Ever since they began pummeling the public in the early '80s with their extremely loud shows -- like '70s the Who
or My Bloody Valentine
-sized loud -- the Swans have been on adventurous souls' "you've got to see them" lists, and while the volume was pulled back over the years, it was replaced by naked emotion plus a band that acted as a united front, led by that ragged, poetic, tortured, and unpredictable soul, Michael Gira. Here, on this 2012 double live album, they're back after a long hiatus and reunited in an altered form with quite a bit of the Angels of Light
-- Gira's other big project -- bleeding through, although the holler-and-drone, build-and-explode spirit is Swans to the core. Opening with an epic version of "No Words No Thoughts" from 2011's My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
, it becomes obvious that the material will be given the chance to breathe in concert, as the once ten-minute track balloons to more than twice its studio size. It requires patience, but it's a powerful, emotional ride where nothing is sacrificed, seeming like an aimless dirge at first before every bit becomes a heart-stopping payoff. Same goes for the half-hour piece with "I Crawled" at its center, but this 1984 Swans favorite is given new meaning here, emerging out of "The Seer," one of the two new songs included in the set list. The performances are spot-on as the band lurches forward in unison or creates dour, flowing soundscapes that don't meander but sprawl, and the method of delivery is wonderful, with the recording quality in stark contrast to early Swans live albums, here offering warm, present, and crisp sounds that will challenge speakers to do their best. In the end, it is a live album, an arguable sideline release from the band, and one that requires quite a bit of willingness from the listener, but it supports the legacy, offering solid evidence that the rich and rewarding Swans are more concerned with being vital than approachable.