Swans, rightly, have a fearsome reputation. Born in 1982 out of the flux of New York's artistic, abrasive no-wave scene, they quickly became a byword for rock-in-extremity, songs like Raping a Slave and Time Is Money (Bastard) hurricanes of sound atop which frontman Michael Gira declaimed transgressive lyrics in guttural bellows.
But that is not the full story. Over the years, Swans developed a depth to match this extremity. The addition of vocalist/keyboardist Jarboe added a brooding beauty to the band's palette, and by 1987's Children of God, Swans' attack had relented some, their noise barrage reshaped into a brooding, gothic Americana of cutthroat blues-rock, shrill strings and eerie, Pentecostal hymnals. Following Swans' split, this was territory Gira would explore further with his new band, Angels of Light - softening, at times, but never mellowing. And while My Father Will Guide Me… sees Gira return to the Swans name for the first time since 1997, the record itself gives little sense of a break in continuity.
This is no cause for complaint. No Words/No Thoughts kicks off the record in a terrifying manner, racing black clouds of guitar - courtesy of original Swans guitarist Norman Westberg - tethered down by lashed cymbals and an imperious drum march. The likes of My Birth and Eden Prison, in particular, fit the formula of classic late-period Swans, sustained noise-rock squalls that chase the horizon with a grim intensity. But there is relief, too. Reeling the Liars In employs acoustic guitar and male gospel choir, but Gira's delivery, while not cheerless, concerns him killing his enemies and burning them on a pyre. And particularly audacious is the track You F** People Make Me Sick, a highly-strung folk number that sees a quaver-voiced Devendra Banhart echoed by Gira's three-year-old daughter.
Hardcore Swans fans may opine that no Swans reunion is a proper reunion without the presence of Jarboe. Perhaps, but it's hard to deny that My Father Will Guide Me… stands up there with anything in their catalogue. It's a majestic return and, let us hope, a harbinger of more to come.
- - -