Monday, November 8, 2010

Animals As Leaders (2009) Album Review

Reviewing a metal artist proves to be a headache. First, I'm no metal expert at all. Second, this genre has probably the most strict sub-genre classification on this planet that is carefully guarded by passionate metalhead conservatives who won't blink about calling you out on misuse and "ignorance". You have to be on your toes when you opine about the genres. Third, I can't tell where to start, how to do my supposed 'benchmarking', when to or not to compare bands, etc. The pressure is quite daunting, albeit in my case, imagined. But, yes, it's not as easy as picking a pebble and saying it is better than all the other pebbles in the beach. No, that's not how you should do it. You have to examine the other pebbles- its texture, its color- does it have odd shapes? Is it found in an area with more sand or more neighboring pebbles? Group them according to those characteristics, and after you do, there is absolutely no crossing lines, blabadabada, etc, and other stuff that requires you to be a tight ass.

So, to get away from all that stuff, I will just share my story about how I ended up listening to this band. For me, it started with a craving for more Meshuggah. I've always been fascinated with odd time signatures and polyrhythms, and there are a whole bunch of other bands who have employed various forms of it one way or the other. Meshuggah seems to be at the top of that list. They are just downright obsessed with it, and I find myself scratching my head in disbelief upon hearing sequence after sequence of their music with this obsession in full form - unflinching and relentless - pushing you to the edge until you can no longer follow the beat. And if you could do follow the count/time/beat or whatever, it is extremely satisfying. You can now brag that at a certain moment, your minds were at par! But I fail most of the time. So, yeah, with my jaw still agape, I went in search for other bands who were just as obsessed "playing with time".

Tosin Abasi
In comes Animals As Leaders, an instrumental prog-metal band. Though definitely not as heavy, or as obsessed with polyrhythms, but they do open the door for other activities like guitar wanking and plucking, and more melodic playing. The guitarist himself, a guy named Tosin Abasi, rocks an 8-string guitar and is certainly no pushover. This guy is, by all means, a guitar prodigy. The fact that he wrote and recorded both guitar and bass on the album is astonishing! He has since recruited two other members to tour with.

The use of odd time signatures are minimal, and often unnoticable. But they are there. Some tracks more than others. CAFO, for example, makes abundant use of it- which unsurprisingly ends up being one of my favorite tracks. That guitar intro riff is just orgasmic- all the more when the other instruments melds in to form this really rich heavy metal groove. There are a bunch of relaxed tracks sprinkled throughout too, at times hearkening to Tosin's obvious jazz roots. One track in particular, On Impulse, begins unassumingly with simple guitar plucking- slowly building up until it crescendoes into its true heavy form. If this album has a "landmark" track, On Impulse would be it. I think it best represents the album, appropriately tying its light and heavy moments together.

Light and heavy. Yep. That's where most of my complaints would be. It's a bit disconcerting to have really light tracks (almost undistorted) and extremely heavy tracks in the same album. It confuses me, and I won't be surprised if Tosin is confused either. In the end, the album forms its own uniquely diverse identity, and in effect, making it not an instant go-to for people looking solely for an aggressive fix.

My score:
7 out of 10


Music clips:
CAFO
On Impulse

5 comments:

cb02161989 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cb02161989 said...

After having my second chance at eyeballing another one of your reviews, I must ask: Why so much attention given to the people listening to the album? Your review of Animals As Leaders is saturated with musical sensibilities almost overtaken by calloused insecurities. After talking to Javier Reyes one-on-one at the end of their set in Knoxville, TN last February, I can say that this trio wants nothing more than to integrate as many different personalities of music together as they can. After having my ears filled with win and eyes stimulated by a stellar rock performance, all I wanted to do was pick at Javier's brain and ask him how he and the band views in the contemporary rock scene. What caught my attention most was that Javier spent about 20 minutes talking about musical influences, but he didn't take any time to elaborate on rock. I thought he was pulling my leg when he mentioned helping produce Bizzy Bone's rap album. Then he elaborated on how he enjoyed working with this Bone Thugz member, and at this point my mind was already in fragments dispersed across the merch table. Javier only wanted to share with me how the band's musical interests were centered in genres completely incompatible to their own. I couldn't believe how enamored Javier and Tosin were with NOISIA. "We would love to share the stage with those guys. Their music is on a whole 'nother level from ours." Javier also mentioned their drummer only uses metal as an outlet, but that he doesn't care to listen to it. I was astonished when he said Navene was an electronica junkie. Directly after hearing this, Javier suggested that I check out Navene's side project, Fleshwrought: "Navene and Job for a Cowboy vocalist, Johnny Davy, have created one of the heaviest albums out now." So by the time our conversation was coming to a close, I caught on to this dichotomy that was steering Javier's thoughts about the band's love for music. On the one hand, you have a record with some unprecedented benchmarks in the history of rock music; while on the other, you have three guys who are borderline apathetic when it comes to talking about the genre people associate them with. This makes one other topic come to mind. When I asked Javier about the near future (summer plans/ festivals / more touring), Javier's eyes lit up as he mentioned wanting to perform alongside with Mos Def. It's not a booked show, but it was one of those goals he mentioned. Then he went on to talk about headlining their own tour in the summer. When hhe mentioned his previous work prior to AAL: a tango band... a blank face took over my facial muscles. I mean, come on. Really? Who would have thought? That just goes to show how passionate AAL is about placing the action of music over the reaction of people. The tone of your review whispers "What sound will most effectively cater to the needs of other people's ears who need their progressive metal fix?" Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that there are people like you out there smart enough to feed their minds with tunes that have more depth (Major props for you even listening to this album period! Puts a smile on my face), but come on, man: "Light and heavy. Yep. That's where both of my complaints would be." That line left me feeling light in the head and heavy at heart.

cb02161989 said...

After having my second chance at eyeballing another one of your reviews, I must ask: Why so much attention given to the people listening to the album? Your review of Animals As Leaders is saturated with musical sensibilities almost overtaken by calloused insecurities. After talking to Javier Reyes one-on-one at the end of their set in Knoxville, TN last February, I can say that this trio wants nothing more than to integrate as many different personalities of music together as they can. After having my ears filled with win and eyes stimulated by a stellar rock performance, all I wanted to do was pick at Javier's brain and ask him how he and the band view the contemporary rock scene. What caught my attention most was that Javier spent about 20 minutes talking about musical influences, but he didn't take any time to elaborate on rock. I thought he was pulling my leg when he mentioned helping produce Bizzy Bone's rap album. Then he elaborated on how he enjoyed working with this Bone Thugz member, and at this point my mind was already in fragments dispersed across the merch table. Javier only wanted to share with me how the band's musical interests were centered in genres completely incompatible to their own. I couldn't believe how enamored Javier and Tosin were with NOISIA. "We would love to share the stage with those guys. Their music is on a whole 'nother level from ours." Javier also mentioned their drummer only uses metal as an outlet, but that he doesn't care to listen to it. I was astonished when he said Navene was an electronica junkie. Directly after hearing this, Javier suggested that I check out Navene's side project, Fleshwrought: "Navene and Job for a Cowboy vocalist, Johnny Davy, have created one of the heaviest albums out now." So by the time our conversation was coming to a close, I caught on to this dichotomy that was steering Javier's thoughts about the band's love for music. On the one hand, you have a record with some unprecedented benchmarks in the history of rock music; while on the other, you have three guys who are borderline apathetic when it comes to talking about the genre people associate them with. This makes one other topic come to mind. When I asked Javier about the near future (summer plans/ festivals / more touring), Javier's eyes lit up as he mentioned wanting to perform alongside with Mos Def. It's not a booked show, but it was one of those goals he mentioned. Then he went on to talk about getting more stage time when they tour in the summer. When he mentioned his previous work prior to AAL: a tango band... a blank face took over my facial muscles. I mean, come on. Really? Who would have thought? That just goes to show how passionate AAL is about placing the action of music over the reaction of people. The tone of your review whispers "What sound will most effectively cater to the needs of other people's ears who need their progressive metal fix?" Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that there are people like you out there smart enough to feed their minds with tunes that have more depth (Major props for you even listening to this album period! Puts a smile on my face), but come on, man: "Light and heavy. Yep. That's where both of my complaints would be." That line left me feeling light-headed and heavy at heart.

tingkagol said...

Thanks for reading. It's really just an opinion. Nothing I write here is fact.

This review was written with the mindset of a guy looking for other bands that play heavy polyrhythms. I've since realized this band transcends that, but at the time, I only really needed an aggressive fix.

PICK-A-"P" PEEPS: said...

@Animals As Leaders in a Nutshell!