There was a time when Swans created music so dense and loud it caused visceral gastronomic reactions from audience members during their concerts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
But since rebooting the iconic industrial institution in 2010, Michael Gira has refined his longtime band’s sound, albeit without losing an ounce of its heaviness. “To Be Kind” is the closest he’s achieved at striking that quintessential balance of beauty and madness yet.
Recorded with John Congleton in El Paso, Texas, this triple LP picks up where its predecessor, 2012’s “The Seer,” leaves off while also referencing such previous works as 1991’s “White Light from the Mouth of Infinity,” in which the doom side of Americana slithers in and out of the chambers of crushing rhythmic drones on tracks like “A Little God in My Hands” and “She Loves Us.” Elsewhere, Gira continues to test the wills of his listeners on such marathon slayers as “Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture” and the crushing title track, both of which clock in at nearly 35 minutes apiece.
Most telling of “To Be Kind,” however, is “Just a Little Boy (for Chester Burnett),” a cryptic paean to Howlin’ Wolf that opens with a twang and ends with sheer primal terror. Something tells me the blues giant wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Swans ‘To Be Kind’ Rating: W W W W