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SWANS

Post Rock/Math rock • United States


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Swans biography
Founded in New York City, USA in 1982 - Disbanded in 1997 - Reformed in 2010

Part of the original No Wave scene in the early 1980's, the New York City rock band SWANS has since become one of the most respected experimental rock outfits to the present. Led by the visionary vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Michael GIRA, SWANS operated for nearly two decades from their inception in 1983, he is also well known producer. His daunting and impressive songwriting abilities created some of the strangest and revolutionary music to date. Influences of post-rock are seen in numerous records, notable in Soundtracks for the Blind, which predates a lot of the crescendo-core stuff, and the band has influenced numerous post-rock bands with their ever expanding sound and advanced technical approach to rock music. Although they broke up in 1997, SWANS reunited in 2010 to record two more albums, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky and The Seer.

Bio written by The Truth (Tanner) and updated by zravkapt (Darryl)

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SWANS discography


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SWANS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.65 | 71 ratings
Filth
1983
3.43 | 50 ratings
Cop
1984
3.46 | 39 ratings
Greed
1986
3.57 | 39 ratings
Holy Money
1986
4.30 | 119 ratings
Children Of God
1987
3.54 | 41 ratings
The Burning World
1989
3.76 | 70 ratings
White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity
1991
3.57 | 43 ratings
Love Of Life
1992
3.65 | 62 ratings
The Great Annihilator
1995
4.28 | 109 ratings
Soundtracks For The Blind
1996
3.80 | 57 ratings
My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
2010
3.97 | 182 ratings
The Seer
2012
3.98 | 218 ratings
To Be Kind
2014
3.90 | 90 ratings
The Glowing Man
2016
3.82 | 26 ratings
Leaving Meaning
2019

SWANS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.29 | 21 ratings
Public Castration is a Good Idea
1986
4.00 | 5 ratings
Feel Good Now
1987
3.24 | 6 ratings
Anonymous Bodies in an Empty Room
1990
3.50 | 4 ratings
Real Love
1992
4.00 | 5 ratings
Omniscience
1992
5.00 | 2 ratings
Kill the Child: 1985/1986/1987 Live
1995
3.89 | 19 ratings
Swans Are Dead
1998
4.20 | 10 ratings
We Rose From Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head
2012
4.27 | 11 ratings
Not Here / Not Now
2013
4.25 | 4 ratings
The Gate
2015
3.60 | 5 ratings
Deliquescence
2017

SWANS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

SWANS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.02 | 5 ratings
Body to Body, Job to Job
1991
4.29 | 7 ratings
Various Failures 1988-1992
1999
5.00 | 1 ratings
Forever Burned
2003

SWANS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.87 | 11 ratings
Swans
1982
2.99 | 12 ratings
Young God
1984
3.16 | 6 ratings
A Screw
1986
3.00 | 6 ratings
Time Is Money (Bastard)
1986
0.00 | 0 ratings
Celebrity Lifestyle
1995
4.03 | 10 ratings
Die Tür ist zu
1996
5.00 | 2 ratings
Oxygen
2014

SWANS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Soundtracks For The Blind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1996
4.28 | 109 ratings

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Soundtracks For The Blind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Nhelv

5 stars Now you be the mother... And I'll be your fool... I'll hide myself deep inside... Your crimson pool...

While it's obvious that this is not only Swans' breakthrough album, but one of their all-time masterpieces, it's safe to say that it's far from being accessible in the slightest: 140 minutes of post-rock can look tedious and overlong, which is why it's better to listen it side by side. Soundtracks For The Blind features a combination of Post-Rock, droning, and multiple string instruments.

As you can expect from a Post-Rock album, there isn't really much use of technicality or hardcore musicianship focused in surprising listeners with speed or agility, but rather of musicality and atmosphere achieved through classic rock instruments. Songs are very hypnotic and made to leave you in a trance, often recurring to droning. Build-ups are very common, specially in long tracks like Helpless child.

This isn't my favorite Swans album (that title belongs to To Be Kind), but it's without a doubt one of the cornerstones of Post-Rock, and one of their best records to date. Highly recommend, if you're not used to Post- Rock, try to listen to this album with an open mind. Close your eyes, relax, and let the atmosphere and mood takeover you.

Five Stars!

 Soundtracks For The Blind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1996
4.28 | 109 ratings

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Soundtracks For The Blind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Isaac Peretz

5 stars An absolute masterpiece of Post-Rock. With over two hours of genre defining music, Soundtracks For The Blind isn't just a record that aged incredibly well, but also one that still remains as one of the best works of Post-Rock. You will find lots of droning as well as hypnotic instrumental tracks with occasional vocals. Songs flow very well and make you get completely submerged into its vibe. Song tracks vary greatly, from short interludes to 15-minute post rock mammoths.

There's no dispute that this is one of the most important records of its genre, and therefore requires the five star "essential" title.

 Swans Are Dead by SWANS album cover Live, 1998
3.89 | 19 ratings

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Swans Are Dead
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

3 stars SWANS are one of those bands who have some very passionate fans and usually when I give 3 stars it's about explaining why, so I offer up my complaints which just gets the fans of that band even more upset(haha). So apologies to SWANS fans for not liking this live double disc recording. SWANS like THE FLOWER KINGS seem to have a goal to fill to the brim each album they release and to make matters more(ahem) interesting they release a lot of double albums so if your like me and haven't warmed up to 140 plus minutes of music man this is a chore to spin each time. Okay I've insulted some people already but yes SWANS released this as a final recording and the first disc is called "Black" and it features music from their final tour in 1997. Not songs from one show. Same with disc two, a 1995 tour and again the tracks were picked from many shows. I don't know I just feel that this is a recording I don't want to hear again and while I've given 4 stars to many of their later albums this 1998 release just doesn't hit the spot. I honestly have never been huge on this band because of many of the lyrics and also that vibe they give off. I prefer light.
 To Be Kind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.98 | 218 ratings

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To Be Kind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Artik

5 stars Frankly? I don't know why this band is here. I just don't get it. But I love them to death and this album is a masterpiece, no matter what genre and I rate it as such. This is tripple lp (I have it on vinyl) and it's so intense, so manic that it gets as close as possible to their unbelievable, cathartic live performances. Those repetitions, those layers and layers of sound, and not least - Gira's voice. Love it absolutely and unconditionaly. It's a rare thing when a band rather late in their career puts out releases as good as those in their prime. And with Swans it's a rule not an exception. All their recent records are amazing, but this is probably my favorite from their 2010-now (2021) incarnation.
 Children Of God by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1987
4.30 | 119 ratings

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Children Of God
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars A band that I had never heard of until the sensation of the release of 2012's amazing The Seer hit the pages of ProgArchives. To have this kind of power and manipulative music going this strong for over 40 years is quite remarkable! You go, Michael Gira!

1. "New Mind" (5:13) Michael Gira's commanding stage presence can be felt so strongly through his vocal performances. All this with one chord and steam engine crawling along at a snail's pace! It's like being at an old-time revival! (8.75/10)

2. "In My Garden" (5:34) two chords! Arpeggiated! Accompanied by piano! and flute! With airy-breathy voice of seductress Jane Jarboe. Wow! I was not expecting this! Sounds like something Zeuhl that predates Magma--as if it should have come from the 1960s Flower Power era, before the spaceship from Kobaia arrived. (9.5/10)

3. "Our Love Lies" (5:50) part Johnny Cash, part Sergio Leone, part Leonard Cohen, the gospel background vocals and plodding C&W guitar with Michael's theatric vocal reminds me of Maynard James Keenan's Pucifer theatrics. As powerful as this music is, it would probably be moreso were I not deaf to the lyrics. (8.75/10)

4. "Sex, God, Sex" (6:49) screaming, wailing guitars within which Michael wallows and wades his dirge-like propheteering. Again, I feel as if I'm at a revival with people speaking tongues and writhing on the ground beneath Michael's radiant hands and attentions. (13/15)

5. "Blood And Honey" (4:46) a bit of Dead Can Dance feel in this one. Jane Jarboe takes a turn singing in a low, sultry breathiness--like Souixsie and Lisa Gerrard are capable of doing. The breathy spoken word vocals at the end remind me of Irene Pappas with Aphrodite's Child. (8.75/10)

6. "Like A Drug (Sha La La La)" (5:36) abrasive industrial noises mixed in with syncopated industrial guitar chord repeating itself ad infinitum while Michael slowly drawls out his slow-motion sentences. Interesting "sha la la la" chorus. (8.75/10)

7. "You're Not Real, Girl" (4:21) acoustic guitars strumming and picking with synth strings and Michael's slowly drawling voice. He sounds strung out. Again, I am completely surprised at how powerful these songs can be with such simple musical support. Portends MAUDLIN OF THE WELL. (9/10)

8. "Beautiful Child" (5:16) fireworks and industrial samples precede punk-ish drum and guitar train--sounds like a food processor doing its work. Then Michael and background Greek chorus enter and transform the song into an ancient tragedian exposition--as if we're in a slave scene in a Cecil De Mille film. Violent but powerful. Portends of PUCIFER. (9.25/10)

9. "Blackmail" (3:34) gentle piano and torch singing from Jane Jarboe matched up with a subject matter that is quite the opposite of gentle and passionate. (8.75/10)

10. "Trust Me" (5:23) acoustic guitar with oboe open this one on what sounds and feels like a gentle romp through memory lane. But then at 1:07 Michael's heavy basso profundo almost-growl enters causing an immediate shift into ominous electric music. The way Michael uses his voice and annunciation is so masterful--so mood commanding. Like that of Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel, it's truly a marvel. (9/10)

11. "Real Love" (6:23) sounding like an old-fashioned surfer ballad, Michael's Leonard Cohen approach to vibrational delivery takes us on a journey that is filled with such conflict and ambiguity. Harmonica and female background chorus of wordless notes only adds to the indescribable uncertainty and mystery. (8.75/10)

12. "Blind Love" (7:46) steady tribal percussion tracks interspersed with industrial noises from electric guitar provide the foundation over which a somnambulant Michael Gira talk-sings-coos--until 3:25 when guitars and cymbals crash over everything for a bit. Not as engaging or powerful lyrics as many of the previous songs. (13/15)

13. "Children Of God" (4:34) interesting mix of 1960s sounds (organ & drums with gospel-like background vocals) with modern editing and punk guitars create another interesting blend of seemingly polarized influences and directions. And this is it: No Michael Gira singing! Female chorus sings the whole song! What a weird way to end an album so thoroughly dominated by the vocal theatrics of one man! (8.75/10)

Total time 71:05

Wow! What a journey! While not musically complex (in the least), it is perfect support for Michael & Company's revivalist act. The duplicity in the match between these titles and the product are stark and provocative. Not the type of music I will sit and listen to for pleasure, but I am definitely a victim of the power and spell of Michael's shtick.

B+/4.5 stars; I don't care what genre or sub-genre you want to assign this music to, and I don't care what score the sum of the individual songs reveal, this is a masterpiece of listener manipulation via musical means! Rate it up!

 The Glowing Man by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.90 | 90 ratings

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The Glowing Man
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

4 stars This album by Swans sounds nothing like Swans of many years ago. That's no surprise to those that have followed their albums through the years. However, "The Glowing Man" does have a lot in common to those early, muddy and plodding albums. That common thread is the study of repetition. It's just not as thick as it used to be, however, it can be just as unrelenting and unnerving at times. No doubt that this album is much better than those early albums as the music is so much more varied and exploratory, expansive and epic now. This is the path they continue to follow, however "The Glowing Man" is probably one of the most apparent in showing Michael Gira's obsession with repetition and the development of repeating passages.

There are only 8 tracks on this monster of an album, and on the surface, it may seem like it could be chore to get through some of these tracks that push the half an hour mark, especially if it is based around repetition. However, the one thing that seems to stand out on this album which was less apparent on the previous album "To Be Kind" is that there are sudden shifts scattered throughout the album, especially on the longest tracks. This brings in a variable element that makes this album not stagnate so much. There are many times when you hear a repetition that seems to push the limit of you insanity, and just when you think the repetition of an idea has reached your limit, the song can suddenly go off into a completely different direction. That is what makes Swans stand out above the many post rock artists out there. While many of them follow formulas that sometimes get boring, this band continues to break new ground, and many of those other bands end up following in their footsteps. Swans is an innovative band and always has been, whether you like them or not. This is the case with this album, and the sudden shifts are what makes this album stand out in their repertoire. Other than that, with tracks as expansive as the ones on this album, it is very difficult to try to take each track apart and analyze it.

This is not one of my favorite Swans albums, but it is still one that I play through from time to time. I don't recommend it as one to start your Swans exploration with, but it still is an excellent album and sits just above the previous album, but not quite as good as "The Seer". Anyway, it is an excellent album for "experienced" Swans and/or progressive music fans.

 Leaving Meaning by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.82 | 26 ratings

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Leaving Meaning
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Lewian
Prog Reviewer

4 stars On Bandcamp, Michael Gira writes that "I dissolved the line up of musicians that constituted Swans from 2010-2017. Swans is now comprised of a revolving cast of musicians, selected for both their musical and personal character, chosen according to what I intuit best suits the atmosphere in which I'd like to see the songs I've written presented. In collaboration with me, the musicians, through their personality, skill and taste, contribute greatly to the arrangement of the material." There are well known names such as Ben Frost, Anna von Hauswolff, the Necks, and actually every single official band member who played on the previous Glowing Man album among the collaborators. This sounds like another new approach for this band, who went through many different phases in their long existence, although their last three albums were a rather homogeneous trilogy.

Yet, leaving meaning clearly bears the hallmark of Swans' most characteristic feature at least in recent years, namely the shamanic approach using monotonous rhythms and conjuring meditative vocals that slowly build up to trance-like ecstatic states, speaking to deep ancient layers of our conscious and subconscious existence.

There is in fact also change. The approach on leaving meaning is less openly aggressive and heavy, somewhat slower and cleaner, and dominated by acoustic instruments. I was pondering whether to say "more relaxed" here; more relaxed than Seer/To Be Kind/Glowing Man it is, but the atmosphere is still tense and dark and many of the songs are still relentless and won't let the listener's attention go for one second; despite Swans' strong use of post rock elements like the straight rhythms, the slow build ups, and the absence of traditional song structures, this isn't music to relax and calm down, it is still tense and captivating. The songs here are no longer than 12 minutes (on the previous three albums they had some more than half hour tracks), but somehow many of these still have the same kind of "eternal" feel - surely they haven't started to rush through things.

The somewhat calmer approach leaves space for a rich yet subtle mostly acoustic sound spectrum (Hums, Annaline, The Nub). The Hanging Man, leaving meaning, and Sun[%*!#]er sound much closer to Seer-trilogy Swans (with which I'm absolutely fine actually, this trilogy is the highlight of the 2010s for me), but more acoustic, making for a more meditative atmosphere, which creates its own unique and convincing version of the shamanic trance mood evoked by Swans' music.

The first eight tracks of leaving meaning are a straight five stars masterpiece hands down. Unfortunately I have more difficulty connecting with the last four tracks. I respect that after more than one hour of extremely captivating music Gira doesn't call it a day but gives us something even different, at least hinting at more traditional "songs", or rather, in "Some New Things" (of all titles) at a clearer reprise of the more electric sound of the Seer trilogy that is otherwise absent here, but in shorter format. This is OK as an experiment, but to me these tracks come over as quite a bit more shallow than the first eight; some loose tentative messing around contrasting the pure magic that we got before, but then not really far enough from the earlier material to show anything like a proper new direction. This shouldn't of course stop you from buying and appreciating the album, but it makes me eventually go for just 4.3 stars here. Probably I'd have appreciated more to get track 1-8 as another 100% iconic release and the remaining four as a stand-alone EP.

This is the fifth release of Swans in the 2010s, and that's a lot of music; except the first one, which was a bit of a warm up. all of them have two CDs worth of material. It is also the fifth very strong release, cementing their rank as the best band of the decade, with some distance, in my view. Up to The Nub the album is total music, a spellbinding and deeply moving piece of shaman magic. Then there are some additions that I currently suspect of being rather forgettable, but anyway, feel the magic!

 Filth by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1983
3.65 | 71 ratings

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Filth
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by progtime1234567

3 stars This was my first SWANS album and it is the only one that I can get in to. Filth is an album full of chaotic noise that is augmented by two bassists, two drummers, and a single guitar player. Micheal Gira's growling, ugly vocals add to the soundscape. The album isn't as proggy as the later albums and the songs are not as long but the experimentation and avant-garde are still present. Now the reason why this is the only SWANS album I can get into is because it is an industrial album. Industrial music is my number one all time favorite genre of music and I have heard so much of it that I am able to listen to Filth. While the album is not as prog as the later SWANS albums and there were better SWANS albums to come (according to people on this website) Filth was a great start and it really got the band on a path where they made their prog masterpieces. (Again according to people on this website.)
 Filth by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1983
3.65 | 71 ratings

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Filth
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

3 stars Sometimes, it's hard to believe the person responsible for this brutal and heavy no-wave music is the same person responsible for the progressive masterpieces they would produce in the future. Michael Gira says about the band's formative years that it just felt good to make music as loud and harsh as possible, and that is what they did.

"Filth" is Swans debut album, released after their first EP. The music here continues in much the same vein, however, there had already been a disruption in the band's line up since then. Using two bassists that double over the same chord, and two drummers using angular and chaotic drumming patterns, Swans used noise and power to get their point across and to make songs that lamented about the societal disfunctions the world was experiencing.

Since this album was released in 1983, it was a musical style that was way out of the norm of the music of the time. Even punk music couldn't match the straight ahead, unrelenting sound of this music, and because of that, the album was pretty much ignored by the masses. However, it was still very influential to the many different heavy styles of music that are currently out there now.

The music is unrelenting and noisy, yet it has a certain swing to it that keeps it moving forward. Where the band's sophomore album "Cop" has the feeling of a tyrannosaurus rex slogging through a tar pit, slow and brutal, this album is comparatively up beat, but that's not saying much so don't get the wrong idea. This album is actually easier to listen to, not quite so depressive, but again, that's like comparing mud to thickening cement. Swans through the years have seemed to center their musical wanderings based on repetitive patterns and pushing them to the limit. That is also the case with this album, but the main difference between this one and much of their earlier work, is that there is a lot more diversity amongst the tracks, and that is the main strength of this album in comparison to their other early albums.

Even with the positives of this album, however, it's still hard to rate it higher than a 3 for me, though if it were possible, I would give it 3 1/2 stars compared to 3 or lower for their other early albums. It is my favorite of their early recordings. If you have heard their later albums, the ones that are more progressive, and never heard their earlier albums, just be warned this is nothing like that. However, keep in mind that this music is still very influential for heavy music to come. Listening to it, I can't help but admire that it was so ahead of it's time.

 The Seer by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 182 ratings

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The Seer
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

5 stars "The Seer" by Swans came out of nowhere and knocked any expectations of the band right on its ear. Everyone knows the Swans discography started out with some of the most brutal music known to man, then it morphed into a sort of thinking- man's gothic rock, slowly becoming better and better as time passed, and then suddenly, the bands light went out. Michael Gira, the main person behind the band went on to form "Angels of Light", still creating great music, but sounding hardly anything like any of his previous work. When the time ran out for that project, Gira turned his attention back to Swans, and no one had any idea how much his musicality had grown until this album came out in 2012. It is now the band's masterpiece.

So, to create this double monstrosity of an album, Gira and the members of the band put together a lot of music, sound, textures and such, and no one was going to tell him what he was going to do, or if they did, he didn't listen. He pulled out all of the stops, making tracks for this album that varied in duration from one minute to over 32 minutes long. And, when you listen to this excellent album, you discover that the music is anything but random.

So, the music is harsh and also lovely. But not harsh like it was back in the early days. Now the music is full of dynamic and style changes. Even though it is not near as brutal, it is still more emotionally charged and hard hitting than ever. The band was now incorporating everything that was great about the new style of progressive rock, and making it all mesh together wonderfully. The tracks on this album are an amazing study in repetition, noise, textures, drones, post and math rock sensibilities, and progressive styles that make things as unpredictable as possible. And Gira's vocals were working better than ever with this new sound. There are times in this album where riffs are repeated almost to the point that they become obnoxious only to suddenly change out of nowhere and everything is planned and calculated to push you almost to the limit before suddenly veering off in another direction, but nothing about it sounds random. What it sounds like is genius at work.

The album has its share of surprises and guests, including former fellow bandmate Jerboe on "The Seer Returns" and "A Piece of the Sky", "Low" bandmates Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker on opening track "Lunacy", "Yeah Yeah Yeah"s vocalist Karen O on "Song for a Warrior", and others. What results from this is an album with a surprising amount of variety, yet cohesiveness. The thing that holds the album together more than anything is the long-form tracks that sit just as comfortable among the "normal" length tracks like they are all part of the grand design. The 3 extra long tracks here are almost like "mini-albums" all on their own. "The Seer" is a 32 minute behemoth of a track that takes the listener on a guided tour of the gears in Gira's mind that gives insight into what the overall process of creativity must feel like from inside his head. When listening to this track, and to the album as a whole, it is easy to understand why he decided to pack so much length into a track that isn't divided up into multiple tracks, because once the track is over and you are catching your breath, you feel like the statement has been made and now it is time to move to the next. But be prepared, because you are going to have your breath taken away two more times with the two long form songs on the 2nd disc.

As much as it is a temptation to explain in detail every single track on this album, it is also a fruitless exercise to do so. Words just won't explain the experience of the album. The music might not sit well with everyone, and it's not supposed to. If you can't tolerate a sense of unease in music in order to arrive to a destination, then this is not for you. You do have to be patient to get to some payoffs, and other times they come quickly, but in the end, you feel like there was purpose behind it all. It would be impossible to try to figure out Gira's reasoning behind some things in the decisions he makes when determining where to take his compositions, but that is not our job. It is our job to listen to this music and enjoy it, be stimulated by it, or just decide to shun it all together. But, "The Seer" is a definite masterpiece that shows the development of an artist who wasn't ever afraid to do what he wanted in music. In the world of modern progressive music, it is difficult to achieve what Gira did with "The Seer", using new-form progressive composition to create something that could be considered innovative and as impressive as say Yes' "Close to the Edge". But to those that are patient and are willing to explore the music, you will find that amazing music still exists, it just takes time sometimes to get it. But, then , the best music always does.

Thanks to angelmk for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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