What compelled me to listen to an almost two-hour, experimental nightmare from a band I’d never heard of? Was it the album’s almost universal praise? Was it the story of it’s 30 year journey to completion? Was it because of that scary rat-thing on the cover? Maybe it’s all of the above. The appeal of Swans’ The Seer is difficult to put into words. It’s not conventional rock music by any means, nor does it follow any linear pattern of rhyme or reason. Instead, The Seer is a highly experimental soundtrack of ambitious “songs” that don’t really have a beginning or an end. Tracks can run anywhere between two minutes to thirty-two minutes, but it’s the epic scope that makes The Seer so strangely compelling.
I was amazed when I discovered that Swans had been making music since the early 80s. How could such a bizarrely unique band fly under my radar for so long? They’ve gone through many changes in their sound and lineup throughout the years with the only constant being songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira. Known for producing sludgy, noise-rock in the 80s, Swans has evolved into an almost indescribable combination of different musical styles. There’s no verse-chorus-verse bullshit here. The model Swans follow (if you can even call it a model) usually begins with one part played with lengthy repetition until building to an earth-crumbling climax. I’m not going to deny that this technique challenges the listener’s patience from time to time, but the obstacles are worth the journey.
“Lunacy” was the track that initially seduced my ears and still gives me chills. It arguably sums up the grandiose quality of The Seer most perfectly. Though this album isn’t all thundering moments of musical exploration. Sometimes The Seer takes a slow, minimalist approach with the only guide being the haunting baritone of 58 year old Michael Gira. While sometimes it will feel like ages since you last heard a human voice. The Seer is the whole kitchen sink thrown in while the kitchen is simultaneously on fire.
I equate The Seer more with that of a movie soundtrack than a rock album. The songs aren’t as much songs as they are “pieces” or even suites, or neither. It’s pointless to label anything here. What is worth taking note is the emotional response this album leaves. Honestly, I’m not sure how to feel about this album, but at the same time I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything remotely like this. When something like that can happen in this day and age it’s special. So if you’re feeling adventurous, explore the dark world of The Seer. Just be careful you don’t run into any scary looking’ rat-things.
Favorite Tracks: “The Daughter Brings the Water”, “Lunacy”, “The Seer Returns”