In an intermittent career that spans well over two decades, here lies the end of Swans’ latest carnation, The Glowing Man: a two-hour expedition of pure chaos, pummelling you in the face relentlessly. The barrage of noise is constant, confrontational, and often quite stressful. Despite some moments of regressed intensity, this is assuredly one of the most demanding experiences of 2016. That said, it’s certainly worth staying with, even if it means consuming it on your own listening terms.
Ominous drones are often a go-to outset for tension-building purposes, eventually building to grooves that are warm and hypnotic. Michael Gira’s sinister croons tend to combat any sense of comfort that may result from such mesmerising musical slumbers, yet the essence of drive and defiance keeps you captured through most of tracks.
However, as a total work, The Glowing Man is a difficult ordeal given the sheer intensity of the music. The best moments are wonderful — Swans are capable of rocking seriously hard — but it can be a test to get there sometimes. You’re required to pass through pitfalls in order to reach the excellent second half of the title track, for example. Meanwhile, “Frankie M” stands out as one of the album’s major highlights by having wonderfully hypnotic segments that develop naturally to justify the songs length, with an opening instrumental section that seems wholly spiritual, easily perceivable as a soundtrack fit for oblivion.
This is a work that is easy to describe but difficult to truly comprehend — and that’s OK. So long as you’re willing to let it get through, The Glowing Man can be whatever you want it to be, even if it ends up leaving you dazed and disorientated at the close.
7 out of 10
This is good and didn’t give me too much of a headache. Experimental rock spars with tribal ambience in The Glowing Man, and does so for a breathless two hours. There’s a primal energy to the record that finds form in a seductively elegant web of sounds.
The work’s foundational goal, according to Swans don Michael Gira, was simply following the unfamiliar. ‘I knew,’ he writes, ‘that if I took the road of mining the past or revisiting the catalog, that it would be fruitless and stultifying.’ Accordingly, The Glowing Man is anything but. Its mad professor forays through the rock void are widely satisfying, and wonderfully textured. Gravelly, wailing guitars accompany harmonising voices worthy of the heavens, thunderous drums back pipe organs, and it all manages to sound rather appropriate.
In spite of its length, the music is rarely indulgent (although the title track did leave me wanting to break things). Be it a thirty-minute epic or a five-minute mini-epic, the tracks tend to justify their mass, and there’s a whole lot of it to engage with. Repeat listens will bring — along with exhaustion — new layers and subtleties to the fore. It’s a rewarding experience, if not always a pleasant one. Whatever it is Swans are doing in The Glowing Man, they’re doing something. It’s healthy for ears to be bombarded like this every now and then.
7 out of 10
There’s a lot to take in on The Glowing Man. In its two-hour play time, we see some short, delicate, folk-soaked music which come with hints of Portishead and PJ Harvey’s later output at one end of the spectrum, while at the other, psychedelic, entrancing, swelling soundscapes span across half-hour stretches.
The former tone hits the spot more consistently than the latter, which can vary from satisfyingly hypnotic ambience which sets a scene for an eruption of increasingly abrasive, guitar-driven rock 10 minutes later, to repetitive, noisy music which is difficult and irritating to listen to and outstays its welcome. Fortunately, the latter is largely a sin of the title track alone, but at 29 minutes, it’s a difficult sin to discount.
Irritation aside, there’s some engaging performances in “Frankie M” and “The World Looks Red / The World Looks Black”, while “Finally, Peace” makes for a refreshing closer to round a generally heady album off nicely. I won’t have The Glowing Man on repeat, but it’s an album worth listening to nonetheless.
7 out of 10