Review Summary: An awe inspiring first release for a band that has the potential to go a long way.
Very rarely do I listen to strictly instrumental albums. Usually, if I decide to listen to strictly instrumental stuff, I tend to resort to the types of Jazz you'd normally hear on the Weather Channel and things of that nature. I have never really been one for shred guitar albums. Even though my name might give the illusion that that's all I enjoy out of music, it is far from the truth. I have listened to a few okay shred albums like: Rusty Cooley's self-titled release, Michael Angelo Batio's "No Boundaries" and "Hands Without Shadows" and a few more. While I like some of it, the music tends to be quite linear and, after a while, grows extremely tedious and tired after a short listen. However, I have recently gained a much more optimistic view of the instrumental shred guitar genre of music now after listening to Animals As Leaders' first self-titled release. This album is much different than any other shred guitar album I have ever listened to.
When I first heard of Animals As Leaders, I had no idea who they were or even who Tosin Abasi (the mastermind behind AAL) was, for that matter. As a matter of fact, I did not even realize they were a instrumental shred band until I decided to purchase their album. I had a couple of friends suggest them to me before, but I never really dug deep to figure out who they were and what exactly they played. It's probably a good thing, though, seeing that I might have simply overlooked the band if I would have known they were an instrumental shred band. That would have been a seriously bad thing for me to do, because AAL has managed to change my view of modern shred guitar.
It must be noted that what makes this album work is the fact that it is not simply an album filled with non-stop guitar wankery around every corner. Within every song, there is substance and feeling to the music. Don't get me wrong, however. Abasi can shred like nothing else. He makes well known shredders like Rusty Cooley and Michael Angelo Batio look like amateurs. Exactly how? The main difference is not just the shredding but the song writing. Abasi knows how to put a song together without it sounding recycled or repetitive. His playing is extremely abstract and different from most, not simply playing the same generic minor or major chord progressions throughout the whole song. Abasi's guitar playing can be summed up as a mixture of everything from Fuion Jazz to Metal to Blues. His chops are very impressive and awe inspiring all at the same time.
Throughout the whole album, I did not find one thing that I didn't like about it. AAL manages to successfully switch from an extremely heavy sounding song such as "CAFO" to something soft and very Jazzy like "Modern Meat". Everything flows well and nothing sounds out of place. Another thing that I really appreciated about Abasi's songwriting is that every song manages to be catchy. My favorite song on the album "The Price of Everything and The Value of Nothing" has a very jazzy chord progression with a beautiful electric guitar lead section over it that manages to be extremely catchy. I was very impressed by how much I enjoyed this album. Another thing that manages to constantly impress me with Abasi's songwriting is his interest in extreme odd timings and polyrhythms. Throughout the whole album, songs constantly change from one odd timing to another but nothing ever sounds too abstract. Everything still manages to flow but still sound extremely technical all at the same time.
Animals As Leaders are certainly a band I did not expect to really get into. I bought the album mostly as a result of curiosity but I ended up with something I truly like and cannot stop listening to. If you are a fan of Metal or instrumental music, in general, this is certainly something to check out. It delivers in so many ways and never grows tiring or repetitive. It's an album that manages to be beautiful, heavy, and technical all the while being extremely catchy and inspiring. Do not simply look over Animals As Leaders because of their status as a "shred" band. They are something much, much more. Do yourself a favor and check this out!