I’m going to start this off by saying that I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into when I got this album. I was just going off the advice of a friend to “just buy, don’t think”, and I had only heard a couple songs posted on their MySpace that I wasn’t really even all that crazy about. What a great gamble that turned out to be. This album quickly made me forget that I even had expectations, and it has already become one of my all-time favorite albums, despite only having it for a little over 2 weeks. I’m dead serious.
“Animals as Leaders” is leaded by guitarist/songwriter Tosin Abasi (ex-Reflux), and is the first progressive metal band I’ve heard that really can’t be put into a genre. Even “progressive metal” is a label that would make people think they’re going to sound like Dream Theater or Rush, which is absolutely not the case. “Experimental” might be a good label, but that’s also a bad, terrible label, in that it simply clumps together all the musicians who sound nothing like anybody else or each other. This album is fresh, it’s instrumental, it’s heavy, it’s very progressive (both rhythmically and melodically), it’s uplifting, it’s EPIC, and it’s utterly beautiful. No need to genre-ify it.
Anyways, there is nothing more important to this album than the musicianship of Tosin Abasi. I’m no guitarist, but I can easily say that he makes his music come alive with passion and heart, and I’m worried that his guitars might explode if he keeps making such awesome music. The drum work is phenomenal, too. I’ve been playing drums for 11 years, and some of the stuff I hear is like nothing I’ve ever heard. I just wish I knew who wrote/played them (may have been Tosin for all I know, some multi-instrumentalists are skilled at everything).
The two tracks currently posted on MySpace “Tempting Time” and “Song of Solomon”, are good examples of the heavier side of the album. While those are damn good songs that will make you rock out no matter where or how you listen to them, they’re not my favorites – those would have to be the more laid-back tunes with the jazzier-classical influences, like “Soraya”, “Behaving Badly” and “The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing”. Hearing an atmospheric jazz-fusion-esque sound combined with redonkulous 5/16 time, meshuggah-like polyrhythms, and a classical guitar-like composition is the coolest thing in the world! Though, even the songs I didn’t mention are absolutely amazing! I just haven’t had enough time with the album yet to develop a sense of how to describe them (it’s that way with most of the album, actually). I’ll just let you find out for yourself what it sounds like.
However, don’t get the idea that just because I mentioned which ones are my favorites, that there are songs or parts of songs that are just OK or filler! There is not a single wasted second on this album. There is nothing repetitive, nothing that will bore you, nothing that will leave you disappointed or underwhelmed, nothing that will even make you think about skipping to the next track. This is an album that after your first listen, will leave you feeling as though you’ve rediscovered music. It was good enough that it’s been in my car’s CD player for the last couple weeks straight, and I haven’t gotten tired of it. I can’t say the same for the new Mastodon, the new Isis, or the new Obscura, which I thought were all great albums that really pushed the limits of metal. Will I call this the best metal album of 2009? Absolutely, and possibly the best metal album of the last few years (right up there with the latest Meshuggah, Opeth and Gojira albums, and a few other other great bands that thrive on how original they can be).
People, get this album. A smart man once said “What mama don’t know can’t hurt her”, but he’s obviously never heard Animals as Leaders before. Buy it now, you won’t make a better decision for a long time.