Of the crop of new Irish bands that appeared mid-way through the last decade, it was Humanzi who endured the biggest push and the hardest fall. Backed by a major label, managed by the man behind The Thrills, written about in the UK press, and handed countless numbers of high-profile support slots by gig promotion giants MCD, the Dublin four-piece had all the cards dealt in their favour for success to ensue.
And then, it didn’t happen. Not just that, but it didn’t happen, spectacularly. Despite a massive advertising and marketing campaign, 2006 debut, Tremors, sold in embarrassingly low numbers, and the high-profile supports failed to yield a fan base beyond the small cult scene they’d developed along with The Things. In commercial terms at least, Humanzi had proved an expensive flop and within months of its release, the band were quietly dropped, written-off the books and had decamped to Berlin.
Fast forward four years and Humanzi are back with a record that will surprise many. There may be no dramatic shift in sound ‘” the dark, decadent, dingy rock n roll influences of past remain ‘” but the execution and, most importantly, the songwriting has improved ten-fold. Darker than its predecessor, Kingdom Of Ghosts‘ 11 tracks benefit from being far from as densely packed and jolted together as those on Tremors. Stronger and more assured than before, tracks like the Joy Division influenced -Black Sunrise’ and the Primal Scream-esque -Neu Tune’ show the Dublin four-piece have learned the power in creating menacing atmosphere with sparse arrangements.
Sure there are exceptions to the rule – the unimaginative -Straight Lines’ and the poor -Ill Repute’ lack any form of style and only serve to weaken the record, but when Kingdom Of Ghosts is good, it’s a bit of a cracker. Opener -Hammer’ sets their stall out nicely, a sinister sounding stomper that launches the band’s return with murky guitar sounds, big-production and seething vocals from frontman Shaun Mulrooney.
Throughout Mulrooney’s vocals are pivotal. Though lyrically undemanding, his words nonetheless engage (when you can hear them), whether he’s franticly bellowing out about loving like a lion or spotting freakish dark-haired girls on the corridor. His assured and intimidating vocal switches between skull-masked voodoo-charmer (-Black Sunrise’), down and out junkie (-Amsterdamaged’) and schizophrenic manic (-Bass Balls’).
Amongst the stand-outs are the swaggering military march of -Shorter’ all coated in Krautrock and garage punk, the post-bender comedown of -Amsterdamaged’ and the U2 sounding -Baby I’m Burnin’, all light and bright melody amid the album’s over-all dark atmospherics. It’s -Neu Tune’ however, which most excites. Sounding like it could have been lifted off Primal Scream’s -Vanishing Point’, it’s a tune that you’d love to hear remixed and drenched in beats.
With the album having been recorded by Rob Kirwan in a disused radio station on Berlin’s eastern block, you can hear how the band fed off their surroundings. The menace, isolation and sense of claustrophobia often jump off the tracks. Not a perfect record or anything near it, but Kingdom Of Ghosts serves as a firm reply to those who’d written the band off. Strong and considered for the better part, Humanzi have proved the doubters wrong. They should move even further upwards from here.