- Strike Back
- Dead Man
- Bring to Life
- Let Me Drown
- Zombie (Feat. John Cooper of Skillet)
- We Fall Apart
- Take the Bullets Away (Feat. Lacey of Flyleaf)
- Taking Life
- I Stand
On the surface, Manafest and We as Human may not have much in common. However, both share a similar story of how they broke into the music industry. For Manafest, it was Trevor McNevan of Thousand Foot Krutch who discovered him and set his path to stardom. For We as Human, it was John Cooper of Skillet. The key difference in the equation? While TFK has always had a high level of popularity, Skillet was one of only three bands to go platinum in 2012. And, to top it off, they are bringing We as Human along on a massive tour featuring themselves, Papa Roach, and Shinedown. That’s quite a lot of gravitas to throw at any “new” band.
We as Human were produced by Howard Benson (RED, P.O.D., Skillet) for their official major label debut full length record, which releases on the same day as Skillet’s impressive new album (and is also produced by Benson) and features John Cooper himself, as well as Lacey Strum (formerly of Flyleaf). Though many quibble that Benson has been responsible for many “cookie-cutter” albums of late, that’s quite the pedigree for any band just making a splash on the big scene.
But, the question is, does We as Human live up to the sum of all those parts? The best answer really is…sort of. All the right pieces are in place. The vocals are in line with the rock genre. The musicians all show a discernibly high level of talent, and the themes and lyrics, while common ground, are deep and expressive. However, all that said, there’s still something not quite there. As I’ve mentioned with other bands thrust into this position, there’s just something missing… and, unfortunately, it’s that indescribable “X” factor. We as Human has everything in place to unload a brick of dynamite, but that fuse is still simmering towards that destination.
As I listened to the self-titled We as Human, I kept waiting for that moment that just sealed the album for me, but it never quite came. It teased me several times… but never landed fully. The best impression I could muster was that We as Human are going to be a great live band, but that the real dynamite explosion is yet to come.
Vocally, Seventh Time Down and early Nickelback come time mind. 12 Stones wouldn’t be a far stretch in terms of style, though the vocals aren’t the same… perhaps a toned down Staple. Understanding this, We as Human bring some of the most straightforward rock I’ve heard in years. Being that I can just see them being a great live band… touring with Shinedown, Skillet, and Papa Roach just seems a perfect fit.
We as Human begins with “Strike Back.” Fitting for an opening song, “Strike Back” provides that perfect mix of aggressive-leaning rock radio quality with a generic enough message to grip literally any listener. The harder elements of the song slip closer towards Staple or Red, but overall this is straightforward rock. The message “hit me, I’ll hit back harder” would be just a mindless rock tune if not for the context of the remainder of the album and lyrics like “you are the darkness, I am the light” that point to more of a spiritual reality. Frankly, I wish more of the album followed this opening’s strong lead.
“Dead Man” continues the straight rock turned slightly aggressive feel with a great message of coming alive through Christ and echoing 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Sitting here at my graveside, I’ve never felt so alive. You pulled the dead man out of me.” The song speaks to putting the old self to death, but clearly puts the focus on the one who “pulled the dead man out of me” in Christ. Still, the lyrics are just slanted enough that a mass market crowd will relate to the track, while believers will find the deeper waters. Stylistically, this track reminds me of old-school Staple… as in “Deathtrap Daisy” and “Rise of the Robots,” off the original Staple EP though toned down a bit.
Complementing “Dead Man,” “Bring to Life” takes the dead man theme and directs it much more towards Christ. “You bring to life, all that is broken…I’m not afraid of anything when you burn like a fire inside… you bring to life.” “Bring to Life” is a perfect example of where I felt that dynamite fuse burning quickly, but something still seemed to be holding it back. Again, everything is in place for this to be a great song on a great album… but something in the production of the song makes it feel a little more muted and caged. I would love to see a more raw cut of this song that brings the vocals and guitars more directly “into” the forefront. Everything seemed to be in the mid-ground… and just not as deep in sound as it should. Overall, though, this is a powerful song.
“Let Me Drown” is another great straightforward rock song. Vocals are strong, if not a little reminiscent of Big Dismal in places. This one is a little slower paced and more somber, but still good. “Zombie,” however, is the first really strong track on the album. For some reason, the production seems to improve on this song… vocals are still a little muted, but overall “Zombie” is one of the most raucous tracks on the album.
It certainly helps that John Cooper of Skillet steps in and sets the pace for this album. The tagline “Wake up…wake up… wake up the zombie” is delivered really strongly and, again, just begs to be played in concert. “Zombie” picks up the continuing theme of the dead man coming to life. While the theme is fantastic, I wonder if approaching it differently across the album would have added a little spice. Still, “Zombie” is a powerful song, and I hope to hear it live some day!
Starting the last half of the record is “We Fall Apart.” “The world’s on fire, but we’re all smiling, because it’s all our fault.” This track, once again, addresses the brokenness of the of the world, however the unique element is the chorus. The idea is flipped on it’s head and given a kingdom spin. Just as As I Lay Dying (Why Tim?) flipped expectations in “Upside Down Kingdom” with the lyric “this is a kingdom where the broken get crowned,” We as Human look at how it’s “beautiful the way we fall apart.” There is a great kingdom message conveyed in finding joy in humility and poor circumstances. Again, this lyric/theme echoes Paul’s sentiments nicely.
The second guest appearance on the album lands on “Take the Bullets Away.” Lacey (still billed on the album as being in Flyleaf) provides a great counter-point style vocal interchange. Justin and Lacey really play off each other well in both the harder and softer ranges of vocals. As far as the harder scale, I was very pleased to hear Lacey really get aggressive again… something I missed more and more as Flyleaf progressed away from their EP days. That said, her choice to burn her vocals or fry scream REALLY sounds fried as she sings.
“Taking Life” is my least favorite track. I don’t know how to say it anymore eloquently. The lyrics are great… the chorus is actually fantastic… but the verses feature a vocal style where Justin sings just a step or two faster than the actual beat. He does it intentionally and it makes the song, which is slower, feel much more uptempo, but it just didn’t jive for me.
“Sever,” which also was featured on the We as Human EP, returns to that almost-early-Staple-but-not-quite feel before breaking into a standard rock chorus. Don’t let the word “standard” make you think that the song is a lesser effort, however. In fact, this is a very strong song with much better production than in other places on the album and features some of my favorite guitar work on the album. The lyrics talk of severing the “cancer” inside. The quasi-spoken word used twice around the 2:30 mark gave a very brief Demon Hunter (Summer of Darkness/Tryptic) feel. As before, this would be a really rocking song live.
Perhaps my favorite track on the album was also the band’s choice to close the album out. “I Stand” is both an anthem and a manifesto. Stylistically, it reminds me almost exactly of P.O.D.’s “If it Wasn’t for You.” Everything from the not-quite spoken word but not hip-hop pace of singing to the self-questions with implied answers appear. Lines like “I believe that He has died and He has risen again, I believe that He will burn this world down in the end. I don’t care what you think about me or what I say, I mean every word, why should I be ashamed?” really hammer home what the band is about and also provide another powerful moment for live shows.
“I hope you remember every word that I say, that YHWH alone is the only way… I stand here alone with my fist raised high… when everything falls, I stand.” (resisting the urge to compare to Haste the Day… ok, I’m better).
Overall: We as Human have everything they need to explode. Their lyrics, while not uncommon for what they’re saying, are deep and will play nicely with both the mainstream audience and those looking for some spiritual depth. Justin’s vocals are solid and hint at the fact that they are going to only grow stronger with time. The musicianship, while also pretty standard for the genre, is strong and primed for greatness… but something is still waiting. The fuse on the dynamite is lit, but it hasn’t hit the sticks to cause the explosion just yet.
We as Human (the album) is a good start for the band. I can’t imagine it not sounding amazing and engaging live… but something was just missing. The production quality (while clean) really hindered this release. I would have loved for it to be a little more raw and engaging. That said, I do expect great things from We as Human. This album, however, is just pretty good.
RIYL: Early Nickelback, Skillet, 7nth Time Down