March 2021 Feature Release – The Infinite Edition
So just like that we find that a new month is upon us which of course means that we’ll be nominating a brand new monthly feature release for each clan. This essentially means that we’re asking you to rate, review & discuss our chosen features for no other reason than because we enjoy the process & banter. We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our chosen releases so don’t be shy.
This month’s feature release for The Infinite has been nominated by Xephyr. It's 2009's self-titled debut album from talented Washington-based progressive metallers Animals As Leaders.
I was a big fan of instrumental guitar records from my early teenage years all the way through the my mid-to-late 20's. In fact, most of you won't be aware of this but there was a time when I had ambitions in this space myself & I still have my 1999 solo CD to show for it. Why do I mention it? Well I'm just setting the scene for you so that you can understand why someone like myself might be more inclined to find appeal in a record like Animals As Leaders' debut than your average metalhead. There's an air of experimentation to a lot of this material that defines what progressive music is meant to be with the incorporation of jazz fusion & electronic components adding a fair bit of interest to the complex progressive metal backbone however (despite my strong background in both genres) I find that the more metal oriented material is the most effective here, particularly the tracks with a stronger emphasis on exotic melodies. And then there's Tosin Abasi... I can tell you this dude isn't just a super-talented guitarist. He's utterly mind-blowing for an old shredder like myself. Like some of the things he does here are on a level that I didn't even think was physically possible so that element alone keeps me on my toes throughout the runtime.
At it's core, "Animals As Leaders" is a guitar shred record & guitar shred records certainly have a niche market that they're aimed at so if you've gone into "Animals As Leaders" expecting something more than an impressive show of virtuosity & versatility then you might be disappointed but if you can accept that limitation then you'll leave yourself open to an entertaining showcase of the skill sets of the various band members. I think the fact that you don't simply see Abasi's name on the cover kinda leads the listener's expectations away from the reality in that respect. I have to admit that I would have preferred Abasi to put a bit more of a focus on melody but I can't complain much as I pick the shattered pieces of my musical ego up off the floor. Sure the production is a little bit wishy washy but it's nothing I couldn't overcome after my initial listen. This was a very interesting feature release selection in my opinion.
For fans of Plini, Mestis & Arch Echo.
Thanks, Xephyr and Daniel! Here's my review summary:
I've never really gained full interest in completely instrumental metal bands before, and sometimes I like to take instrumental songs (metal or otherwise) and write lyrics for those songs. I think it's really cool because then you can sing/scream along the lyrics to the songs you think would be empty without lyrics. A huge heap of ideas might spawn for me after checking out an album from instrumental djenty jazz-metal band from Washington DC, Animals as Leaders! This project, led by bassist/guitarist Tobin Abasi, perform energetic riffing and solid drumming, and their debut marks the beginning of more of them to come. The songs range from short and calm to long and intense, all according to their jazz-djent plan. Not every band's debut album can be consistent or flawless, but for Animals as Leaders, this is certainly different. Here you can find energetic consistency and masterful performance. I don't think there's any flaw in here, that's how perfect the album is. The guitar riffs might be a bit repetitive, but they're still enjoyable. Animals as Leaders' debut is one of the best progressive/djent releases, and I can just imagine the lyrics I'm gonna write for this wave of jazz-djent babies!
I have very little patience for wholly instrumental metal and I don't hear anything here that will change my mind on that score. Saying that, I imagine that if it did have vocals then they would almost certainly be of a kind that I would hate, so it's probably better off without. Although there is plenty going on, I can't help but wonder what the point is other than for the musicians involved to feel they have showcased their technical proficiency for all us inferior humans to listen to in awe and bow deferentially to their superiority. This left me feeling nothing at all, I don't hate it as such, but I certainly don't love it and would never seek it out again. For me an empty and soulless experience and a mere placebo of a record.
A tough record to revisit.
I do respect Animals as Leaders for being extremely competent musicians and being able to incorporate it through overtly technical/progressive songwriting. I just wish that there had been more of a purpose for most of it. As Sonny mentioned, the wankery on display is less so for creating a captivating experience for the performer/listener, but rather a showcase in technical proficiency without any of the soul that is required for progressive metal to work. Still, not a bad record, but one that needed to be developed upon (and eventually was) for this style of progressive djent to have any staying power.
I didn't think that I'd need to get something off my chest when I chose this record for the feature, but apparently I did. Easily the most hard-stanced, "I will die on this hill" style of review that I've written, but it's how I truly feel about any talented progressive/mathy band getting voted down to oblivion because they wanted to play more notes than normal. I understand that it's an egregious oversimplification and I'm not saying that anyone is forced to like this kind of stuff, but seeing so many of the same comments over the past few years really got under my skin apparently. Full review link below: