ANIMALS AS LEADERS
Progressive Metal • United States

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Animals as Leaders is a Washington, D.C.–based instrumental progressive metal solo project by eight-string guitarist Tosin Abasi, formed "out of the ashes" of his previous band, Reflux. The heavy metal record label Prosthetic Records saw Abasi's guitar work and asked him to create a solo album for them. Abasi initially declined, feeling such an endeavor would be "egotistical and unnecessary." When Reflux disbanded, Abasi decided to take the label's offer. The name Animals as Leaders was inspired by Daniel Quinn's 1992 novel Ishmael, which addresses anthropocentrism. Abasi coined the name as a reminder "that we're all essentially animals."

The project's first album, Animals as Leaders, was recorded in early 2008. Abasi recorded all guitar and bass tracks on the album; drums and various synthesized effects were programmed by engineer Misha Mansoor (Periphery, Haunted Shores). The album was released April 28, 2009 by Prosthetic Records.
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.. Album Cover 3.91 | 43 ratings
Animals as Leaders
Progressive Metal 2009
.. Album Cover 3.86 | 30 ratings
Weightless
Progressive Metal 2011
.. Album Cover 2.85 | 10 ratings
The Joy of Motion
Progressive Metal 2014

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.. Album Cover
2.00 | 1 ratings
Wave Of Babies
Progressive Metal 2010

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ANIMALS AS LEADERS Reviews

ANIMALS AS LEADERS Animals as Leaders

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The brainchild of founder Tosin Abasi from Washington DC, the all instrumental jazz-fusion meets djent project ANIMALS AS LEADERS is more or less his baby although the band tours and presents itself as a full-fledged musical collaboration. This creative outlet began with Abasi’s involvement as the guitarist in the tech metal core band Reflux. After the band ceased to be, Abasi was approached by the metal record label Prosthetic Records who were majorly impressed with his chops and wanted him to record a solo album but Abasi declined feeling the idea was self-indulgent and instead he took a year off to study music in an academic setting to further his growing interest in jazz, classical guitar and composition. After he finished his homework he took Prosthetic up on their offer and then proceeded to let it all rip and roar. He chose the name ANIMALS AS LEADERS after reading the novel “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn which dealt with the subject of anthropocentrism.

In 2009 Tosin released his first album playing his eight-string guitar and bass as well as co-producing with his partner in crime Misha Mansoor who handled engineering, drum programming and mixing. This album got a lot of praise when it came out due to its challenging virtuosic performances that add a lot of variety and spice to the often impressive but sterile compositions that many a virtuoso can dish out. A child of his time, Abasi pretty much handled all the duties formerly requiring an army of talents to accomplish and if he had been ten to twenty years older he could have easily fit in on the Shrapnel Records label that ushered in all kinds of young talented virtuoso guitarists to the world. Some of those artists like Tony MacAlpine and Greg Howe seem like antecedent influences to Abasi’s work, but i also hear some Pat Metheny in some of the lighter fluffier pieces, some mid-tempo ones bringing Allan Holdsworth and even Shawn Lane to mind and of course, the undeniable palm-muted technique of djent tech thrashers Meshuggah in the metallic edge that many of these tracks dish out.

While the influences on board are plenty, what i find refreshing about the debut album by ANIMALS AS LEADERS is how some fresh new takes on these techy fusion guitar jams play out. While the album is clearly created to show off Abasi’s technical wizardry, he was prescient enough to know that wizardry alone for wizardry’s sake had been played out and that extra oomph was needed to guarantee a pleasant listening experience. Well, pleasant this is indeed with lots of chops to excite my hunger for lightning fast guitar runs configured with insanely fast and unpredictable progressive time signatures alternating between quiet cozy numbers and rowdy rockers that unleash monster riffage and extreme bass frenetics.

My only complaint is that this album may be a tad too long for its intensity and contains a couple tracks that seem a little redundant but overall i find this to be a beautifully constructed modern day jazz-fusion guitar and bass extravaganza with beautiful atmosphere, crystal clear production and a musical passion that keeps the quality sizzling. OK, one more complaint. I wish there would have been a real drummer. While the programmed drumming is far from unpleasant or bad in any way, it really is no proper substitute for a talented jazz-fusion drummer who can really bring out the best in a band like classic Bill Bruford did in Yes. Excellent album but not quite a classic.

ANIMALS AS LEADERS The Joy of Motion

Album · 2014 · Progressive Metal
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Warthur
Animals as Leaders' third album feels like it's hitting diminishing returns on the djent side of the equation compared to the rather more interesting Weightless, but it manages to just about make the cut thanks to the exploration of jazz fusion and Latin styles that yields a more diverse sound than they've previously enjoyed. At the same time, I can't help but wish that these momentary flirtations with expanding and reconfiguring the group's sound had gone a little deeper, since whilst they add a little spice here, they don't go quite so far enough as to open up enough new creative directions to feel confident about the group's long-term prospects.

ANIMALS AS LEADERS The Joy of Motion

Album · 2014 · Progressive Metal
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Gallifrey
Tolerable, Yet Uninteresting

I’ve never liked Animals As Leaders. I guess I should state that upfront, so anyone who wants to disregard my opinion can do so, before they get too invested in reading what I have to say. I really don’t like this whole subculture, the Sumerian records-led teenager brigade of tech-worshippers. Everything about them, from their awful bedroom chugging projects, to their actual enjoyment of memes as cringeworthy and embarrassing as ‘doge’, to the complete obsession with such empty and emotionless music just grates me, to the point where I would actually call them a cult. Like the hippies or goths or hiphopheads of pre-internet times, we now have djentfags, and I long await their demise.

At the forefront of this movement and on the back of every djentfag’s bedroom door are Animals as Leaders, the project of guitarist and “songwriter” Tosin Abasi. I put songwriter in inverted commas for reasons that I will discuss later, since I don’t believe Tosin has written a single actual song in his career. This is their third album, released after a highly regarded debut, and a less popular sophomore, both of which were (in my opinion) compressed and useless pieces of guitar wankery, with absolutely zero sense of time or melody or harmony or even how to construct a guitar tone. Yet they were somehow were lauded by both djentfags and also by people whose opinions I trust and respect. Although they are certainly leaders in the scene, AAL aren’t really a true djent band in the genre definition; only a small portion of their music is dedicated to chuggity chug chug, most of it going towards messy and tuneless riffing, filtered through some ungodly number of compressors, and scattered with some uninspired electronics and even more uninspired ambience.

Although actually, on the whole, The Joy of Motion is Animals As Leaders’ most tolerable release yet. I would hesitate to say ‘best’, because this still ain’t good, but it’s got a significantly larger percentage of moments that I’m not pulling my hair out to or dying of internal bleeding, to the point when I actually enjoy a couple of moments here and there. But on the whole, this is Tosin doing as he has done, genre-wise, and it basically sounds identical to the first two records, with a tiny bit more cohesion and a bit less mess.

“But no!” shout the masses of teenagers in their bedrooms, “this one’s different! There’s bass!”

And yes, there is a bass guitar here, and I’m sure Adam Getgood’s formspring account will be flooded over the next few months with billions of questions about the chain he is using at 3:11 in this song or the Axe FX preset he’s got on at 0:29 in that song, but does the bass really change anything here? No, no it really doesn’t, especially not with that bloody disgusting tone. The Joy of Motion does have some nice grooves every now and then, and the bass is a significant part of this, but it’s not really a major point of difference from the first two albums.

The biggest difference here, one that is also due to Mr Getgood’s involvement, along with his Periphery bandmate Misha Mansoor (who I am less of a fan of), is the production. Sure, the tones here are still pretty awful, the drums are plastic, the bass is way way waaay too compressed (and slapped more often than need be), but at least I can bloody hear them. On the first two albums, the thing that surprised me the most about the people praising them, was the fact that regardless of how technical these riffs are, they’re under a wall of the messiest bloody production this side of Saint Anger and smothered in the highest levels of compression this side of Death Magnetic. No matter how hard I tried to pretend I liked jazz and enjoy Tosin’s use of the D-Locrian mode on that sweep or the triplet run in f#-7-chromatic-minor on that breakdown (which is the only way I can imagine people liking this music), I couldn’t hear anything at all under the waves of spluttering electronic drums and bad atmosphere. But here, I can actually say that I listened to this record three times, and I didn’t have an aneurism.

The production lifts this up tons, but lets be honest, it really just made it a bit clearer, and under the mess that the first two albums were crawling beneath, there isn’t too much here. One of the things I hate about djent, often more than the chugging itself, is the genre’s obsession with ~trendy ambience~. And it’s not as if it’s nice ambience, it is literally the most basic setting on a delay pedal, played with the exact same tone. And with Animals As Leaders being the frontrunners in this scene, you’d imagine them to be a bit more inventive, but no, the useless ambience is here, and in even more abundance than before. It’s not the fact that they are using it that bugs me, it’s the fact that it’s so uninspired, and I have heard it so many times before, combined with the fact that it sounds so mechanical and machine-produced. With the heavy parts being so mechanical themselves, it would be nice if the ambient breaks could have some piano or strings or acoustic guitar or any instrument that has a relatively pleasing timbre.

The heavy parts here aren’t a big improvement, but the production advances definitely mean I can tolerate them a bit more. Some of the riffing here starts to even emulate electronic music, and with the clearer production, actually sounds pretty cool. The very beginning of the album has a very glitchy and quite interesting riff that, while being a complete mess, is made up with some really choppy and nice drumming. I’m not a big fan of the tones, and the organ in the background is laughable, but the drumming here is really something, and would be decent if it weren’t for the terribly robotic kick and snare tones. Solo-wise, this thing is still damn sloppy. I’ve never been a fan of djent soloing, it is so without melody and direction. Call it ‘jazzy’ if you want, and yeah, I’ve always felt the same thing about a lot of jazz soloing to be honest, but to me it’s completely messy.

So what is The Joy of Motion in the end? Is it an improvement? Hell yes it is. Will fans like it? Probably not. Will it go down as significant? Well, no, not really.

Because you see, Tosin does not construct songs, or even melodies or riffs quite a lot of the time, he creates exercises and challenges, the sort of stuff that will fill the next generation of guitar textbooks and inspire legions of 12-year-olds to drop gauge, add a few strings and start chugging. It’s the new jazz, in my view, this uber-technical mess music, pretentious as fuck, great for critical analysis and pretending you have diverse taste, but on the whole meaningless. And I think where The Joy of Motion sits seems a bit vague. There’s enough non-wanky stuff for me to not vomit here, but that will also alienate people who want to come at this album with a pen and notepad. But on the other hand, it has enough messy segments and usual Tosin wank for me to not really want to hear it more than a few times. When I listen to this record, I don’t really enjoy it; I’m more just surprised that I don’t hate it. The Joy of Motion will inevitably be forgotten in the middle ground, wherever Tosin chooses to go next. And honestly, although this hints at an upward trend toward maybe making something I would like, I’m probably not going to bother the man again. He was a great sight to see live and meet, and I appreciate his talent and dedication, but Tosin will always be Tosin, and he will always write this mathematical and mechanical music. And as much as I can tolerate a good deal of The Joy of Motion, I could never really enjoy such soulless music, regardless of any technicality.

4.5/10

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

ANIMALS AS LEADERS Weightless

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
Is Djent really a subgenre or just a style of playing? Well, if Animals as Leaders' Weightless is anything to go by, one thing's for sure: it certainly isn't much like the bulk of Dream Theater-inspired progressive metal bands. Djent groups can be derided in some quarters for getting overly fancy with their technical playing, but I don't really hear that here - whilst there's no doubt that this is an album with a highly technical focus, the band never resort to aimless noodling, instead creating a wonderfully atmospheric piece which proves that you can combine technical excellence with emotional resonance. If Djent is really nothing more than a particular flavour of prog metal, then finally this is prog metal I can really get excited about.

ANIMALS AS LEADERS Animals as Leaders

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
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dtguitarfan
Animals as Leaders is one of those bands that completely took me by surprise. I've heard a lot of extraordinary music, and plenty of mediocre music, but no matter who told me these guys were amazing, I wouldn't have been prepared for what was to come. They are completely unique - I'd describe their style as "Progressive Jazz/Metal/Techno Fusion". Or something like that. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this band is that there are only 3 members, and no bassist. They are strictly instrumental. The lead guitarist of the band, Tosin Abasi, has developed a unique style of guitar playing where he combines guitar playing techniques with bass playing techniques, and employes the use of an 8 stringed guitar that has a bass string or two. I highly recommend looking up Tosin Abasi on youtube sometime ? it will be one of the most amazing musical feats you've ever witnessed, I promise. When I listen to Animals as Leaders, I find it hard to go back to listening to anyone else - this music is so beautifully complex that after hearing it everything else seems less amazing, and often I must listen to something simplistic and soothing to sort of cleanse the palette, if you will. In this, their first album, Animals as Leaders has this amazing method of building up an agressive soundscape filled with dirty heavy riffs and dissonance that builds and crescendos until you almost can't take it, and then all of a sudden they abbruptly pull back, shocking the listener with the beautiful contrast. The technicality of the riffage is simply astounding, and Tosin Abasi pulls off feats of musicality that I never thought possible. Behind all of this, drummer Navene Koperweis astounds with his layering, thunderous rhythm section. This album is one of those albums where I found that on first listen, certain songs stood out to me while others I didn't like so much, but after subsequent listens my perspective would change and I would have new favorites after each listen. This album is a perspective changing masterpiece.

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