Here Lies Man – Ritual Divinations

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By now you are likely aware of Here Lies Man, the act that burst onto the rock scene in 2017 with their self-titled debut, with their afrobeat meets Sabbath modus operandi, and eye-catching, unsettling artwork adding to the aura of heart-of-darkness otherness. You may not know that the band are made up of members of afrobeat act Antibalas, and that ex-drummer and co-founder of HLM, Geoff Mann, is son of jazz legend Herbie Mann. You can see how the band could gain broad appeal, helped by the blessings of the hipper rock cognoscenti, as here is a rock band who are not actually a rock band: jazz musicians cleverly harnessing and repurposing the riffs of hard rock to bring out it’s elemental swing.

Here Lies Man, now filled out to a four-piece for the first time to record Ritual Divination certainly seem delighted with their oeuvre as this is their fourth album in as many years. Having said that, the bands own press release for this album issues a mea culpa, admitting that the idea might “seem a little played out” although the bands other co-founder, Marcos J. Garcia assures us that the band have embraced even more rock elements and that the band were determined “explore”. In truth Here Lies man have now made the same record four times and the lack of diversity in the songs means they make Status Quo sound like Can. Yes, listen closely and you can hear a harder psych edge under-pinning some tracks and the general attitude seems slightly tougher – more ‘metal’, but for the majority of the fifteen (count ‘em!) songs here it is business as usual to ever decreasing effect.

As an afrobeat act, Antibalas frequently use the traditional Fela Kuti-style vocals of member Duke Amoyo, but for Here Lies Man the band rely on Garcia’s flat, undistinguished and slightly strained vocals, often just repeating simple refrains, whilst all the real heavy lifting goes on around them. It can work, shouting out the more catchy and direct lyrics of Can’t Kill It or I Told You (You Shall Die), in a punky, blunt kind of way, but his voice largely comes across more as a percussive instrument, rather than foregrounding the melodies or telling stories. It adds to the feeling of bland repetition that haunts the album and despite repeated plays very few tracks ever grab you by the ears. If only they had a vocalist of the calibre of Neil Fallon (Clutch) or Fantastic Negrito they could really achieve proper rock crossover uplift.

The aforementioned I Told You (You Shall Die) starts like a windswept, doom metal epic before going all stoner wig-out and could cause serious headbanging action live. Can’t Kill It has a cool proto-metal riff and sounds like Budgie remixed by Talking Heads, or perhaps King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard remixed by… King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

The best two numbers appear quite late on, hopefully suggesting that the band do indeed have a few more sonic surprises up their sleeves. Collector of Vanities is one of the rare occasions where the band really pulls off decent, hefty and catchy metal riffage, married to danceable rhythms – it’s no wonder it’s just been selected as the next single.

Highlight of the album, and beacon of hope for Here Lies Man’s on-going musical viability is the closing Cutting Through the Tether – a dark, psychedelic journey into madness. Twisted, hypnotic and addictive it reminds me of XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream meets The Chemical Brothers. There’s little obvious guitar work, it’s all about the beats and the ominous synths, but it is still the heaviest thing here and is the sort of tune you could get lost in if it were playing in some dingy club. It may well be that they would have been better off ditching three or four of the less interesting numbers here and really letting this tune build to an utter psych-techno frenzy.

It’s not great to report that a fifteen-track album would make a great E.P., but here we are. There is still promise shown from Here Lies Man that they can move on from one-tricky-pony status, but Ritual Divination sounds like a band desperately in need of a rethink.

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