Updated: Aug 15, 2020
Rob Marshall's ambitious project is a musical exploration of life, love, death and morality.
Towards the end of the Humanist, Ron Sexsmith asks "how're you holding up out there?" It's a worthy question considering the dark industrial tones and equally melancholic lyrical content.
Rob Marshall's exploration of love, death, morality and freedom is by no means an easy listen. At fifteen tracks long, it requires stamina to make it through to the other side. Although it's a rewarding listen, it's a punishing one too. There are perhaps a few choice tracks that you'd choose for your playlist, but this is an album where the listener needs to experience the music and then take time to reflect.
Marshall's ambitious project may have him producing and taking on much of the instrumentation, but the album is very much a collaboration between him and the army of vocal talent which feature on the record.
Mark Lanegan lends his distinctive growl to four of Humanist's tracks. Marshall and Lanegan's musical rapport goes back to the genesis of the project and extends to Marshall penning several tracks for Lanegan's lauded Gargoyle album and more recently 2019's Someone's Knocking; so its unsurprising that he features heavily.
Kingdom takes on a darker feel which is picked up in his other songs, but it's the finale, Gospel, that gives Lanegan a chance to put that mournful baritone to best use.
Carl Hancock Rux takes the tone of the album into a different direction with the Bowie-inspired, Ring of Truth. English Ghost's featuring John Robb's is a midpoint trip of distorted sounds, hypnotic backing, unsettling sounds and a sinister tamborine.
At times the Humanist feels like a battle between life and death with Lanegan's vocals looming throughout like a grim reaper waiting to pull us into the abyss. Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan lightens the tone with the suitable poppy Shock Collar, which is about as upbeat as it gets.
Perhaps the most surprising track of the album is the ethereal Truly Too Late featuring Ilse Maria. The beautiful arrangement and featherlight vocals offer a shaft of light into the otherwise dark depths of the album.
Marshall's guitar work is the lifeforce of the album, weaving everything together into a musical tapestry that we want to turn away from, but find ourselves strangely drawn to.
As far as album's go, the Humanist is as heavyweight as they come. It's all about digging deep, confronting those frailties that we choose to ignore, and about finding hope and ultimately defining what it means to be human.