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The madness of Animals as Leaders

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The madness of Animals as Leaders

Sometimes it’s the unique things that are the most beautiful. Animals as Leaders have an artistic creativity that takes a close listen to see.

Sometimes it’s the unique things that are the most beautiful. Animals as Leaders have an artistic creativity that takes a close listen to see.

Sometimes it’s the unique things that are the most beautiful. Animals as Leaders have an artistic creativity that takes a close listen to see.

Sometimes it’s the unique things that are the most beautiful. Animals as Leaders have an artistic creativity that takes a close listen to see.


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Animals as Leaders (AaL) is a difficult band to identify with. I first came across the band with the wannabe-communist name (imagine Boxer, Napoleon, and Snowball riffing odd-time signatures) when one of my friends recommended it to me in the same breath as other progressive metal bands such as Tool and The Aristocrats. My inclination toward non-mainstream music (read: hatred for repetition) made me think “Eh, what the hell, they’re both progressive, they’re both weird and I am in desperate need of an exhilarating breath of nuance and subtlety with a side of devastating technique.” Well, cue the instrumental Progressive Djent band that eats AC\DC for starters, because, good lord, these guys are a phenomenon.

Wanting to try it out, I pulled open their albums on Apple Music and saw this album called “The Madness of Many” with cover art that I can only describe as “Avant Garde”. “Arithmophobia” caught my attention first, not just because it means “fear of numbers,” but because it also made me think, “if there’s anywhere I can find some quirk and a heck ton of rapidly altering time signatures, it would be this.” It starts of with a Sitar hook, at which point I thought, “Oh awesome! They’re trying out world music! Maybe it’s a fusion band, nice!” This lasted for approximately ten seconds before everything descended into chaos. Let me explain.

To put it simply: Listening to an AaL song is like playing chess. Every move in the game is analogous to a time signature in the song. (FYI, a time signature is the number of notes in a bar or a specific tempo). To understand the song, you need to understand how it started; which piece moved first and when. It’s all very logical, precisely calculated and mathematical, but at the same time, utterly chaotic, if you can’t follow it. If I go with the same analogy for Pop or EDM, it is as if all pieces in chess can only move forward. You can look at the game from any point and tell how it could’ve started. Playing an AaL song, however, is like playing Blitz chess with a grandmaster like Gary Kasparov or Bobby Fischer. You need to think 40 moves in advance and you can’t miss a beat.

The thing that makes AaL songs so inexplicably repulsive to laymen is the effort it takes to see order. The time signatures vary for every few bars, there are syncopations, polyrhythms, dissonant chords, a variety of fingerpicking and slapping techniques, all of which makes it sound cacophonous. People like music that makes sense to them. You need pitch, rhythm and harmony in synchronic simplicity to form narrative coherence. In other words, every song tells a story—a wordless story that uses these elements to give it character, pacing and atmosphere.

For mainstream music, this journey that we must take to follow the narrative is quite relaxing as if we’re on a straight highway with no vehicles in sight. Everything is predictable, and the time signatures and the song structure is designed to make us feel at ease. With AaL, however, the beauty comes with the order in chaos. Look at a demolition derby. On first glance it would seem like utter pandemonium; it isn’t a race. Some focus on one car and hope it doesn’t get totally wrecked, others enjoy the mayhem. Like deathmatches in online multiplayer games, we never know who’s going to win. But like chess, every path they’re going to take is logical; if a truck is about to mow them down, they’ve to get out of there and keep moving. This “Joy of Motion,” this “Madness of Many,” this precise abstractness, this Arithmophobic “Brain Dance” is what makes Animals of Leaders strikingly different and heavily underrated compared to any other progressive band in recent years.

They have their share of flaws, however. A few songs feel as if the time signatures have been added just for the sake of it. That takes away the musicality of the song, and the well-crafted abstraction takes a hit and deteriorates into sounding mechanical. “Cognitive Contortions,” for example, uses multiple time signatures and a cheesy sounding synthesizer lead. These could have been easily replaced by Tosin Abasi’s famed clean arpeggios which they did use in previous albums and would have sounded much better and more mature. Yes, the design choices in the soundscapes of a few songs are bad, but that does not mean the overall thought behind the albums is compromised.

A few songs I recommend for those interested are “Arithmophobia,” “An infinite regression,” “The Woven Web,” ‘“The Brain Dance,” “Weightless,” “CAFO,” “Physical Education” and “Modern Meat;” the last of which is particularly interesting because of its refined mixture of Jazz and Prog, which blends well with Abasi’s arpeggios. Animals as Leaders has a fresh sound that’s commendable, but its niche progressive djent style with multilayered complex song structure makes it hard to connect with casual listeners. I wouldn’t say it’s great. Yet, its effort to create such brilliant soundscapes using technically and intellectually challenging patterns makes it one of the best progressive bands in recent memory.

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The madness of Animals as Leaders