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Swans – The Seer

Becci Stanley


I can honestly say with no exaggeration that The Seer by New York hailing band Swans is the strangest record I have ever heard in all my seventeen years of existence. The album combines thirty years of experience and releases from the band, originally starting in 1982 and reforming in 2010, leading to this album of superlatives. By that statement I don’t mean that Swans are the heaviest, loudest or even most evil (as some have claimed) band. No. I mean in terms of the reactions they create, by people either loving their work and claiming nothing else can hold a torch to it, or hating them so much they wish they had the ability to un-hear things.

The Seer is like a weird, trippy dream, over lucid and contrasting elements like jagged, angular synth screams and soothing, melodic bagpipes, where crashing guitars startle you out of a pan-pipe induced trance. 30 minute title track The Seer contains all of these things and culminates all of Swans’ career. It is made up of only two chords, one triton apart from each other, but contains a cacophony of so many instruments it almost hurts to listen to. The changes almost too strange to conceive, yet it compels you to listen on. It heaves back and forth, from one extreme to the next like a raging tide though the two chords stay the same throughout. In turn creating an almost mantra like theme, almost un-nerving and un-expected from what could be considered a post-punk band.

Mantras and chants seem to be a theme in Swans music, as seen chillingly in first track Lunacy, in which this word is chanted until it is drilled into the listener’s head, making you feel that you must be mad to continue listening to this album, yet you still do. Noises and instruments are repeated in this song, over and over in the matter of split-seconds at the start creating an up-beat and energetic feel, until plunging into the violent abyss of lunacy throwing people off what they thought the band were going for sound-wise.

Other key tracks on this album include 93 Ave. B Blues, which starts off as just off note screeches from violins, piercing straight through the ear bells, and slowly transforms into a raging attack of classical music gone punk. A Piece of the Sky starts with the pitter-patter of rain and a brewing storm, leading to a crescendo organ keys, horns and low voices before storming into final track, and second longest track on the album, The Apostate. It ends much how the album started, throwing the listener from pillar to post on a sea of contradicting instrumentals and intense rises and falls.

This album is, well, indescribable. It cannot be described in one word, or even a paragraph, it needs to be heard for you to understand the sheer lunacy of it. And, even then, it still leaves you questioning what you have just heard.