You don’t need a painted face, hyper-extended unreally red tongue lolling down to your navel, odd coloured contact lenses, matted hair and definitely not foot-high heels to be a scary musical act. You just need to be Michael Gira and make the kind of music his band Swans makes. But that’s the tough part. Because the band’s music is scary not in a horror-inducing way. It is terrifying in its unrelenting intensity. In these times of 3-minute attention spans (am I being generous here?), Swans is an anachronism, making a huge demand on you with albums that are 2-hour long monster works.
Less than two years after the release of their riveting epic “The Seer”, Swans have come back with what I think is perhaps an even better effort in “To Be Kind”. All the Swans stock-in-trade are here. The hypnotic quality created by phrases repeated, building up with slight modifications, gradual additions and then the nearly out-of-control spiralling crescendo best exemplified in my opinion on the shamanistic “Screen Shot” which, had the words been different, could well make for an incitement to ritual mayhem. The multi-movement half-an-hour extravagance in “Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture”. The mystical allure and strange interludes of “Nathalie Neal”. Gira and co. draw you in to their murky, insane swirl of music, bind you such that even when you break back to the surface and clamber on to safe shores, you dive back after a short breather. Either that or you bounce off the surface perhaps never again to venture anywhere close. Not for everyone, this. Because this is a dark pool that is not penetrated by the light of joy. Yet it will cleanse you in a cathartic way…at a price. More than just music, it’s an experience. Not necessarily uplifting but definitely something that will make you question convention. And that in my opinion is a good thing.