For my money, Animals as Leaders is the best progressive metal band going, and that reputation is only solidified by their latest, The Joy of Motion (2014). I thought Weightless was really good, and their self-titled debut was a masterpiece…but this one is their best release yet. It’s got everything I love about prog-metal: insane technical proficiency, complex polyrhythmic guitar riffs, dazzlingly intricate drumming, and songwriting that feels simultaneously unpredictable and inevitable. It also lacks everything I hate about prog-metal: the throat-wrenching vocals, that unvarying wall-of-sound heaviness, the lack of dynamics and weak-to-nonexistent melody. Guitarists Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes and drummer Matt Garstka find that perfect sweet spot: a heavy, intense foundation that also lets itself breathe, and change, and sing.
There isn’t a dud track here, from the dense, shredding opening of “Kascade” to the chugging outro of “Nephele,” and I have a difficult time deciding which is my favorite track. It might be the cheerful, grooving djent-funk of “Physical Education”:
Or it might be the classical, circular intricacy of “The Woven Web” (and check out the amazing “guitar-percussion” at the 1:30 mark):
Or it could be the explosive “Tooth and Claw” (check out this drum cover by an 18-year-old who may be part-demon — I mean that as a compliment!):
Progressive metal bands are notorious for shredding guitars and tricky palm-mutered guitar chord rhythms, but Animals as Leaders is too restless to over-rely on those tools. They blend in other styles (jazz, funk, classical) and other instrumentations (keyboards, acoustic guitars). Their compositions are technically accomplished, but also highly melodic. The Joy of Motion is the best display of their sensibility yet, and has catapulted them from being a promising prog-metal staple right onto my Favorite Bands List. Really impressive stuff.