Animals As Leaders started as a project by virtuoso guitarist Tosin Abasi, after his former label Prosthetic Records asked him to create a solo LP, following the end of his band Reflux. After taking a year out to study and immerse himself in his guitar playing, he put together the group who have now been releasing music for over a decade through to Parrhesia (Sumerian) their fifth album.
The band is instrumental, but with somewhat of a unique sound thanks to Abasi’s use of an 8-string guitar, showcasing magical skills and an influence in his playing from the likes of Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmasteen and Eddie Van Halen, all mixed with a style seeped in the tradition of technical metal with shades of Chuck Schuldiner and Meshuggah, all thrown into a melting pot with Jazz, Rock and all manor of other aural delights.
Parrhesia provides 9 new tracks, kicking off with the uplifting and very Vai-esq ‘Conflict Cartography’ which changes halfway through with the introduction of dirty but funky Primus-style bass riff, a sound consistent throughout the record. Lead single ‘Monomyth’ which dropped online in Sepetember of 2021, takes the journey into a different stratosphere, this is the darker side of Animals As Leaders who create a stomping robotic rhythm before Abasi lets loose with the lead.
The tone of the record throughout is great with the 8-string guitar providing a muddy but crisp sound, while the jazz influences are at their most evident with Matt Garstka’s drumming, who does a hell of a job keeping the backbone of the music straight, while Abasi and Javier Reyes (who both share guitar and bass playing) go wild over the top of many alternate time signatures. The opening lead from ‘Red Miso’ would not have sounded out of place on Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien record from way back in 1987, although the rhythm behind is nothing if not futuristic, featuring a bonkers heavy middle section, where again the bass sound is just outstanding.
Midway through the record the use of synths becomes quite prominent on Asahi and with the intro to ‘The Problem Of Others Minds,’ invoking a kind of eighties John Carpenter film score vibe. The record does fall into the trap similar to many other instrumental long players, in that the tracks kind of start to blend into one another, with at times a lack of variation. However, this doesn’t lessen the quality of the musicianship on offer, which is technically on another planet. Having said that, the record picks itself up at the very end, finishing with the gloriously dark and clanking ‘Gordian Naught’.
If this all sounds like a full on musical assault of the senses then you’re probably right, as listening to Animals As Leaders is always a complex journey for your ears, but ultimately always a satisfying and somewhat educational experience. This is a record for those that want to be mesmerised by perfect musicianship, a mix of progressive sounds and odd Jazz influenced timings.
Most of all, listening to this album makes me wish I was watching the band live in a dark room, with elaborate stage strobe lighting … which is where I feel the music would truly come alive!
7 / 10