On stage the normally stoic, meditative Michael Gira performs as a sort of mad conductor, gyrating and flailing with what’s to be perceived as the primal, cathartic release of Swans’ music. Omniscient crescendos pile one atop the other as Gira’s possessed body movements often work independently of a track’s overall thrum. The whole production borders on performance art, and has only been honed by the collective’s recent trio of records.
Beginning with 2012’s statement The Seer, and followed by 2014’s To Be Kind, Gira—who’s been embroiled in controversy over rape allegations made by singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm—has seemed increasingly enamored with the potential of an album’s magnificence. The triple-LP opuses of ambient drone and noise-rock experimentation are meant to swallow music venues like a snake devours a mouse, and send small furry animals cowering into the corners of apartments. The Glowing Man is spun as the final record for this lineup of Swans—which was rebooted by Gira in 2010 with My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky—and by the time you do finally reach the sunsetting closer “Finally, Peace,” you’ll feel obliged to nod in exhausted agreement with the repetition of “Your glorious mind …”
Gira feeds on the drawn-out, high-tension passages of accelerating cymbal crashes and swelling guitar dissonance, many of which exist on the 25-minute “Cloud Of Unknowing.” But while the axis on which that track rotates features deconstructed, incohesive drum rolls and a kind of radiant summoning from Gira—one that bleeds and pools into negative space you didn’t know existed—the plodding, sinister rhythm that precedes it proves more hypnotic. During this Swans era of fattening the drone till it crackles and bursts and spews out all over the fucking place, the coherent rhythm has been endangered, so much so that it feels more cathartic to sit back and stretch your legs out in the pocket of a groove every now and again.
Right smack-dab in the middle of the album’s behemoth title track, an awesome display of chugging heat kicks in, as swirls of ethereal vocals and discordant guitar slicing through in attempts to stunt its pulse. Gira sneers along, “I am a glowing man, I am / I am a growing, glowing man,” while the track gathers noise, building and building and building before ramming headfirst into a barrier and instantaneously mutating into a dark mass of hell noise. It’s jarring and grand, and makes you wonder and already appreciate whatever the next formation of Swans will be—in that it will continue, which Gira has said. Still, if The Glowing Man and its recent expansive—and invitingly difficult—predecessors have proven anything, it’s that Gira’s mission is to be boundary-less.