Review Summary: You'll never escape.
Isn't it startling how great albums get overlooked? Swans have been around since the early 80's, took a 14 year break, and returned in 2010. This album, understandably, caused the 14 year hiatus. One listen, and you understand, and you're grateful they took the break. For this is quite possibly the most uncomfortably honest and unflinching album I've ever heard, a traumatic experience that bares all and shies away from nothing. To the lyrics, to the music, to the vocals, this is a demanding and tumultous listen.
For such a demanding and draining album, it's positively exhilirating how captivating Soundtracks For The Blind manages to be over such a long runtime. It's exhilirating in a bone cold way, a horrific experience you can't peel yourself away from, because you know what you're hearing is always painfully true. Over 26 tracks, frontman Gira lays out everything, with lurid power that sound like monologues of the damned. Defeated, angry, desolate, obsessive, violent, needy, sad. He runs through every emotion possible and consistently delivers gut-churning prose.
For the stark and brilliant lyrics, the music is right there to match it in all its nightmarish glory. Splotched and spliced and alternately tuneless and strangely catchy, it's near impossible to say what genre this album comes out on. It's painstakingly detailed, white hot bursts of noise augmenting an atmosphere so thick its presence is almost physically felt. For so many songs, spread over 2 long discs, it's stunning how varied, well-crafted, and memorable every song is (Mellothumb is honestly the only exception.) It's so hard to pick individual songs when the entire body of work is so flawless and affecting. "Volcano"'s freakishly unsexy musings, sounding like the dance anthem of hell, always grinding while the waveringly pretty female vocals sing atop it. "Red Velvet Wound"'s disembodied and yet still tuneful sound, leading right into the behemoth "The Sound", which can only be described in superlatives such as magnificent, epic, bloodcurdling.
All of this leads up to what is undeniably the climax of the album, "The Final Sacrifice." A long industrial buildup sets the stage for the most harrowing moments of this album, as Gira gives one of the most vitriolic and unhinged vocal performances I've ever heard, literally spitting and spewing like a madman who has lost control. This is the embodiment of what this record is: Disturbing, awe-inspiring, unnerving. This is such a psychologically and emotionally upsetting album that it's a hard sell, but one listen and it slips into you like an unseen knife, overwhelming in it's power and harsh truths. This is more than music. This album has the freakish and moving power and lasting effect of a true work of art. This is an experience that transports, hypnotizes, and haunts you. You'll never escape.