Animals in Motion
Jay Michuda | Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Since its formation in 2009 until its most recent album release this year, Washington D.C. group Animals as Leaders has completely changed the way most people view metal music. The band’s lack of vocals, use of dynamic (9/7 to free time, anyone?) time signatures and jazz-fusion elements make them unique to say the least. In fact, they helped pioneer a new genre of music that is quickly gaining popularity: djent (pronounced “jent”), a progressive style of heavy metal. However, while the term djent is being overused to describe a myriad of progressive metal bands that currently exist, Animals as Leaders, with its newly-released album “The Joy of Motion” is so much more.
The group’s first self-titled album was released in 2009 and quickly captured the attention of metal and nonmetal fans alike through their technical, lyrical melodies juxtaposed with dark, heavy chugging chords that drive and define their music. Behind what some may claim to be “just noise” lies proof of a thorough comprehension of music theory by Tosin Abasi, the groups lead guitarist and frontman, who — prior to the bands creation — rejected an offer for a solo album by Prosthetic Records in order to return to music school. What emerged a year later was one of the greatest guitarists of our time.
Unfortunately, music embedded with complex music theory can often be dismissed as “showy” (see: jazz), and many musicians who are capable of playing lightning-fast riffs lose their audience because they feel the need to fill bars with superfluous 32nd notes, losing any sort of musicality or expression in the process. However, the brilliance of Animals emerges from a careful balance of technical prowess and pure expression. Their second album, “Weightless,” displays this perfectly. Under the same style as the first album, the group introduced more separation between the driving chords and the soaring melodies that have grown to define the band. Its use of space and time is masterfully executed, creating in some spots a feeling of almost suffocating under a dark, heavy weight, only to have it lifted and being given a breath of fresh air. Listening to the solos, you get the feeling of guitar legends Joe Satriani or Steve Vai with a more complex twist.
As a listener, you are almost are afraid that somehow they will mess something up; there is no way a band can keep doing this well while continuing to release new music. Pre-release chatter of the introduction of vocals raised a substantial amount of controversy in their fan base. However, Abasi has proven himself again to be a creative powerhouse, and still without the use of vocals. “The Joy of Motion” is the next installment in their already powerful repertoire, gracing us with 12 new songs to play until our ears bleed. Again, they use the same style they have in their previous two albums, but with a new twist: the focus this time is on rhythmic experimentation, which results in an album with more drive and intensity than their previous two. From here we can fully understand the title of “The Joy of Motion.” By intentionally removing a lot of the space and virtuosic guitar solos that normally appear in their music, they generate and explore a feeling of constant forward movement. The end product is a lush and complex “soundscape” where you can discover new ideas or motifs with consecutive listens. It’s definitely a slightly heavier departure from their normal style, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
For me, this album was a great listen, and although rhythmic emphasis normally isn’t that appealing to me, I always enjoy hearing to the unique new concepts these guys can put out. I’m also interested to see where the group will go next, as they have consistently developed a creative force, bringing something new to the table. Even if metal isn’t your thing, I would recommend Animals as Leaders, especially their earlier work, and when you do, there are two routes you can take when you listen to Animals: The first is to go nuts and jam out to their heavy riffs. The second (and probably more common method) is to sit back and actually listen to what they’re playing.
Whichever you choose, there’s really no way you can go wrong.