Album: The Joy of Motion by Animals as Leaders

May 1, 2014

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, unvarying wall-of-sound heaviness, 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 the classical, circular intricacy of “The Woven Web,” or the explosive “Tooth and Claw.”

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.

  • mentatjack May 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Just started an Animals As Leaders Pandora station. It started me off with “Air Chrysalis.” Any predictions on what else I’ll end up listening to?

    • mentatjack May 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      Pandora on how it defines this station: “…it features hard rock roots, electronica influences, varying tempo and time signatures, demanding instrumental part writing, minor key tonality, electric guitar riffs, use of odd meter, an instrumental arrangement…”

      Thanks for being in my life Chris. I didn’t know how much I needed prog-metal this morning.

      • Chris East May 17, 2014 at 2:58 pm

        It’s my pleasure, of course, Steven. I love spreading my weird gospel. 🙂 Hope you enjoy!