Saturday, 1 September 2012

Featured Artist: Animals As Leaders

Animals As Leaders is a three-piece progressive/technical metal band comprising guitarist and frontman Tosin Abasi , second guitarist Javier Reyes and drummer Matt Garstka.

This all started when Abasi, having been noticed for his technical guitar work, was offered a solo record deal. Initially apprehensive, he nonetheless decided to take up the offer and thus AAL was born.

AAL has released two albums so far: their eponymous debut (2009) and Weightless (2011).

'Tempting Time', off their debut album, is perhaps the one song that catapulted Abasi (and the band as a collective) to relative fame. Its use of synth effects (particularly at the start of the song), odd time signatures, complex riff and rhythm work and brain-twisting guitar solos is characteristic of the band's overall direction on this album - an extremely technically-accomplished and musically-intelligent effort.

I personally recommend this band because its members, while being very skilled individual musicians, strive to make good, listenable pieces rather than attempting to show off their full range of skills. Each member's musical input adds depth and value to the pieces.

Another piece off the same album, 'Song of Solomon', shows this off well. While it does not feature any particularly mind-blowing solos (by Abasi's ridiculous standards anyway), it does contain some highly complex rhythm work courtesy of Reyes and previous drummer Navene Koperweis. The production and synth work is pretty neat too, a rarity among young-ish metal bands.

The second album, Weightless, goes in a different direction from the first, a testament to the 'true' progressiveness of the band. It's one thing for bands to be musically progressive in one album and afterwards stick to their trusted formula (hello, late Dream Theater) and another for bands to keep expanding their musical horizons and trying different things.

'An Infinite Regression' is probably my favourite track off their new album, and happens to be its very first track. The 'classic' AAL elements - complicated riffing, use of both clean and distorted guitar lines, technical drum work and copious shredding - are all there, but what makes this track 'belong' to Weightless instead of the earlier album is the section which starts at around 1:50 into the video. The fusion-jazz groove that kicks in is simply addictive; at the time of writing I have replayed this particular section of music at least five times. This is something you would not hear in the first AAL album (or any number of albums that Justin Bieber puts out, hehehe).

'Isolated Incidents' (actual song begins around 0:20 into the video) is rather different, at least in how it starts. The song begins with a slow, clean guitar intro and progresses into a clean, jazzy passage - again, a step in a new direction for AAL. However, at around 2:30 into the song, the music reverts to 'old-school' AAL, blazing solo and all. This is what I like about this album - it is easily identifiable as an AAL collection but distinct from its predecessor.

Overall, I find AAL to be a nice balance of technique and heaviness. AAL is, however, strictly NOT for headbanging to, unless you wish to experience for yourself what whiplash feels like. It is, instead, for you to grab a beer, put on, and sit back and enjoy.

- JE

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