I've read enough pre-release/review journalese about Swans and this album (I'll avoid the excessive adjectives and track by track analysis which you can find everywhere else) so was pleased to get my signed copy in the post a couple of days ago to judge for myself. I was ambivalent about the album being much good as I had mixed feelings about the live funding album that preceded it: the tracks were enjoyable but didn't quite seize me. Equally, I had every faith.
Except perhaps for White Light and Love of Life, Swans albums are consistent mainly in their originality and difference from the previous offering. Of course it's unmistakably Swans. No longer a crooner and wailer, Gira belts out vocals and sounds with great confidence and, at the age of 60, seems to have all the time in the world to make music and let the creative force take him wherever it needs to go. At a more tangible level, the album seems to benefit from its Texan recording and the pedalled guitar sounds are fantastic; something of 16 Horsepower in some of them. And, true to Swans form, the album offers subtlety, noise, repetition and new challenges for the listener. The songs are long and the album exceeds 2 hours so we've been there before but the challenges lay in providing funky hooks in places and the addition of unsettling sounds in others: sawing, distressed horses and such!
You'll read things about Gira and god and there's certainly some element of spirituality in his art but whether it's religious or not is a whole other matter. His own description on the Young God website of playing with his band talks about immersion and the sound being bigger than them. It's about being drawn into something that is all-consuming and Gira does it for himself first and invites you to join in if you want. This album will draw you in or throw you out, depending on your artistic preferences.
Strongly recommended for those that crave originality and unusual composition.