The name Animals as Leaders is one which is always spoken with a fond reverence. Always a force to reckon with, an Animals as Leaders album is the one you spend your money on when you want to learn something from your playlist, enjoy it on the go, set as a goal for your own musicianship. Lofty as the introduction may sound it is common knowledge how many ripples the self-titled debut by the fretboard force-to-reckon-with created. Though primarily Tosin Abassi’s brainchild the debut packed every element that had never been packed at the same ratio in a Metal album before this. The sophomore full-length though packed to the brim with goodness felt a tad bit too forced and technical to the years, as if the 2011’s composer was trying to usurp whatever the 2009’s mastermind had envisioned. “Weightless” was far from a disappoint though, clearly exposing to the world how formidable the joint minds of virtuoso Javier Reyes and Tosin Abassi can be.
2014’s “The Joy of Motion” is the best amalgamation of the accessibility with which “Animals As Leaders” taught legions of guitarists to re-model the way they look at their guitar, and the in-your-face technical juggernaut that “Weightless” despite its name, stands for. Opening the extravaganza with the best of what they are known for, “Ka$cade” welcomes with delight the serpentine lines after lines of guitar-magic hungry audience. Packing a solo, a killer Djent groove and most of all a simplistic yet enviably memorable intro, “Ka$cade” sums the brilliance of AAL right off the start. “Lippincott” majestically beckons in listeners and gives them a brief tour of what to expect from the third instalment of Animals as Leaders music. Most would notice the prominent role played by Matt Garstka in balancing the amount of spotlight previously occupied by the other instruments. Tosin Abassi and Javier Reyes play the perfect host through the amazement that “Air Chrysalis” is. Sometimes the beauty of an Animals as Leaders is the simplicity with which it has been crafted: The gentle mellow lead-work that soon evolves into a larger than life exhibition of skill and tonality. The wise, selective application of electronic soundscapes paint a further beautiful background to the constant shape shifting.
The shape shifting is simply the constant transition in the playing style of Abassi and Reyes. Starting with a simple chord pattern that could as easily have been from your favourite Post Rock record, obliterating it in a flurry of Djent stylized chugging, throwing in a pinch of jazz finger-style playing to keep things interesting, it’s all there. The best example for this would be the track “Another Year”. The glue holding together layer after layer of such marvellous guitar lines, would be the production genius that is Misha Mansoor. What particularly fascinated me to pick this track as an example would be the bridge, where the chord pattern and voicing fits Tosin’s guitar parts like a gloved hand.
“Physical Education” is where the fun and games gets overshadowed by the sheer technicality once again. This is probably the time where most of you would pick up your guitars like me and stare at the fretboard and mumbling “Damn, it can do that”. “Physical Education” brings out that side of an Animals as Leaders album where it makes the entertaining side of the album join the guitar tutorial side of the album for a tag team match. Although if you think that would be an experience similar to what “Weightless” defined technicality to be then you are mistaken. Tracks like “Physical Education” and the more headbangworthy “Tooth and Claw”-which may sound like the most accessible track so far, and that’s saying something- are the ones on the list that pack enough mana to inspire a whole new future generation of Abassis and Reyes’.
“Crescent” would be a good example to sell the quality production that “The Joy of Motion” has seen over its predecessors. Also, “Crescent” highlights the difference between the style of drumming that Navene Koperweis has led the fans to associate with AAL, compared to that of Garstka’s more organic and at-par style of playing. “Para Mexer” combines stretches the Progressive Metal label thin as it would be a surprise for most listeners to see the band suddenly fuse flamboyantly played drum parts with a feel-good Jazzy number. Completely at odds, with what the tracklist offered so far, this track will be one of the several reasons for most of you to revisit this album time and again.
Even though it feels pointless to go on paragraph after another of how much epic proportions each track on “The Joy of Motion” is. Even if I try to draw a conclusion to how much this album has an effect on the year-end customary “Best” and “Top” so and so lists. With a bass groove like that in “The Woven Web” and that laidback punch of every slap and chug that the solo in “Nephele” floats on, “The Joy of Motion” is from all angles a stellar album.
Maybe a bit too experimental for the traditional Metal listener, but then again that’s the basis for every AAL album: The patience is paid in full several times as wave after wave of guitar hooks wash over you. Entertainment for some, a lesson for others.