Coordinated chaos reigns supreme in the music of Animals As Leaders.
Their meticulous breed of progressive metal is a daunting beast that grooves to an unfamiliar pulse, the alien heartbeat of instrumentalists Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes, and Matt Garstka. Originally a vehicle for Abasi’s solo work, the project underwent a gradual evolution up until the trio first recorded together for 2014’s The Joy Of Motion, an album that immaculately showcased each of their distinct skillsets and set the stage for their future as a band. With the release of their fifth record, Parrhesia, the reasons for their success are clearer than ever.
Initial listens to Animals As Leaders tracks can be intimidating, even for seasoned veterans of the genre. The erratic rhythms and intense textures that define their sound are rarely digestible from the get-go, and they have no qualms with overwhelming the audience.
Take for example “Arithmophobia,” a promotional single from The Madness Of Many. Rather than take the chance to draw in new fans with simpler material, they presented what can only be described as a complete and total mindfuck. Those brave enough to stick around for repeat listens, however, are handsomely rewarded. Honing in on any of the individual instruments reveals a world of sonic delights while taking on the track as a whole opens the mind to beats and melodies that have no right to be as memorable as they are.
Our first taste of Parrhesia came in the form of the aptly titled “Monomyth,” and in many ways, it seems equally impenetrable. Where the key difference lies, though, is in its length.
At only three minutes, it manages to distil the dark magic of “Arithmophobia” into a much more accessible package. It retains the mystique in its writhing melodies yet shows a level of focus atypical of progressive music, primarily revolving around the dichotomy between two closely related sections. When it does depart from the main form, it does so to offer respite from the mania – a transcendental breakdown slows the pace, gifting the listener with something more tangible before they are violently dropped back into the fray.
Much of the album follows suit in this fashion, teetering on the fault line between cataclysmic and euphoric. “Gestaltzerfall” effortlessly bridges the gap in passages that are as dense as they are achingly beautiful, while late cut “Thoughts And Prayers” divides its attention more distinctly across soft and heavy moments. Reyes proves his worth on the latter with a rousing solo that stands out as one of the band’s most emotional.
“The Problem Of Other Minds,” meanwhile, delivers a glorious soundscape of interwoven guitars and synths, backed up by a hefty drumbeat from Garstka. Released alongside a stunning music video directed by Telavaya Reynolds – who also designed the album sleeve – it is a foil to “Monomyth,” boasting a lighter tone and some soaring leads from Abasi, and is Parrhesia’s shortest track.
If there is an easy entry point to the record, this is it. “Asahi” allows its contemplative harmony to linger, a lush build that gives it new context within the tracklist.
Though it’s by far their briefest outing, Parrhesia packs in something of everything that makes Animals As Leaders great. From breathtaking highs to the earth-shattering lows of “Gordian Naught,” it expertly weaves between consonance and dissonance, sprinkling both in equal measure into standout tracks like “Red Miso.” It may take some time to warm up to its more uncompromising moments (namely “Micro-Aggressions”) but ultimately, that’s half of the fun; the more you listen, the more you become accustomed to the turbulence. Once it works its way into your brain, listening to the album is a completely different experience.
Animals As Leaders often evoke the sublime in that their music is equal parts astonishing and terrifying. With that in mind, their music might not be for everyone, and it’s okay to feel that it’s too much. Take it slowly and let it flow over you, though, you may find yourself swept away by a sound like no other.