Frontman Michael Gira described the album as taking "30 years to make. It's the culmination of every previous Swans album as well as any other music I've ever made, been involved in or imagined. But it's unfinished, like the songs themselves. It's one frame in a reel. The frames blur, blend and will eventually fade." Describing the songwriting process, Gira said, "The songs began on an acoustic guitar, then were fleshed out with (invaluable) help from my friends, then were further tortured and seduced in the studio, and now they await further cannibalism and force-feeding as we prepare to perform some of them live, at which point they'll mutate further, endlessly, or perhaps be discarded for a while."
The album was recorded in Berlin, Brooklyn, and Gardiner, New York. The artwork from the album is by Simon Henwood, and features Gira's teeth. Gira also stated that The Seer would not be the last Swans album.
Upon its release, The Seer was widely praised by music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from critics, the album received an average score of 87, based on 32 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Writing for Rolling Stone, Will Hermes called the album Swans' "grandest statement yet" and described the title track as "a season in hell, and then some." Also describing the title track, Jason Heller of The A.V. Club wrote, "It’s the most harrowing, exhausting, cathartic, transcendental piece of music Gira has ever put to tape. And that’s from a man who’s had many." Thom Jurek of Allmusic described The Seer as "the most sprawling, ambitious, thoughtfully conceived and tightly performed recording in the band's catalog."