Here Lies Man – No Ground to Walk Upon Review

Here Lies Man - No Ground to Walk Upon 01I love imagining new music genres. What if somebody made blackened thrash with cleanly sung choruses? What if somebody made war metal with melodic death metal riffs? What if somebody made music like The Acacia Strain that was actually good?1 California’s Here Lies Man asked their own version of this question: what if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat? And rather than let that question linger in mystery, the quartet proceeded to answer it with their 2017 self-titled debut. Pulling from the band’s experience in Afrobeat band Antibalas, the album mixed lively beats, repeated vocal motifs, and groovy riffs in such a way that was cool, fresh, and almost worthy of my Top 10 list that year. Sure it was simple, but it was also inspired and evocative. Every time I listened to it I imagined myself counting diamonds with a Bowie knife at some ramshackle outpost in the Congo. Their 2018 sophomore album You Will Know Nothing showed Man incorporating more variety, though overall it didn’t reach quite the same heights. Where does this leave us with third album No Ground to Walk Upon?

The best thing I can say about Ground is that it hasn’t forgotten how to riff. Opening duo “Clad in Silver” and “Swinging from Trees” both feature some great bluesy licks, with the latter supplementing them with bellowing vocal hooks and heftier chords. The Black Sabbath comparison is still valid but the classic rock groove also reminds me of Led Zeppelin, which is more than welcome even for a blakkened death fiend like myself. As before the drums are livelier than your typical rock music while the vocals are relegated to a handful of repeated phrases that are often quite hooky. Likewise, subtle keyboards once again make an appearance and add a bit of psychedelic texture.

There’s nothing wrong with Man‘s formula here, but there is something wrong with their execution. Virtually every one of these seven tracks simply repeats its handful of ideas a few times and then either ends unceremoniously or tacks on an ambient outro that does nothing for the song nor the album as a whole. Even the most minor thing could help these songs feel more complete—shifting the beat, throwing in a closing lead or melody, or adding a new riff or vocal hook in the final minute. Instead, these songs just repeat and end. In fact, it’s hard to even call them “songs.” They’re more like samples of cool ideas that could be songs but instead never really amount to anything.

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It’s doubly frustrating, both because this was never a major issue on Man‘s previous albums and because the music itself is actually quite good. This is especially true of later tracks where the band incorporate more character and variety. “Washing Bones” has a strong Eastern flair that makes me imagine exploring an ancient tomb, while “Get Ahold of Yourself” has a memorable vocal hook and a nice plodding riff that sounds like Black Sabbath playing lounge music. Yet my favorite is “Iron Rattles,” which begins with chiming Dead Can Dance world music before building into jamming riffs. Through it all the production is great. The album has a classic rock sound with warm guitars that remind me of Kyuss and smooth, fuzzy vocals that are pushed slightly to the background.

Reviewing Ground is like being asked to review a meal and receiving nothing on your plate other than a well-cooked steak. You might enjoy it, but it’d be hard to call steak alone a meal. Similarly, the ideas Man comes up with are enjoyable, but the tracks themselves don’t feel complete. Every time a song starts I think to myself “Oh hell yeah, this riff, this is where they finally nail it!” But instead, that riff just repeats, alternates with other ideas, and disappears uneventfully. At 26 minutes, this is practically EP length and combined with the above issues No Ground to Walk Upon feels somewhat rushed and incomplete. I still think Here Lies Man are a cool band with a lot of potential and I’ll still keep this album in mind when I need something inoffensive to play in the background at social gatherings. But “makes decent background music” does not a good album make.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: RidingEasy Records | Bandcamp
Websites: hereliesman.bandcamp.com | hereliesman.com | facebook.com/hereliesman
 Releases Worldwide: August 16th, 2019

Show 1 footnote

  1. Bonus question: what if somebody made Nightwish mixed with death metal?
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