Tosin Abasi dresses well. It’s fair to say that the major protagonist in the Animals As Leaders saga is a very fashionable man. His clothes are eye-catching but within reason. The styles fit within the normal boundaries, acceptable to the everyman, but there might be a little dart in the design to set his sartorial choices apart from your average rock star’s taste. It’s the same with the music that he creates. It’s why this Washington DC band has risen to the top of the djent genre.
It’s bordering on the absurd that in, a world of ubiquitous, corporate pop stars, AAL’s 2011 album Weightless scaled the the US Billboard 200, reaching as high as Number 92. After all, this is an instrumental jazz-metal band on an independent label. Luckily though, we live in a world where the theatre of the absurd is still celebrated. However, while Weightless was successful and the levels of musicianship (and heaviness) exceeded that of the self-titled 2009 debut that Abasi wrote and recorded on his own, it felt a little mechanical – as if the vulgar display of technical prowess was there as a trophy rather than as a musical experience.
The second album with a full band, The Joy Of Motion feels more complete, more comfortable. Maybe this is down in part to the re-introduction of Misha Mansoor – of fellow big cats in the djent jungle, Periphery – on production and co-writing duties. But also the riffs are more than an incomprehensible arrangement of rapid-fire finger wizardry here. They feel like they mean something, and linger long in the mind as a result.
Accompanied by one of Abasi’s beautiful, symphonic jazz riffs, Another Year barely ascends into gently chugging guitars as it climaxes. There is more in the way of their trademark clean, complicated guitar work in Para Mexer, the sole aim of which is to astound you with the complexity of its Latin-inspired sections.
Mind-Spun, with its swooping, siren guitars and scratchy electronics, however, is a seething exercise in attrition, but it feels like they’re telling a story (you’ll have to make up your own lyrics, of course). There are similarly dark undertones to be found in Physical Education, an exceptional song in an album replete with excellence. Centred around a luxuriously memorable eight-stringed guitar riff, its proportions are vast, even cinematic.
Animals As Leaders have found the right personnel to achieve the perfect balance in their music. There is more than enough heavy drama remaining here but, as is his way, Tosin Abasi has added those flashes of glorious colour and detail to The Joy of Motion. The result is magnificent.