For Fans Of
There’s a fine line between being an overly complex, instrumentally technical wank wizard and crafting well-structured, progressive compositions that both musically inclined punters and regular old chums can enjoy and love. Washington’s Animals As Leaders have always existed at various points between those two extremes over time, and their new album, ‘The Madness Of Many’ is no exception.
See, ‘The Madness Of Many’ shows the esteemed and respected trio of guitarists Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes and drummer Matt Garstka taking their music to the next level; something I potentially thought impossible considering the scope of 2014’s excellent and organic sounding ‘The Joy Of Motion’. But sell my cock to Satan, they have done it again! This new record combines the sharp and clinical nature of their debut self-titled effort; the musical density and electronic elements of ‘Weightless‘ (just minus the over the top glitchy sounds); and the lush, angular, human nature of the aforementioned release, ‘The Joy Of Motion‘.
The musical journey that is Animals As Leaders fourth record begins with ‘Arithmophobia’, a grand and beautiful Indian jazz-metal piece, for lack of a better description. It’s an incredibly strong beginning to the record and easily one of the standout tunes, acting as a microcosm of sorts for the following nine songs. Oh, if you’re unaware, arithmophobia is actually the unusual and near-constant fear of numbers. Man, the fucking irony. Elsewhere, ‘Cognitive Contortions‘ is an apt title, as that’s exactly what was happening to my mind as the band’s rhythmic layers, tasteful synth, and busy guitar work raged on inside my head. The same can be said for the deeply textured, driving and almost-but-not-quite dissonant track that is ‘The Brain Dance’ (which a cheeky way to describe the band’s music, too). What I love about this track, in particular, is it’s overall peaceful and relaxing mood at times, showing that the band can indeed construct truly emotionally evocative songs – songs that take you back to a certain time or place – which speaks volumes of their proficiency for writing engaging music in general.
‘Backpfeifengesicht‘, whose title not only reads like a keyboard spasm but is also apparently German for a “face that should be slapped”, is a calculated, jagged, intensive affair until two-thirds of the way through. The dynamic final third proves that Animals As Leaders are so much more than the often lazy and ever-divisive ‘djent’ label that many would haphazardly slap on them, for this record, as a whole, branches away from such pigeonhole terms. ‘The Glass Bridge‘ is a bright, cheerful yet instrumentally busy piece that echoes the sound of their peers in Polyphia, except just of a far higher quality (Polyphia are still cool, though). Somewhat removed from the album’s emotional characteristics are the band’s infectious rhythms, a department of which they are rarely outdone in. So I now turn the reader’s attention to Exhibit A with the impeccably tight drumming found on ‘Ectogenesis’, chest-pounding double-kicks and all. It’s this song that proves unequivocally that Garstka, and Animals As Leaders as a whole, are still masters of song flow and god-like rhythmic design.
Now, the final track, ‘Apeirophobia’ (which is the fear of eternity- hey, the more you know) is a rather abstract song, as it’s devoid of any percussion and is just solely a flurry of guitars and bass. Much like Meshuggah’s ‘The Last Vigil‘ from 2012’s ‘Koloss‘, it is a welcome reprieve from the preceding chaos. If this song was placed anywhere else on the track listing then it’s importance and its ominous timbre would be truly lost, tossed aside as a mere mid-album break that no would give half a fuck about. Thankfully, that is not the case, and positioning it at the very end of a record was the right move. It may also just be one of my all-time favourite Animals As Leaders songs, and considering their prior material, those are some big words!
I also find it interesting that this record begins and ends with two songs whose titles derive their names from words associated with human fears, no matter how irrational they may be. As pretentious as this will make me sound, I think that the ever-changing, intrinsic chaos of our tangible world and the way that it affects us mentally and emotionally, is captured so well within the musical layers, complex rhythms, and vast sonic depths that ‘The Madness Of Many’ so confidently displays. And perhaps that’s why the album’s cover shows an individual stepping into the minds of these monolithic humanoid heads; a potential metaphor for me/you diving into the mental recesses of others, of trying to witness, address or maybe even to simply understand the phobias, idiosyncrasies, and “madness” of those around us. Yep… definitely pretentious sounding!
In any case, let us move away from the conceptual table and address the elephant in the room; one listen to this record and it’s painfully obvious to see that this is the trio’s least heaviest record to date. Granted, things are still heavy relatively speaking, it’s just heavy in a… different sense, and that’s the best way I can put it. Think more along the lines of Evan Brewer’s ‘Your Itinerary‘ or Polyphia’s ‘Muse‘, for instance. There is now an emphasis on naturally cleaner and warmer guitar tones, and don’t get me wrong, this isn’t necessarily the band going soft on us (man, I say that like it’s a bad thing), just the group expanding their sonic range for the better. Of course, if you’re still after the heavier moments and the lower-tuned riffs, you’ll find plenty of heavier shades across the record but mainly on ‘Inner Assassins‘ and ‘Private Visions Of The World‘. So don’t worry close-minded metalheads, the band has still got your back here. Well, somewhat.
If you were looking for a totally unbiased review of this new Animals As Leaders record, then a) why the fuck are you reading my reviews and b) if you couldn’t tell from this review, I absolutely adore this band. (The fact that their self-titled release is an all-time favourite of mine and that my review of ‘The Joy Of Motion’ – which I do think is their best work – openly shows my bias/love and then some). ‘The Madness Of Many’ is yet another great record from a trio who do truly warrant the overused phrase of ‘virtuosos’, and it hits such a depth in my being that few others in this genre could never hope to reach. Of course, those well-versed with the trio will definitely find themselves in a comfort zone here, yet I’d argue that the band has written and delivered songs here that are just different enough, just fresh and interesting enough that they’ve pushed their sound to that next level. I do wonder how many albums bearing this progressive instrumental sound are left in AAL’s musical bones and just where the fuck the next album will head, but just like the United States right now, these are interesting times for the band.
- Cognitive Contortions
- Inner Assassins
- Private Visions Of The World
- The Glass Bridge
- The Brain Dance
‘The Madness Of Many’ is out now via Sumerian Records and it’s mind-breakingly good.