ANIMALS AS LEADERS — Animals as Leaders (review)

ANIMALS AS LEADERS — Animals as Leaders album cover Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
NecronCommander
Instrumental metal done right.

Animals as Leaders' debut self-titled album is a jaw-dropping piece of technicality and instrumental perfection that never once gets pretentious or loses sight of an ultimate musical goal. Basically a solo project by American 8-string guitarist Tosin Abasi, Animals as Leaders was formed out of the ashes of Abasi's short-lived progressive metalcore band Reflux. What we have on this album is far removed from just about any other kind of progressive metal ever seen before, though.

The centerpiece of the album is obviously Tosin's incredible guitar playing. With this album he really sets himself at the very forefront of technical guitar virtuosity, channeling the likes of a newer-age Satch or Vai with mind-blowing solos, yet still creating an incredibly distinctive sound for himself that mixes this soloing with fancy riffs and experimental playing styles (more on this later). His use of the 8-string guitar also maximizes his ability to create some incredibly unique sounds on this album.

Musically, the album could be described as technical progressive metal, though that doesn't really do justice to the wide range of guitar styles explored in the album. While it's incredibly technical, it doesn't really fit in the "extreme" category, as the lack of harsh vocals and the sparsity of very heavy material doesn't evoke the same level of extremity found in other technical metal artists. Much of the style is taken from the underground "djent" metal genre, a style known for it's signature detuned guitar tone, in addition to the heavy use of polyrhythms and time signature changes; "math metal", if you will. However, while the djenty tone may be used pretty frequently in the album for rhythm parts, it doesn't take the predominant style, moreso using it as a flavoring here and there. Another dominant element to the album is the heavy electronica influence, with strong synths, background ambience, glitch percussion, and even occasional 8-bit lines. Additonally a large number of different guitar styles are explored as well, ranging from classical, neoclassical and jazz-style to traditional heavy metal, djent, and even mute and slap-style sections. Yet the music has this ultimate ability to never lose sight of melody. The melody is by far the strongest part of the album over all parts of the songwriting, and it really provides for some fantastic and memorable moments throughout the album. This is what in my opinion elevates it above all other tech albums.

The album starts off incredibly strong with the piece "Tempting Time", which opens with a melodic electronic opening and leads into some excellent heavy djent lines. The first solo is absolutely jaw-dropping and does an incredible job leaving the listener wanting for more. What follows is a cool synth line followed along on guitar with some complex math metal rhythm. A brief section of sweeps leads into a melodic breakdown and a somewhat ambient passage that all culminates in another strong solo and some furious techno-metal riffage before closing in an incredible fashion with an absolutely sublime riff. This piece really does a tremendous job putting many of Animals as Leaders' best qualities into one song and really starts the ball rolling.

The next piece "Soraya" is driven by some interesting tapstyle guitar, a mode that will be used somewhat frequently over the span of the album, and is pretty interesting to hear. Lots of time signature changes and another impressive solo towards the end, along with some interesting clean/distorted guitar contrast, make for a very enjoyable, less heavy piece. This is followed in somewhat stark contrast by "Thoroughly at Home", which starts of pretty heavily and doesn't relent. Cool riffing passages are abundant and followed by some interesting breaks involving a very twangy sounding guitar. The piece eventually turns into somewhat of a mathcore song and closes as the twangy guitars fade away.

The next song "On Impulse" starts off with a rather beautiful clean guitar section that incorporates some classical and contemporary jazz styles, including some impressive hybrid picking, that really makes for a beautifully melodic solo part. The percussion and rhythm eventually join in as the intro is repeated with distortion, and adding some cool electronic percussion and another crazy solo makes for an instantly memorable piece and one of the album's strongest songs.

"Tessitura" is a solo piece that uses tapstyle heavily and makes for a short, pleasant interlude into the next piece. "Behaving Badly" starts out with a very cool, earthy ambient section that is gradually built upon by some rocking layered guitars before breaking into a very unique main riff that uses some very unusual-sounding fast picking technique, making for a very fun and memorable chorus line. This riff section is repeated twice more but is partitioned out between some cool, spacey sounding sections. The percussion and rhythm are particularly strong on this piece.

The next song "The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing" starts out incredibly space/trance-like before gradually building up to a cool melodic main riff that does a good job mixing a clean lead with a strong, heavy rhythm. The overall tone is, interestingly, very pleasant, even with fully distorted guitars blazing. Also here we are treated to another cool solo, though it's not one of the stronger ones on the album. This is in heavy contrast to the next song, "CAFO", which is arguably the most technical song on the album, if the mind- numbing sweeps that open the song aren't a good indication. And these sweeps are used as just the rhythm! This song works heavily with polymetered guitars and math metal- esque riffs. The sweeping section creates an awesome hectic backdrop as the song builds up momentum and eventually breaks into a very groovy tapping section. The percussion here again is very strong and some cool synth compliments a very epic composition. The solos that come later are very impressive: one before the main riff is repeated, and an incredible one that follows after a quiet stop, before the song closes in some excellent djenty headbanger riffs.

The next song "Inamorata" has some very strong chugging rhythm in the opening minutes and is very catchy despite the difficult-to-follow breaks that occur every so often. Another killer solo leads way to an awesome techno metal passage with the very strong synth lines, furious distorted guitars, and machine-gun bass pedals. The song then after a grand section turns into a heavy session of riff experimentation with some cool sporadic solos and even an 8-bit breakdown. Dueling guitars fade the track out into another interlude piece, "Point to Point", which starts out almost like a ballad. This short song has some more pleasant guitar leads before the rhythm and percussion join at the very end to escort it out. Following this is the last solo piece "Modern Meat", which is done in a mute guitar style, incorporating some guitar percussion and creating a somewhat Spanish sounding piece that is highly entertaining.

The closing track "Song of Solomon", while overshadowed by so much incredible music preceding it, actually turns out to be my personal favorite song on the album. It starts with a fast, excellent riff that quickly builds distortion and turns into probably the coolest riff on the album. What follows is a really cool solo done in a classical style that breaks to another awesome start-and-stop riff before returning to the first amazing section. The song is complemented by another outstanding solo before the sections repeat and go out on one big note.

Ultimately an album of such technicality would come down to how well it was executed, and luckily Animals as Leaders' debut strikes an excellent balance between technicality and substance. It's never overly pretentious and there are so many unique and memorable sections that this is truly one of the most unique and engaging progressive metal albums to come out in recent times, and Tosin's incredible musical capabilities have me captivated for future releases.

I had originally given this album four and a half stars, but I honestly can feel comfortable giving this album a perfect 5/5, I honestly feel that people are going to look back on this album years from now and it will be considered one of the most important landmarks in progressive music and the history of guitar virtuosity. Seriously, buy this album. Even after 600+ listens for me it never ceases to astound me.

Standout tracks: "Tempting Time", "Soraya", "On Impulse", "Behaving Badly", "The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing", "CAFO", "Inamorata", "Song of Solomon"
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Pekka wrote:
more than 2 years ago
This might well be the longest MMA or PA review I've ever read completely :P Good job, I've got to re-listen.

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