This is the last album by this incarnation of the re-vamped Swans. It opens with a darker elegance and a get deal of sonic texture. Gira's croon is a little more refined and less like the rants of "To Be Kind". This comes a little closer to what I want from the band though I enjoyed the albums of this phase of the band, the only thing I haven't liked it the hipster hippie crowd that began to show up post- Bonnaroo thinking they were a jam band and Gira's perhaps unintentional indulgence of this. They ride the wave rather than riding the groove here, building into some punches at the end. They go into the sound of an orchestra tuning up on "Cloud of Unknowing". Twenty four minutes is asking a lot of a song. It takes the first four minutes for it to swell up into a sonic buzz. When the song begins to congeal it goes into the more droning jam we experienced on "the Seer". The vocal is more of a moaning chant, and while it creates a powerful atmosphere really forces you to consider what is or isn't a song, until the drumming begins to pound this chaos into form at the fifteen minute mark. Sonically it is really hard to argue against what they make happen here. It will prove to be more effective live than it is on this album, but then again I quit doing drugs and would have a different perspective if altered while listening to this.
Gira takes back what was stolen from him on "The World Looks Red the World Looks Black". Only fans of earlier Sonic Youth will be able to figure out what is going on in this regard and the arrangement has been drastically altered. It's slowed down and more organic. The original lyrics at still intact, but delivered in a way that makes more sense. I like the groove evolves into at the midway point. The call and response vocals only add to this. They can still play songs under ten minutes. The proof is "People Like Us" which is a sluggish dream of a crooned ballad. He voice has the baritone resonance of the the more goth like years I adore. Perhaps the lethargy of this song is ravages of age battering the inner passion Gira emotes with vocally. You are then tested with the twenty minute "Frankie M". Feedback calls out like whale songs. It takes eight minutes before the actual song emerges for the ghostly noise. This song has been in their live rotation for some time and when you are hit with the kind of volume Swans wields live its very effective. I guess if it's their last hurrah with this line up then it makes senses it would be committed to memory in the studio. I hope their is video of how this was captured in the studio, but it's not something I am going to listen to in the morning while walking to the gym. There is a kind of jammy quality to how the song progresses after the breakdown. It's not noodling jams, but I have seen first hand hippies respond to this in a positive manner.
They return to a more conventional song format with Gira's wife singing "When Will I Return". I like how this song builds up. It sounds like something Jarboe would have done. The title track is another mammoth 25 minute song. The intro to this more up tempo song only takes three minutes of build. Gira layers his vocals . One track of lower chanting, with his more declarative ranting style of improvised vocal sitting on top of this. Six minutes in things break back down into a simmer of ambient noise. It builds up into the kind of explosive pounding the band is known for. Their brand of heavy is a dense yet shimmering wall of sound. This ebbs back and forth until they hit a driving groove that I think I've heard them jam on before live. Gira's vocals have a touch of punk to them when he does come in. By punk here we talking about the Stooges or MC5. The bass and drums really get to shine. They more abrasive heaviness waits until the song's final three minutes to really unload on you.
The album comes to an end with "Finally Peace" which floats on the lazy flow of the melody the kind of accents post-rock bands influenced by Swans have gone on to emulate. I'll give this album a 9.5 with my only real complaint being the length of the songs that touch the twenty minute mark, the song writing could have been more efficient and still gotten the point across, allowing them to jam it out more live if they so choose.