[24th March 2014]
03. Air Chrysalis
04. Another Year
05. Physical Education
06. Tooth And Claw
08. The Future That Awaited Me
09. Para Mexer
10. The Woven Web
Animals As Leaders are a young band, but it feels as though they have been a fixture in the rock and metal scene forever. They have toured with bands as disparate as Circa Survive and The Dillinger Escape Plan, and as diverse as Thrice and Between The Buried And Me. Since releasing their self-titled debut just shy of five years ago, Animals As Leaders have catapulted to major success against all odds. In an era in which popular music has become increasingly homogenous and (somehow) become even more about image than substance, it is nothing short of an anomaly that the band have achieved what they have in so little time.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing them live – which isn’t terribly difficult given their unrelenting schedule – knows that they are not trying to attract attention through choreography, fire-breathing, matching costumes, or edgy stage banter; they’re simply brilliant, yet humble musicians who let their instruments do the talking for them. Normally the absence of a vocalist would relegate a band to relative obscurity in the modern age, but for Animals As Leaders it is ironically the element that has allowed them to connect fans of all different styles of music. Indeed, they seem to be the one band that everybody agrees on, especially in the live environment.
Although AAL are invariably a hypnotic, mesmerizing force in the live setting, their recorded output has not as wholly captured the essence of the “Animals As Leaders experience” – that is until now. The Joy Of Motion is the most engaging album that Abasi and company have put together yet. Whereas the debut and Weightless both had their share of highpoints, they also had some sections where it was easy to let one’s attention drift – often within the same songs. Thankfully, that is not the case with The Joy Of Motion, which is thoroughly gripping. This is likely due in no small part to the evolution of the band in concert with an outstanding production team including former drummer Navene Koperweis, Periphery’s Misha Mansoor and Adam Getgood, and Diego Farias of Volumes among several others.
Since Animals As Leaders in 2009, the already legendary guitarist Tosin Abasi (Reflux, T.R.A.M.) has been the only person to play on each album. He has, however, wisely gathered phenomenal players around him with the talented guitarist Javier Reyes (also of T.R.A.M., Mestis) and, making his recording debut with AAL on The Joy Of Motion, drummer Matt Garstka. As expected, the trio have few “new” tricks up their sleeve, but rather they have produced another slick and virtuosic hour of music that is inviting to keen-eared musicians and more casual fans of music alike.
The Joy Of Motion is as fitting a title as one could ever dream for this album. It’s always moving and active – never sitting still for more than a brief moment – and it almost always exudes a popping gaiety. The album sounds effortless and is as playful as a puppy running through a flowery meadow. In all but their heaviest passages, there is a distinct aura of brightness and even sweetness to the songs. All twelve songs in The Joy Of Motion run between 4 to 5 minutes long, but despite adhering to the same instruments and run-time they are eminently distinct.
“Kascade” starts the album off with a familiar rhythmic punch and then quickly shifts into a quietly subdued but surgically precise tapping section with haunting electronics that swell and release like a yogic breath. Other early highlights are the groovy, sensuous, and demure “Another Year” and “Physical Education” - the single catchiest song Animals As Leaders have ever written.
The second half of The Joy Of Motion is generally a bit heavier and showier than the first, as evidenced by “Crescent,” which is at once dense with rhythmic guitar and bass and yet contains a gorgeous solo by the inimitable Abasi. Like all masters, he makes the impossible appear effortless. “The Woven Web” has an eerie classical lead that sounds ripped from one of the Castlevania games. Another tune that can’t help but standout is the heavily Latin-inspired “Para Mexer” which is a bit more reminiscent of Rodrigo y Gabriela than any AAL tune. Closer “Nephele” is a not-so-gentle reminder that Animals As Leaders, despite diverging into multiple different stylistic paths, are a metal band. Indeed, the final minute of the album as dense, dark and alien as a black hole.
With The Joy Of Motion, Animals As Leaders have achieved the feat of making their recorded output as mesmerizing as their live show. It oozes the same excitement, bliss, and awe at technical prowess while remaining engaging throughout the entire hour. It is one of the first masterpieces in metal this year and it will undoubtedly serve to propel them to even greater heights than they’ve already attained. Like the other progressive monolith from 2014 - Cynic’s Kindly Bent To Free Us - this album is accessible on the first listen but reveals more and more depth as time goes on. The Joy Of Motion is the gift that keeps on giving. Recommended to everyone.