‘Humanist’ reviewed

❉ Rob Marshall melds a number of differing individual musical styles into a cohesive and eminently enjoyable alt-rock album.

Rob Marshall & Dave Gahan | Photo: Derrick Belcham

The self-titled Humanist album was recently released on 21 February via Ignition Records and brings together a plethora of talent under the masterful ownership of Rob Marshall who wrote, played and most importantly produced all the tracks.  This in no small part, melds a number of differing individual musical styles into a cohesive well-produced and eminently enjoyable album.

The inspiration for the album came from Rob Marshall watching The Living Room; Shane Meadows’ documentary about a singer (Gavin Clarke) who Rob once shared a manager with.  Waking the next day Rob discovered that Gavin had sadly passed away, and Rob was so moved by that event that he sat down to write the album, which deals with themes of mortality, the meaning of life and the fragile condition of the human spirit.

Despite having a large and varied number of collaborators, this album feels like a cohesive body of work and boasts an impressive fourteen tracks.  The all-star cast of collaborators forms somewhat of an alternative supergroup comprising of Mark Lanegan (Queens Of The Stone Age), Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), Mark Gardener (Ride), Carl Hancock Rux (David Holmes, Portishead), John Robb (The Membranes), Joel Cadbury (UNKLE), Ilse Maria, Ron Sexsmith and Jim Jones (The Jim Jones Revue, Thee Hypnotics).

The album starts off with sixty seconds of soundscapes which is the perfect ‘opening of the door’ for the journey the listener is about to embark upon, leading into the first track Kingdom featuring Mark Lanegan on vocals.  The song delivers pure gothic sensibility and could be worthy of Depeche Mode at their mid-career peak; it’s punctuated with a melodic cacophony of guitars, with a steady rhythmic back beat of synthesizers.  Beast of the Nation, also featuring Mark Lanegan moves towards a heavier industrial feel, echoing the inevitable influences of both Queens of the Stone Age and Depeche Mode.  Lyrically, the song reflects on key album themes, discharge of disease and sounds of death, before coming to Shock Collar which is the lead single from the album.

The video for Shock Collar was filmed in New York, directed by Derrick Belcham (Brian Eno) and designed by Arcade Fire’s Tracey Maurice. It explores the psychology of a heartbroken and regretful figure and the dual symbol of the halo/shock collar as a guide.

Gahan comments “It was a pleasure to be asked to be a part of Rob’s ‘Humanist‘ project. Mark Lanegan asked me, and I liked the idea immediately… It’s a beast! I went for the vocal, with the visual of driving fast on an empty highway… We shot the video over a couple of days in New York, and it all came together”.

The next couple of tracks Lie Down and Ring of Truth enjoy the vocals of Madman Butterfly and Carl Hancock Rux and continue to develop the album’s enjoyable journey.  Musically, they expose influences from Nick Cave and the Manic Street Preachers.  Skull returns to the vocals of Mark Lanegan and is somewhat similar in style to a track by The Cult; a rockier gothic offering.

English Ghost with vocals by John Robb is the touchstone track at almost nine minutes long.  It is the pivotal moment which encompasses the album’s themes in a single track; with a haunting rhythmic guitar baseline you cannot help but feel drawn in.  In My Arms Again takes the pace down a few notches to a mesmeric melody with vocals by Joel Cadbury.  When the Lights Go Out featuring Mark Gardener brings the pace back up again in a traditional rock song, with drums and guitars and continues with the continuing theme of death and mortality.  Where will you be when the lights go out? invite the thought-provoking lyrics.

Rob Marshall | Photo credit: Kate Smith

The album is punctuated with a breathy female vocal in the track Truly Too Late, sung by Ilse Maria and once more touching on death.  How’re You Holding Up continues with the slower pace and is a melancholic track featuring Ron Sexsmith, who is accompanied by a simple guitar melody worthy of Joy Division, meanwhile Mortal Eyes brings the industrial element of the album back to the fore with an initially spoken word track which develops into a strong song encompassing both sung vocals and spoken word.

The penultimate track Shoot Kill featuring Jim Jones is a classic Industrial/Rock style track with forceful lyrics, and heavy guitars and drums.  Track fourteen and the final track on the album Gospel, again features the vocals of Mark Lanegan and offers a truly visceral, almost cinematic element.

This album can be summed up as having themes of life, birth, death, religion and mortality.

In short; Humanist.

❉ ‘Humanist’ is out now from Ignition Records: Order the album on CD / LP / digital HERE.

❉ Humanist: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

❉ Ange Chan is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and is a writer of novels and poetry.  Her current long-standing, ongoing project is her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots which she hopes to see published in 2020.

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