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Swans The Seer Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A double-album masterpiece from one of the most vital rock bands on the planet.

Chris Power 2012

The Seer is a masterpiece to be considered alongside Swans’ best albums: 1984’s brutal Cop, the more nuanced Children of God (1987), the majestic White Light from the Mouth of Infinity (1991), and the sprawling and inspired Soundtracks for the Blind (1996).

Following Soundtracks, bandleader Michael Gira called time on the group. After more than a decade, during which time he worked on solo projects and with new band Angels of Light, a reconfigured Swans returned in 2010 with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.

If that album illustrated that Swans were back because they had more to say – the direct opposite of the impetus behind most reunions – The Seer exceeds this, and confirms them as one of the most vital rock bands on the planet.

Rock history suggests the phrase ‘double-album’ is a synonym for ‘zero editing’, but despite pushing two hours The Seer doesn’t feel bloated. Even the 32-minute title track feels honed from something larger, as opposed to an elongated jam. The realisation arrives that Swans don’t really write songs, but shape psychic and emotional territories.

Their approach means the longer songs in particular operate almost symphonically, shifting radically between movements. A Piece of the Sky proceeds from field recording to vocal collage to anxiety-laced drone, then through a heady gamelan section into a honky-tonk stomp. It finally arrives at a gorgeous, chiming coda, with Gira’s crooned vocal sounding like Devendra Banhart.

The Seer is an often violent experience, but even amid the crashing climaxes of the title track, or the dissonance of 93 Ave. B Blues, you’re never too far from a vein of beauty. Acoustic tracks Song for a Warrior (with a vocal from Karen O) and The Daughter Brings the Water are the most obvious ones, but even the relentless attack of Mother of the World eventually slows, trading aggression for haunting reflection.

Swans are famous for power of their assault, and justly so, but their lethal weaponry is intricately patterned. It’s this contrast, ultimately, that makes them so potent. The Seer might not be the album you spend most time with this year – it’s too emotionally demanding for heavy rotation – but it’s one you’ll be listening to for years to come.

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