Post-rock has the potential to be so many different things. It can be wild and frantic, moving in ways and shapes that the mind can't predict. It can also move in slow and melancholy ways that build slowly over time, allowing for massive spaces of atmosphere to settle in. Post-rock legends Swans find a compromise right in between these two extremes in their new record, The Glowing Man.
Going into a Swans record means you have to be mentally prepared to handle an otherworldly experience. Each record is like something from another dimension. Over their multi-decade spanning career, they've carved a niche for themselves. This album borrows heavily from their latest efforts: 2012's dramatic The Seer and 2014's funkier To Be Kind. The Glowing Man is like a coagulation of the two albums, the influence of both being clear while still one substance as it stands.
Nearly half of the songs on the record have a runtime of over twenty minutes, and while those times may seem as off-putting, a lot goes on within each track over that long span of time. A mild sense of the giant build ups this album has can be taken from the first track, 'Cloud Of Forgetting', that begins quietly with distant guitar before big guitar and kick hits come in to end the track. The track builds slowly over its twelve and a half minute length, with creepy vocals from Michael Gira depressingly and revealingly occur throughout the track, ending with deep descending pianos. Following that track is the epic 'Cloud Of Unknowing', a track that truly exemplifies the sound of Swans. Beginning creepily with scratches and horrific and panicked sounds, accompanied by terrifying screams of the tortured, massive, dark walls of noise build into a petrifying heavy climax that lead the song into a gentle ending, with church bells that act as both a throwback to The Seer and the feeling that this song is inspired by the absolute depths of Hell itself.
Title track 'The Glowing Man' is much the same, while not being quite as utterly scary as the former track. It's more of an experimental song, glitchy guitars accompanied by atmospheric splashes of synths. It has a dramatic and heavy, thrashy middle section that sounds like a heavier, somehow darker version of Nine Inch Nails. Several songs feature the use of synths to help build the cavernous and endless atmosphere the album really banks on, including 'People Like Us' and 'Frankie M', the latter of which is another track that has a massive, heavy guitar part as its culmination.
The only real issue with the album is that some of the songs are really drawn out. While the tracks are brilliant in their own rights, a lot of them could be shorter. After twenty minutes of the same song, there's a lot of progression that could even serve as parts of a bigger whole, and perhaps better off as separate tracks. The album banks on long sections of repeating measures that slowly and slowly build up and slow down, sometimes really dragging down the mood. It does work in the favor of 'Cloud Of Unforgiving', since that track's devilish overtones really play to the slow and building intensity. It works in most tracks in the same way it doesn't.
Swans never go small. Each release is a work of art, in a different and strange way. The Glowing Man may be one of the band's darkest releases, long drawn out songs building with subtle intensities to brilliant and powerful climaxes that peak with such darkness and power that you cannot forget. Another brilliant piece of post-rock from a brilliant band. Some songs are dragged down by their length, but in the end this album wouldn't be quite the dark monster it would be without that factor. Give it a shot - it's an album that'll leave you thinking for a long time.
Favorite Tracks: Cloud Of Unknowing, The Glowing Man
Least Favorite Track: When Will I Return