on 29 June 2013
I'm not going to lie, listening to this two hour album, start to finish is going to be hard, particularly if you are not used to experimental music and more specifically drone. Much of this album in purely instrumental, with the instruments constantly grooving through a single pounding riff over and over, and on first listen it can seem very over the top and pointless. However, numerous listens are rewarding, as you will notice the subtitles of even the hardest pounding riffs, particularly the tumultuous pounding that kicks in halfway through the half an hour long title track, which is fearfully torturous on first listen.
The vocals on here are pretty sparse but very rewarding. The opening track contains some ritualistic vocals, creating a lot of atmosphere and power right from the off, but when Mother of The World kicks in, it's on a fierce onslaught and the band really kicks into a single droning groove for nearly half the song, with only subtle changes and dark vocal flourishes. This eventually winds down into the albums shortest track, The Wolf, in which Michael Gira delivers a vocal that lives up to the name of the song. It is a wonderful introduction into the title track, which is by far the most challenging, with it's opening of bagpipes, bell chiming and hammered dulcimers basking in chaos until the band start jamming on ever more brutal and droning riffs and grooves.
The Seer is followed by The Seer Returns, another vocal heavy track and certainly one of the albums more accessible songs, at least musically, as the vocals are as usual, dark and sinister. There is also a backing from former member, Jarboe on this song, which is a little subdued, but is a great addition to the rather catchy, or at least enticing groove on which the song runs, which has a rather European, or eastern flavor to it.
After that rather fun track, the onslaught continues with quite possibly the most deranged track on the album, 93. Avenue Blues, which is slowly builds tension throughout, only to be released in furious crashing of drums, guitar and synth at the end. It is then followed by the rather standard, yet eerie The Daughter Brings the Water. Following this, the listener (they they are still listening) is rewarded with one of the albums most beautiful songs, A Song for A Warrior. It is certainly the least experimental, but by no means worst track on here. It is a welcome change, with some great lead vocals from Karen O'.
This doesn't last however, because then Avatar kicks in, quite possibly the weakest in terms of lyrics, though it is followed by more beauty in the track, A Piece of the Sky, featuring a haunting introduction and is truly an unexpected highlight of the album. The track winds up as a rather jaunty song towards the end, sung by both Gira and Jarboe, and acts as a rather mellow, chirpy calm before the deranged storm which is the final track, Apostate. Apostate literally sounds like an Apocalypse; it is scattered and insane, fierce and pulsating, certainly a difficult first listen though it has since become another stand out.
The most strange thing of all is that though this album is two hours long, even on the first listen it didn't feel that way and after multiple listens it has really left me wanting more. This is the first Swans album I have heard and it has made me desperate to explore this bands back catalog to see what else they have created.