Swans – Soundtracks For The Blind (1996)

Soundtracks for the Blind is often hailed as something incredibly special in the original Swans catalogue. After spending the majority of the 90s focusing on much more softer material, Swans’ issued a perplexing final death rattle with this double album. Listening to it, even from the first few opening seconds, evokes deep feelings of sadness for me, even though I never got into the band until they reformed three years ago. This record was literally everything the band had left before they quit. There are a few full-band songs in here, but the majority of the two discs is made up of sound collages by Gira and Jarboe. Some of them are tests of patience, sure, but for the most part they are extremely efficient and poignant passages of noise, ambience or atmosphere to rival any long-term artists in this field.

As a whole, Soundtracks for the Blind is an absolute mammoth task to try and conquer in one go. You really do get your money’s worth here. Both discs are crammed full, and the total running length for the entire album is nearly two and a half hours long. Even with the recent release of The Seer, I believe that Soundtracks is by far the most “out-there” thing that Swans have ever done. It’s creepy, moving and downright edgy, and leaves you with that sinking feeling you get in your chest after looking at old photographs or something. Due to the sheer volume of ambient tracks here, when the full band finally kicks in it is infinitely more impressive. Most of the band tracks last easily between 10 and 15 minutes, a scary decade-plus long ago look at what was to come in the future, and also a downright perplexing move for a band that had spend the previous seven years or so peddling acoustic-driven four-minuters like it was nobody’s business. I mean, just compare this record to the album before it (The Great Annihilator); such startling change continues to puzzle me to this very day.

Couple that with the fact that a few of the songs here scarily pre-date the stylings of the post rock explosion (“Helpless Child” and “The Sound” as examples) and you really have an absolute relic of a record that must be cherished until the end of time. Its length makes it almost impossible to market commercially, its content relating to neither the brutal Swans of old or the soft Swans of the 90s, and it was released at a time when it would be seen as a statement along the lines of “This is all we have left of any worth. This should have been the future, but it is all you are getting”. If I had been a Swans fanatic in the 90s then I would have torn this record apart and analysed every single second of it. I’m so fucking glad Swans reformed. So. Fucking. Glad. Out on Young God Records.

If you have a spare 2 hours and 22 minutes why not give the entire album a listen right here. What do you have to gain except complete and total enlightenment?