Following the unprecedented critical and commercial success of Swans' double-album masterworks The Seer and To Be Kind -- the latter of which reached the Top 40 of both the U.S. and U.K. album charts -- Michael Gira announced that the existing iteration of the band would only produce one more album and tour. The Glowing Man, as with its predecessors, is a sprawling two-hour epic containing lengthy compositions that the band developed during their momentous tours (and documented their progress on limited double-CDs released on their website in order to raise funds for the proper albums). The Glowing Man contains fewer tracks than the group's previous albums (only eight this time around), and most of them are well over ten minutes each. This looks daunting on paper, but it doesn't seem indulgent at all to anyone who has witnessed the group's performances, which are moving experiences for the musicians and audience members alike. Gira is less a songwriter than a summoner, channeling unspeakable amounts of energy into ritualistic spectacles. Many of the songs start out with tension-building drones, often utilizing lots of percussion (and Okkyung Lee's furious cello freakery on "Cloud of Unknowing") before ebbing and flowing with intense bursts, and eventually reaching ecstatic, trance-inducing states. Other pieces have more constant rhythms, starting out slow and calm and building hypnotically before freeing themselves and floating in space. With lyrics concerning hard drugs ("Frankie M") and abusive relationships ("When Will I Return," sung by Michael's wife Jennifer Gira), The Glowing Man seems sadder, gloomier, and more disturbing than the more hopeful To Be Kind, but the band have always embraced many positive and negative elements in their work, and they all add up to an extremely powerful expression of nearly every human emotion. Unlike the album which ended the previous incarnation of Swans, the collage-like Soundtracks for the Blind, The Glowing Man isn't a bold excursion into unknown territory compared to the group's previous works. That isn't to say that it feels like a formulaic retread, however. Especially considering how all three albums' longest (and best) pieces evolved from each other through touring and rehearsals, it seems best to view the group's post-2010 run as one extended ever-evolving work, and this is just the intended conclusion of that. There's no way this type of boundless energy can simply be retired or silenced, though, so the album serves as another exhilarating portal into the unknown.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2