Animals as Leaders - Animals as Leaders (2009)Release ID: 5616

Animals as Leaders - Animals as Leaders (2009) Cover
Sonny Sonny / March 19, 2021 / Comments 0 / 0

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 (I'm thinking Steve Perry, John Wetton awful) so it's probably better off without any. 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. I know sometimes it may sound like I detest technical proficiency, but this isn't true if said proficiency is used to serve the song (classic era Opeth for an example in metal, King Crimson or Yes outside of it). If the songwriting takes a backseat to ego stroking then yes, I will take against it. Add to this that Djenty chugging and that's it, I'm cashing out.

Look, if this is your bag, then good luck to you, being a non-musician maybe I don't "get it" and as such I only have my gut feelings to judge it by. That said, this really left me feeling very little at all, I can't even hate it as such because that would take more emotion than I can conjure up for it. But I think it's safe to say that I would never seek it out again for further listens. For me an empty and soulless experience, a mere placebo of a record and the antithesis of why I listen to metal.

Xephyr Xephyr / March 15, 2021 / Comments 0 / 0

The "Soulless" Genre

When does an album become simple noodling? How many notes per second does the guitarist or bassist have to play before it becomes wankery? How many time signature changes and syncopated rhythms must a song have before it becomes soulless? When highly technical performers release a convoluted, technical album, it must only be because they want everyone who listens to bow down to their immense, obvious virtuosic prowess as they rub it in our simpleton faces. Truly, no one who is skilled at their instrument creates music that they find cool and interesting to listen to in ways that they’re able to because they’re incredibly skilled; that’d be absolutely absurd.

As someone who’s enjoyed listening to technical, instrumental Progressive Metal ever since I got into the Metal genre on the whole, the general disdain for acts like Animals as Leaders in certain corners of the music world can be perplexing. The obvious disclaimer here is that of course all music is subjective and I’ll never say that anyone is wrong for feeling any sort of way, but the blanket observations about instrumental, math-y progressive metal have worn on me a bit too hard. I make it no secret that I have a soft spot for music like this, even though I’ll almost never give a record like Animals as Leaders unwavering, glowing praise, save for an anomaly like Cloudkicker’s Solitude from 2020. Hell, over the past few months of checking out some releases from the newest math-y instrumental sensation Plini I can almost see what people mean when they say this genre can be “soulless”. I really don’t think that holds true for Animals As Leaders’ debut, though.

This record is basically a solo project for guitarist Tosin Abasi, with Misha Mansoor of Periphery only supplying drums and electronics for what Abasi had written. The guy is obviously extremely skilled, which is where most of the wow-factor comes from in instrumental records like this, but Animals as Leaders has always been one of the more compelling guitar-centric albums to come after the age of the 1980’s shredders for me. I’ve always felt like this album shows any other modern shred album how its done with its great mix of progressive scale melodies, ripping solos, and Djent-y chugs. It can be unfocused at times, especially during the shorter interlude tracks like “Tessitura”, “Point to Point” and “Modern Meat”, but the rest of this debut falls into the positive side of unfocused for me. While Abasi doesn’t exactly write tunes that have obvious progressions and payoffs, the grooves and fleeting melodies that make up Animals as Leaders are still creative and fresh sounding. Even though “Behaving Badly”, “CAFO”, and “Song of Solomon” are the common highlights of Abasi’s acute playing, the rest of the tracks are nothing to scoff at. “Tempting Time” is an energetic introduction to the album, “Soraya” showcases some enticing bass lines, “On Impulse” and “The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing” mellows things out for a much-needed change of pace, and “Inamorata’s” hefty middle section and soloing is just as impressive as the aforementioned, more notable tracks.

Animals as Leaders is far from a perfect album, nor is it a staggering revolution in progressive instrumental metal. The drum production is extremely sketchy throughout, especially when it comes to the ear-splitting snare at times, and the electronics could definitely be a bit more inspired at times. But all that said, it remains one of the more exciting modern shred-fests that helped to catapult this style of djent fused, jazzy progressive metal into the limelight during the beginning of the 2010’s. For just a moment, Animals as Leaders helped make nerdy, technical musings cool again to a pretty wide audience, and other groups like Intervals, Polyphia, and now Plini are riding that wave to varying amounts of success. To see all of these bands be sometimes dismissed as self-indulgent noodling sessions is absolutely disheartening as a progressive metal fan, though. These types of albums have so many excellent riffs and ideas that are categorized as sterile and soulless because, seemingly, the guitarist decided to play a few more notes out of the scale than the rest of the same chugs that metal has been using for decades. I love the experimentation and I’m always excited to see what crazy riffs and grooves people come up with, even though the songwriting of players like Abasi is admittedly historically lackluster. The point of highly technical records like Animals as Leaders is the same as any other album, and while it may not invoke some kind of divine emotion within my very being, immediately bending the opposite way and claiming it’s devoid of all life is something that I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand. I still get a ton of enjoyment out of albums like this and Animals as Leaders’ debut shows they have more than enough edge and character to be more than a showoff at a school talent show.

Saxy S Saxy S / March 12, 2021 / Comments 0 / 0

I was not surprised in the slightest when Animals as Leaders' name was mentioned by fellow students when I was in post-secondary school back in 2010/2011. This was a group that were about to break out in a big way during the 2010s and their blend of progressive metal meets jazz fusion, complete with complex song structures was something that not only made sense, but also fit right in with the type of jazz music that was becoming popular at the time, and would later be force-fed into the learning program in later years.

Now let me start off this review by saying this: I never really cared for Animals as Leaders self-titled debut album after albums like Weightless and The Joy of Motion were released. My initial thoughts on this album were that it was too soulless and far more interested in showing off Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes' technical proficiency rather than writing good songs that thoroughly incorporated the technical wankery. This was developed and improved upon further on later releases, in addition to far better production that doesn't sound like it was recorded through a laptop webcam microphone!

I've also never been a huge fan of Djent as a genre. Continuing down the path of technical wankery as opposed to decent songwriting, Djent is more interested in rhythmic proficiency and breakdowns. And while I do respect that to a far greater extent than wankery, it still leaves me with not a lot to talk about. Djent is very much derived from metalcore and my issues with breakdown-centric music is well documented, but Animals as Leaders were at least able to make it fit in places, which is a step up from a band like Meshuggah.

Going back to the self titled debut, many of my issues stand, but I did find it to be more enjoyable than I remember. Tunes like "On Impulse", "Behaving Badly" and "The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing" are well constructed tunes with actual melodic frameworks connecting it all together. "Behaving Badly" and "Cafo" both carry the distinction of using technical wankery as a point of reference to craft good songs that might not have a singable hook per se, but they are certainly recognizable. Unfortunately, these seem to be in the minority on this record, as "Tempting Time", "Tessitura" and "Inamorata" act more as a collaboration of multiple ideas mixed together with no sense of dynamic growth, and feel like they are here for the showmanship. This was fortunately ratified on later albums.

When I look back and I think about some of my favourite progressive metal albums: Blackwater Park, Lateralus, Portal of I, Light of Day, Day of Darkness, I think about how effortless the individual tracks sound on those albums, even though it is obvious that they are far from easy. But from a performance standpoint, the best songs on those albums always feel as if the performers are putting their heart into the music, rather than reading it off of a piece of paper. And it takes a lot of practice to get to that place! To me, Animals as Leaders has always sounded like an album which lacked soul, and was more interested in the technical proficiency in order to wow the audience. Upon revisiting this album, I can safely say that this was not entirely the case because if I didn't revisit this, I probably would have pissed a lot of people off with my score! Like with so many debut albums, this was only for the band to get their feet wet, and the more refined music would come later.

Michael Michael / April 07, 2019 / Comments 0 / 0

Sheer amazballs! Technically up there with the best, skillfully mashing electronica, jazz, metal and funk into a cohesive masterpiece is not a small task.

This is the first album from AaL and boy did they come out swinging. For a first listen I would recommend CAFO, Tempting Time or  Wave of Babies.


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Ratings: 7 | Reviews: 4


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Animals as Leaders
The Infinite

Progressive Metal (conventional)

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