Outside of heavy metal, Swans can easily stake their claim to be the best live band currently operational in the world today. And now with the release of To Be Kind – a titanic, initially punishing but ultimately rewarding masterpiece – their recorded output can comfortably claim to be among the best there is as well.
Their third album since their reconfiguration in 2010 is hypnotic (designed to impose an altered yet vulnerable psychological state) and sublime (representative of the terrifying majesty of nature). These grooves are stretched out masterfully and gloriously by a band who are road-tautened and attuned to the verge of telepathy. And it should be said that the repetitive musical motifs that head Swan and messianic musician Michael Gira has delivered here are definitely grooves and not riffs, because there is an undeniable funk, a priapic swing and swagger to proceedings.
This isn’t to say that they have ‘gone soft’, however; while Oxygen starts off literally funkier than a Pharrell or Kanye loop, Swans simply take longer to ratchet up the insidious tension – a tension that is only punctuated by bursts of sheet metal-tearing brass, heart-palpitating cosmic beeps and blats from a modular synth and the kind of chanting you’d expect from the last hours of Jim Jones’s suicide compound.
When Swans need to come heavy, though, by Christ, they come heavy. Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Overture – a track that is longer than the entire Reign In Blood album – is a tribute to the freed slave and ‘Black Napoleon’ who led the Haitian revolution in the 18th century, and it grabs you by the throat and throttles you mercilessly for 36 minutes.
Psychologically and spiritually, Gira strides through the landscape of this album like Rust Cohle from True Detective or a preacher straight from the pages of an apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novel.
And To Be Kind, ironically enough, is no country for old men… those looking for a retread of Swans’ no wave origins or their middle years as noise rock, doom drone or weird folk innovators will be sorely disappointed; they should seek their nostalgia from a lesser talent, as this is new music of the highest and most enriching order.