An intense Swansong: The Glowing Man

The Glowing Man is Swans’ heaviest piece of music in years — a strong claim considering their infamy as one of the ugliest, most eviscerating, intense and transcendent guitar bands ever.

The track is the half-hour centrepiece of Swans’ new album of the same name — another colossal LP of expansive pile-driving battering ram blues, drone-rock, pile-driving repetition and occasional pastoral, ambient relief.

Some 30-odd years after forming in the wake of the 1980s New York No Wave scene, Big Chief Swan Michael Gira is calling time on this current incarnation of the band he resurrected in 2010 after a 13-year time out.

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Over the albums My Father Will Guide Me On A Rope Up To The Sky; The Seer; To Be Kind, and this new LP, Gira and his co-Swans have recalibrated our expectations of what a ‘regular’ guitar band can achieve, notably in their shape-shifting, body-shaking, often truly frightening live shows.

Announcing The Glowing Man earlier this year, Gira said in a statement: “I’m decidedly not a Deist, but on a few occasions – particularly in live performance – it’s been my privilege, through our collective efforts, to just barely grasp something of the infinite in the sound and experience generated by a force that is definitely greater than all of us combined.”

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This brute force is summoned fully in this live performance of The Glowing Man, with all members locked in, and Gira conducting with feral abandon. Christoph Hahn scrapes all manner of dissonance out of his pedal steel guitar, using a comb; Thor Harris (yeah, he’s called Thor) batters home-made percussion and hammer dulcimer, trading with drummer Chris Pravdica, while Norman Westberg, Gira and Phil Puleo trade blunt-force trauma chords on the down-beat.

A 28-minute YouTube stint may be a bit much for an intro to the band, but if you want to get a small percentage of the intensity of a Swans live show, watch between the 5-10 minute mark. Gira said he called time on the first era of Swans because it “felt like 15 years of being kicked up a set of stairs by some moronic gladiator or something”. They manage to bottle that vicious onslaught here, with some ambient textures to puncture a few holes through the fog and let some much-needed light in.