of Forgetting” and “Cloud of Unknowing” push the band even further into the realms of the orchestral, as the pounding percussion, jagged guitars and Gira’s raw baritone combine into a wall of sound that’s damn near symphonic. The arrangements ebb and flow from colossal to calm without ever descending into chaos, while Gira’s lyrics strip down to almost primal wails of menace and need, accented for how they fit into the music rather than clarity of meaning. “The World Looks Red/The World Looks Back” on disk one and “Frankie M” and the title track on disk two follow suit, building and building until the tower threatens to topple, which it never does. Moving from foreboding simmer to Krautrocking burn, “The Glowing Man” rolls, roils and roars for nearly a half hour without losing focus.
The other tracks soften the blow, but not by much. “People Like Us” sounds like an intro to one of the long tracks, its five-and-a-half minutes building tension but offering no release. Introduced by deliberate acoustic strums and favoring Middle Eastern tonalities, “When Will I Return?” – guest-sung by Jennifer Gira – comes across as downright pretty in parts, if still obsessive and disturbed. “Finally, Peace” takes the album out with a head-nodding groove, close harmonies from both Giras and the mantra “Your glorious mind” (or is it “the glory is mine?”), leaving intensity behind for the kind of cool down one needs after a hard workout.
Consolidation more than innovation, The Glowing Man still presents the current incarnation of Swans in its best light, as if this is the record the band has been working toward these past seven years. If this is the way this Swans goes out, they do it with heads held high.
DOWNLOAD: “The Glowing Man,” “Finally, Peace,” “When Will I Return?”