Friday, October 28, 2011

Animals As Leaders - Weightless (2011)

Some fans of metal have reported an earthquake, with the epicenter falling squarely in the Washington D.C. area. Don't panic, this isn't a tectonic shift. The shaking you felt was the blast off and subsequent meteoric rise of Animals As Leaders. Having taken the world by storm with their self titled album, they have brought a breath of fresh air to the otherwise stale world of instrumental metal. Now, some two years later, they seek to break into the stratosphere. They fire their stage two rockets, in the form of a new album titled "Weightless," and go from upstarts to idols.

Lightning fast picking opens "The Infinite Regression," building up to a full on thrash clinic. The unity of lead and rhythm guitar is what makes tracks like this special, forming something more than just a never-ending solo. The use of electronic effects heightens the experience, creating clear divisions between each piece of the song, without fragmenting it. This is guitar metal at it's best. It is undeniable that songs like "Odessa" can be catchy, while remaining devastating. The melodies ensure you will hum along, but the periods of chugging will keep your head moving throughout. song clocks it at over four minutes, but goes by in what seems to be the blink of an eye. The more melodic "Somnarium" paints a different picture, one that showcases the songwriting skills that mainman Tosin Abasi has developed. Rather than replacing the vocal line with guitar, he proves, definitively, that vocals simply aren't needed in any form. Such is the foundation of Animals As Leaders.

The rattling opening to "Earth Departure" is wicked in all aspects. The drums and guitars are fast and furious, tangling up in one another. The result is something that could be best described as oragnized chaos. Darting guitars, eerie synths, and the rapid tapping of drums fuels a fire that could spiral out of control at any moment... and does on several occasions. A rare appearance of clean, down tempo tones emerges in the opening of "Isolated Incidents." That melody soars over the top of dense chugging, a virtuosic used of form and function. But this isn't all sunshine with dynamic thrashing portions recharging your battery before another winding, whirling solo. The opening notes of "Do Not Go Gently" could come straight from a club hit, but rather delve deeper into the down tuned, eight string chugging that the band does so well. This isn't guitar wankery just for the sake of showing off, but rather a well constructed metal attack.

"New Eden" starts off in heaven, with light electronic notes fluttering in the air. This is a short burst of a song, displaying amazing fretwork over a consistent, low end beat. A clean solo takes you from heaven, to nirvana as the track eases to a close. The confident smoothness of "Cylindrical Sea" is refreshing, taking a more jam band approach at times. There is definite growth here, showing a maturity that will keep people listening. The band has learned to play heavy off of melodic, and use the two in unison. "Espera" is an interlude, with soft, clean strums mixed with light electronics in a soothing lullaby. Fitting, with the albums heaviest track to follow. "To Lead You To An Overwhelming Question" shows the darker side, without being overbearing. There is some rich, deep guitar work, outside of the normal finger magic. This is a clinic of epic proportions. The bluesy feel to the guitars compliments the hard edged chugging and heavy handed drums.

The title track, and also the longest track, is Animals As Leaders at their finest. This is everything they have to offer in one five minute package. It takes the chugging brilliance, pairs it with the unmatched guitar work in a one in a million combination. Back and forth, from melody to mayhem, they ramble through passage after passage of ever changing time signatures and styles. By tracks end, you may feel a bit lighter. The finale, "David," is the conclusion to the string of lullabies you have heard through the course of the album. Light, gently played guitars echo in the quiet background. In like a lion, out like a lamb.

There is a reason why Animals As Leaders has managed to accumulate hoards of fans worldwide. Despite all of the failings of the music industry, and the fact that somehow Justin Bieber sells more albums than Iron Maiden, people can still recognize talent. The efforts found on "Weightless" won't appeal only to metalheads, but rather anyone that can appreciate high level guitar work. Music like this has an effect on people, one that may actually make you float. No marijuana needed.


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