Animals As Leaders – Animals As Leaders

Perhaps you have heard the name Tosin Abasi before. If so, maybe you’ve had the opportunity to hear the band Reflux before their unfortunate disbanding. Abasi, a talented 8-string guitarist and former member of Reflux, after being adopted by Prosthetic Records, recorded and released an eponymous solo album in April 2009 under the moniker Animals As Leaders. This relatively unknown album, a fusion of heavy metal guitar and electronica, is one of the most impressive instrumental releases of the year. At times strikingly beautiful and others intensely heavy, this record will keep you on the tips of your toes until it sweeps you off your feet entirely.

Animals As Leaders explore a unique realm that dives between Amon Tobin-like electronics and jazz and John Petrucci-esque shredding. Abasi’s sound is roughly characterized by an ambient mystique and abstract song structures that often evolve into either sweeping (no pun intended; Abasi is a proficient shredder) melodic phrases that seemingly reach upward or into pummeling metal riffs and distortion. Track “Soraya” opens with a peculiar electronic sequence that gradually ascends into rapturous guitar sweeping. Following track “Thoroughly At Home” could not be more different, as it begins with a deep guitar riff that sounds more Meshuggah than Liquid Tension Experiment. Stand-out tracks have to be “On Impulse,” which features impressive electronic work and a guitar solo that, even amid an album rife with technically daunting guitar work, is nothing short of breathtaking, and “The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing,” which showcases some of the most textured electronics on the record that seemingly strive to overtake even the distorted guitar in terms of power. “Cafo,” the longest track on the record, is also probably the most dynamic track, featuring just about everything the record has to offer: crushing riffage, audacious mood-setting electronics, and awe-inspiring melodic passages. Few tracks, if any, fall short of compelling; whether it be the invigorating beauty or the dire urgency that does it, your attention will be held.

However, the record is not without its problems. The tracks on the disc were all recorded straight to a computer; no amps, no microphones, just guitars and a lot of cables. Even the drumming, though convincingly realistic, is all synthetic, and at times the drumming can lack power or depth, two elements that are sorely missed in metal. Some of the heavier parts, lamentably, are not as heavy as they feel they should be and where your ear drums would otherwise be pounding from the force of every bass kick and power chord, they instead are subject to just a lot of distortion and drums that merely thump instead of pound. Fortunately, their live performances largely correct this shortcoming and are not something to be missed.

Even despite its shortcomings, Animals As Leaders proves to be a feat of remarkable skill and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful guitar projects of the year. As the name implies, Abasi asserted that he intended for the music to reflect his belief that mankind should adhere to its “natural calling.” The music, however, sounds as if it’s transcending earthly constraints rather than embracing them. To anyone who is a fan of instrumental rock, electronica, guitar soloing, or just great music in general: I highly recommend this record. I originally purchased this record at a whim, never having even heard of the project before, and was not disappointed in one bit and I can assure you that you won’t be either.

by Mason “Luck of the Cover-looker” McGough

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