Haythem Mahbouli ~ Last Man On Earth

There was a time when the apocalypse seemed far enough away that movies like The Road and series like The Walking Dead were, whilst undoubtedly horrifying, still entertaining. There was a macabre fun to be had from imagining how we might handle the terrible situations these series depicted; we identified with the stronger characters; we told ourselves that if we found ourselves in similar circumstances, we’d make it through. For many of us in 2022, however, the sense that the apocalypse was distant has dwindled and for our friends in Ukraine it feels uncomfortably close.

Haythem Mahbouli‘s new album Last Man On Earth takes this existential risk seriously. Right from the opening track, “The Chosen Ones”, the despair and destruction are depicted with all the emotional weight they deserve. The strings build to an absolutely spectacular climax, wrought with power. It’s hard not to get spine-tingles when listening. The track title is deeply ironic: only the “chosen ones” will survive, but will the future they live in be worth living?

As the album wends its way, it depicts the Last Man’s journey and the landscapes he sees. Musically the album is dominated by strings, provided by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra, complemented by electronics, choral vocals, and found sounds. There’s a moving elegy for those left behind, “The Abandoned Ones” and a narrative of “The Great Flood”. By the album’s end, when we reach the title track, it is clear that the future the Last Man has been left with is not worth surviving for. “Last Man On Earth” is bleak, beautiful, and utterly devastating.

There have been many urgent calls to action in the last years, and we’re proved remarkably capable of resisting them. Will we finally act? (Garreth Brooke)

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