Here Lies Man – Ritual Divination Review

Like many of you, I’ve spent significant time over the years wandering musical paths far from our beloved metallic bae. In some cases, this has made me something of an amateur expert, as in the rangy field of Americana. In others, I’ve invested enough time as not to be a tourist, but not enough to be considered a deep diver. This is the case with Afrobeat. I’ve passed many hours with the father of the genre, Fela Kuti—easy enough given his song lengths—and with compilations like the incredible Nigeria 70 box set. I’ve also enjoyed the work of revivalists such as Brooklyn, New York’s Antibalas, so when I stumbled across Here Lies Man in the promo pit, a side project of Antibalas members infusing Afrobeat with Sabbathian riffs, I snapped it up greedily. In my haste, I failed to notice our own Mark Z Afrobeat me to the punch two years ago when he reviewed, and panned, their album No Ground to Walk Upon. Will follow up Ritual Divination land better with me than with sweet baby Z

Ritual Divination continues the evolution perpetuation of Here Lies Man’s stated goal of Black Sabbath playing Afrobeat. The usual Hammond organ solos and horn choruses of the latter are for the most part downplayed in favor of bluesy, heavy rock guitar licks that occasionally stray into doom territory. Percussion remains squarely in the ‘beat as opposed to a rock standard, while group sung chorus clusters—there really isn’t anything like verses here—are repeated throughout songs. Keyboards and occasional background horns swirl around tightly structured grooves to create a decidedly stoner/psychedelic rock framework to hold the veteran musicians’ funk sensibilities. It will be unsurprising to Antibalas fans that from an instrumental standpoint, the members seemingly share one musical brain, making Ritual Divination a seamless listening experience with no hiccups or outliers. 

Here Lies Man’s surgical splicing of sounds from the 70s is consistently decent but rarely inspired. The entirety of Ritual Divination is locked into effortless but oft repeated grooves of upbeat stoner rock. A contradiction in terms, perhaps, but the band comes by it honestly. The best tracks, such as “I Told You (You Shall Die)” and “Can’t Kill It,” manage to perfectly hitch the Sabbathy guitar riffs to mirrored funk keyboards, creating one cohesive sound. As the album wears on, the emphasis shifts slightly away from a 1:1 ratio and more toward Afrobeat with heavy rock flavoring. Late standout “The Fates Have Won” is full of move-your-ass energy while follow up track “Out Goes the Night” duplicates the groove but plays it half as fast for a pleasant come-down.

Ritual Divination is not without problems, and chief among them is the odd way constant guitars homogenize the funk. The punchy sound of solo Hammond organ and brass are sorely missed as one guitar lick morphs slightly into the next. This constant emphasis, as well as the group vocals makes this feel like background music even during active listening. In his review of No Ground to Walk Upon, Mark Z lamented that it felt under baked, and that “Virtually every one of these seven tracks simply repeats its handful of ideas a few times.” At the time, he noted the album was barely more than an EP and thought the issue could be a lack of time given to the material. Well Ritual Divination is fifteen tracks and over an hour, and this issue remains. Early on, “Underland” falls flat after a strong one-two opening punch, and by the time one gets to “Run Away Children,” the repetition has built up enough that the song feels much longer than its 3:45 run time. It doesn’t help that as you lose focus, you’re halfway through the next song “I Wander” before you realize there’s been any change.

The grooves come easy for Here Lies Man, and the mood of Ritual Divination is relaxed yet danceable, but a lot of it can be categorized as pleasant background music. It lacks the often feral dynamics of proper Afrobeat and the heavy foreboding of Sabbath, but it’s capably played and several cuts could easily liven up a playlist or two. In the end though, If you really want Sabbath meets funk, I’d suggest first checking out Latin band Brownout’s Brown Sabbath covers albums.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: RidingEasy Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: January 22nd, 2021

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