Describing The Seer is an exquisite challenge. Swans’ follow-up to 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky is primal. It’s as if the entire course of human history was recorded, the epochs at once discordant and harmonious with one another, the sounds of industry crashing with the cries of the ancients. The ’80s and ’90s found Swans crafting dissonant dirges as well. Though Gira chose to briefly dissolve Swans to focus on Angels of Light, a noticeably more merciful musical effort, the group’s reinstatement in 2010 brought Gira’s drones and industrial, experimental rock — just barely retaining the marks of rock-n-roll — into the 21st century. Swans came to fill a void we didn’t know we had, to satisfy some very basic need for strident noise. This is the darkest of matter, but it comes not from some point in outer space. It comes from Gira, the cowboy hat-wearing frontman who looks upon the two-disc release as “unfinished” work.
To the listener, nothing could be farther from the truth. With the title track clocking in at just over 32 minutes, and at least two others passing the 19 minute mark, The Seer is the result of the band forging their sound, much like blacksmiths in the sweltering heat of an anvil factory. The songs use repetition to its fullest effect, until the music seems to be absorbed into the listener’s very heartbeat. “Mother of the World” features a labored, continuous pant laid over the authoritative beating of a drum and a merciless guitar riff, and one can’t help but be reminded of slavery and the bowels of warships. It’s a torturous, rapturous musical experience that nevertheless comes close to transcendence. Transcendence of what, however, remains unclear. No way are Swans going to make escape easy. The Seer pants and labors, and we explode with it. Grating gratification has never felt so good.