"People always consider us to be very dour and depressing, but fuck that shit," chief Swan Michael Gira told Pitchfork in 2012. "The goal is ecstasy."
Ecstasy has two definitions. In the common vernacular, it's commensurate with elation and blissful delight. But its first meaning denoted an out-of-body experience, an altered state of mystic self-transcendence. Swans straddles the line between thrilling and terrifying on its two-hour opus To Be Kind.
Since reforming in 2010, Gira and company have uncompromisingly explored avant-garde rock as grand-edifice ritual, harnessing crushing volume, grinding repetition and flooding waves of feedback into a hypnotizing swirl of heat-stroke minimalism.
To Be Kind is often intense, loud and brutal, but its windswept moments are as powerful as its visceral ones. The calamitous, teeth-gnashing "Oxygen" is taut and intense, but its predecessor, "Kirsten Supine," packs an equal punch with its eerie, hymn-like calm. Centerpiece "Bring the Sun / Toussaint L'Overture" begins with a crushing riff, yes, but it offsets is punishing payload with sun-blinded post-rock and whirling tornadoes of nerve-jangling noise over its masterful half-hour expanse.
Especially epic and intense, To Be Kind is an immersive and overwhelming listen. But if you surrender yourself to its terrible hypnotic power, you might find ecstasy, however you choose to define it.
Swans will perform at the Neighborhood Theatre on July 1.