American metal band Animals As Leaders have been at the front of the modern progressive movement for nearly a decade now.
That makes each album a little more anticipated than the last. Of course, what started out as a hardcore, technical Meshuggah-meets-ambient approach has continually evolved, while still remaining mind-bafflingly esoteric.
The three-member band’s experiments continue on their latest album The Madness of Many . For example, the first song, ‘Arithmophobia’ kicks off with a striking dissonance that nearly sounds like a sitar, before drummer Matt Garstka and guitarist Javier Reyes bring the heavy.
The build-up to breakdowns is still something that will often irk anyone who loved the prog stylings of their 2009 self-titled debut, but the band, led by Tosin Abasi on his eight-string guitar, already settled into that groovy metal space on their previous album, The Joy of Motion.
So, for ‘Ectogenesis’ to start out with a lot of synth and become almost like a video game score before diving into breakdowns is definitely an exciting turn. They use ambience and melody against fiery fretplay on ‘Cognitive Contortions’. All the while, there’s a lot of tapping, popping and scuttling around on the fretboard for Reyes on his own eight-string, while Abasi crafts starry-eyed virtuoso guitar leads. On ‘Inner Assassins’, they let the guitars do the talking, over insane polyrhythms.
It’s in Animals As Leaders’ strength to make a song evoke thoughts or a mood almost immediately even without any vocals. It is also almost always complex, but what first gets your ear – say, vibrant leads on ‘Private Visions of the World’ – comes across as catchy as a pop melody.
And while even that can get sort of monotonous knowing the high expectations of AAL fans, they change up the slightest thing and make a huge difference, like on the groovy ‘Backpfeifengesicht’ or the acoustic guitar infusion that’s ‘The Brain Dance’, easily one of their best experiments in the album.
As much as they enjoy turning to more sythns and electronic elements on The Madness of Many , it still remains an album for guitar geeks, who’ll probably have stars in their eyes when they hear complex, happy song like ‘The Glass Bridge’. That’s a job well done for Abasi and co, then.