So this is it for the current incarnation of Swans. Back in 2010 they rode into a world that was replete with some quite dreary Americana and blew it apart. (OK, I’m talking about my world, but you know…) Not without irony, given Michael Gira’s role with Angels of Light and Young God records. My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky was something of a halfway house between that old world and the new Swans vision – a mixture of stripped back songs and thunderous sound (best realised on Look At Me Go which churned all the album’s elements into a wonderful epic swirl). With You Fucking People Make Me Sick basically pushing Devendra Banhart down flight of stairs in a piano, it was difficult to see it as anything other than a renewal.
The music went from strength to strength from there. The Seer kept one or two of the more song-tinged elements but often stretched out further and longer. To Be Kind took the drawn out noise making and welded it to a slinking incessent, gradually shifting groove. And The Glowing Man brought all this back together into a darkly celebratory finale.
Of course, live, Swans are a very different experience. The songs that form the basis of the performance are often barely recognisable, the volume and atmospherics drawing in, overwhelming and absorbing the crowd. Around the time of the Seer, this took the form of huge tsumanis of sound capable of shifting you bodily around the room. For To Be Kind the sound became that of a huge pulsating, wheezing beast, beating its wings and getting you to move yourself. Tonight, in keeping with the progression, there’s a range of things going on, from huge slow-building drones through to scouring noise. And yet there’s swaying grooves too and even from time to time something that might just be recognisable and a bit of alternative guitar rock -not too much but it was there.
But there’s one constant across the whole of this incarnation of Swans that is present again in spades tonight. For all the potentially threatening noise and immense volume, the overwhelming sense is one of slow-built and hard-won euphoria. So, as we stumble out into the night, dazed and straining to hear, there are grins on our faces to go with tears in our eyes. We’ll all be back for whatever comes next.