Swans - To Be Kind
A dark, two-hour noise rock opus featuring St Vincent, Cold Specks and Little Annie
This article is from 2014.
Forget mellowing with age. Since reforming in 2010, Swans have single-mindedly resumed their mission to make ear-bleeding, core-rattling American gothic doom rock at resolve-shattering length.
Thanks to the financial patronage of their acolytes, these cult noisemongers have followed up The Seer with another two-hour (that’s triple vinyl) opus hewn from material they developed initially on the road – one can only imagine the larks on that tourbus – then strung out in the studio with vocal backing from St Vincent, Cold Specks and Little Annie. The crowdfunders get plenty bang (and clang and crunch and wail) for their buck, while the band takes the time needed to expel some disturbing demons. So everyone’s happy. As it were.
These ten tracks reach deep into the darkest recesses of the blues, toy malevolently with a riff or rhythm long enough to induce hypnosis and then unleash hell. The opening ominous incantation ‘Screen Shot’ holds its steely nerve then piles on the pressure in the dying minutes, while the blunt, semi-industrial ‘A Little God In My Hands’ and more economical, tribal ‘Oxygen’ abruptly erupt into blaring free jazz frenzies.
Frontman Michael Gira plays the weaselly preacher on ‘Just A Little Boy (For Chester Burnett)’, a loose but menacing blues, punctuated with the unsettling laughter of his bandmates and a brief maelstrom of tolling chords. ‘Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture’ starts with pummelling chords and has Gira literally barking by the time it winds up over half an hour later. He spits expletives like an unholy liturgy over the Krautrock urgency of ‘She Loves Us’.
Everyone sounds all raged out but not cowed by the end of the album – after such a lengthy exorcism, they power down with the creepy benediction of the title track. Inevitably, there is some repetition over the course of two intense hours, but is that not how all cults condition their disciples?
Out now via Mute Records. Swans play The Arches, Glasgow, Sat 24 May