“Your life is in my hands.” When Swans high priest Michael Gira sings these words, one is reminded of that old joke about a man who dies and goes to hell, where he’s greeted by a crowd of fellow sinners standing neck-high in feces. Surveying the foul scene, the man thinks to himself, “Well, it could be worse”… at which point, the Devil appears and announces, “Okay, coffee break’s over—everyone back on your heads.”
This is what it feels like listening to The Seer, an album that effectively works in two modes: gravely unpleasant and terrifyingly cataclysmic. Where their ’80s underground noise-scene peers have responded to middle age by delving into psychedelic jams (Sonic Youth) or reasserting their inner horn-dog (Nick Cave), the recently resuscitated Swans are using this second wind to project their singular brand of ugliness on an ever-more epic and elaborate scale, forging an unholy union of disquieting gospel-folk hymns and sludge-metal hellfire, ominous church-bell clangs and earth-quaking, industrialized stomps.
The Seer runs a traumatizing two hours, and is absolutely astonishing in both its scope and its ability to up the cardiac-arresting ante—this is an album where the 19-minute song is the third longest track. To those bracing for the end of the world on December 21, 2012: Your apocalypse arrived four months early.
Playlist picks: “The Apostate,” “A Piece of the Sky,” “The Seer”