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To Be Kind

There aren’t many bands like Swans. Seeing them live is submitting yourself to a ferocious onslaught of noise that rips through your body and re-arranges your internal organs. They leave you feeling beaten, broken and somewhat traumatised. On record, whilst they don’t have the same aural power to shake your very core, they do have the ability to make you question your own sanity. Their last album, The Seer, was a primal journey into the mind of inimitable frontman Michael Gira. It was a jaw-droppingly self-assured album.

With their new album, To Be Kind, Gira takes things to a whole new level. There’s a dark foreboding as the opener, ‘Screen Shot’, gradually builds up innocuously. You hold your breath knowing that something malignant is waiting just around the corner, before the noise winds up into a fearsome crescendo. Struggling not be overpowered, you feel your senses railing against the infernal cacophony.

If I had to sum up To Be Kind in one word, it would be ‘ominous’. Even in its more introspective and mellow moments - ‘Just a Little Boy’ feels like Lou Reed descending in an opium-induced illusion - it never lets up. At some point during the epic 33-minute ‘Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture’ I lose my mind momentarily, drifting off into a feverish reverie only to be rudely awoken by an earthquake of noise coursing through me. I stumble unsteadily from the wreckage into the brief respite of ‘She Loves Us’, but just as I’m getting comfortable, waves of noise assail me.

To Be Kind is far darker and more disturbed than its predecessor, but also conversely at times more introspective and thoughtful. There’s rage, torment, despair, anger, hysteria and pain, as you follow Dante’s steps as he journeys through the Nine Circles of Hell.

Rob Aldam