Swans are unequivocally massive in scope. Now, this is not just on The Seer or any other release; they are epic in every sense of the word as a band. Forming in 1982, the only member that has consistently been in the band since its inception is singer/multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira. Gira has been quoted in saying that this album has 30 years of influence on it, and that it is the culmination of every project that he has been involved in. Those are incredibly large shoes to fill, and a band as diverse as Swans have embraced quite a few styles over the years; it is certainly difficult to nail down just what exactly this album was set to sound like. The Seer is dense and overwrought for most of its nearly two-hour runtime, especially for the first half of the album.
“Lunacy” certainly lives up to its name, as the glacial and off-kilter instruments build up to a seemingly endless chant of the song title. Repetition is the key to the songwriting of The Seer, as it ends up being more of a musical journey than a collection of songs that can be enjoyed separately. It sounds a bit egotistical to write an album that demands so much time of the listener, and honestly it does drag in places. Gira gives himself too much space to work, and sometimes that unfortunately leaves the music itself to suffer while it gets swallowed up in a vast expanse of monotony. With that being said, it does not change the fact that there is no other album that handles a two hour length so well. Once the listener dedicates the appropriate time to it, you get sucked into the grim and despondent atmosphere. “The Wolf” manages to sound dark and foreboding with minimal instrumentation and more focus on the chant-like, listless vocals. At a little over a minute and a half, it makes the song that much more effective because of its brevity. It segues into the thirty-two minute journey “The Seer”, which takes its time leading the listener through the heart of the album. It can certainly be argued that a thirty-two minute length for any song is bloated and bordering on self-importance, but the length here is actually what makes this song such an incredible listen. As little effects and new instrumentation is added upon the listless beginning, the song begins to take a different shapes as the minutes tick by. Gira intoning, “I see it all, I see it all” without any emotion attached is affecting and creepy, and the winning formula here is that it is nearly impossible to describe what band or album that The Seer actually sounds like.
Screaming strings are a mainstay for one of the more abrasive songs that I have ever heard that didn’t involve harsh vocals in “93 Ave. Blues”. With no vocals in sight, these off-putting strings are the base of this song as drums build up to a frenzied pace. A light xylophone and a repeating acoustic guitar makes up “The Daughter Brings the Water”, and it is a welcome change of pace for the album. It is the first song that attempts a somewhat conventional song structure, and what it does is add another dimension in the sound of the album. It seems that almost when the listener wouldn’t be able to handle the oppressiveness of the overall sound, the floor gives out and light is finally found on the next few songs. Karen O. of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fame is featured on the excellent “Song For a Warrior”, which again favors sparse instrumentation and an intelligent focus on the vocals.
The Seer is without a doubt an amazing album end to end. The main thing that is problematic here is accessibility. If the listener hasn’t heard of Swans, and doesn’t really have a fair idea of what to expect, it will be difficult for them to stick around. The initial repetition of “Mother of the World” is grating and doesn’t really add much to the album itself at first listen, but grows on you after multiple listens. Then there is the urgent importance and refreshing sound of Gira’s vocals on “Avatar”, arguably one of the best songs on The Seer. There are simply too many minute details to focus on through the first time, and it begs for more than what many music fans are willing to give in this day and age. Ultimately, this is one of more rewarding albums to devote time to in recent history, and I believe that it will be looked upon as a classic after some years have passed. With just the right amount of ambition and experience, The Seer breaks through the dark clouds at the end of the album with enough positivity to reward the listeners who suffered with the band through the lengthy album.
2.) Mother of the World
3.) The Wolf
4.) The Seer
5.) The Seer Returns
6.) 93 Ave. B Blues
7.) The Daughter Brings the Water
8.) Song for a Warrior
10.) A Piece of the Sky
11.) The Apostate