Review Summary: Newly reinvigorated, The Joy of Motion sees Animals As Leaders putting forth their strongest and most focused record yet.
Animals As Leaders emerged in 2009 as worthy of being among the frontrunners of progressive metal, and recaptured the musical imaginations of metal fans disillusioned with the genre’s current creative slump. With the absence of vocals or any real band at all, newcomer Tosin Abasi impressed listeners with his creative and stunningly technical playing while keeping the music intense and melodically powerful. Their eponymous debut LP was essentially Abasi’s solo album, with his massive metal guitar sounds and jazzy interludes alongside programmed percussion and the necessary electronics by Misha Mansoor, frontman for equally regarded progressive metal outfit Periphery. It was a masterful showcase of the guitarist’s talent and a true contender for metal album of the year. 2011’s follow-up Weightless served as a minor misstep, with the absence of Mansoor but plus a real band. While still being a solid release, there was something missing. It sounded sterile and uninspired, despite the addition of a real drummer and Abasi’s new international success. With 2014’s The Joy of Motion, the band sounds fresher and jazzier than ever before.
One of the best aspects of The Joy of Motion is how well the heavier and lighter sections play out in each song. While the first album might be their best musically, this release sounds more varied and complicated as a whole. Like the first release, this album sees more concentration on a balance of heavy, downtuned riffs and shredding solos with lighter, textured jazz sections as opposed to the clinical sounding, heavier Weightless. With most song lengths running at a surprisingly modest 4-5 minutes, The Joy of Motion is surprisingly restrained and expertly avoids descending into typical musical pretentiousness of so many modern progressive metal releases.
Songs like Para Mexer and The Woven Web emphasize their jazzier, cleaner side with little to no heavy sections in the songs. They keep them from being boring by pulling back on repetitive sections and restrain when it could have been so easy to go all out in frantic musical madness, but without inspiration or emotion behind it. That was the biggest problem with their previous offering, and this album completely disregards sterile sounding riffs and constantly change up the sections and make twists and turns to make it sound interesting and surprising. This album is extremely enjoyable to listen to, and you will find yourself relistening to it again and again to catch all the musical nuances they thrown in each track.
The first three tracks are the most visceral on the album, containing jagged, high gain polyrhythmic guitar riffs over pounding drums and… is that a real bass guitar? (a first for this band). However, none of these are without the lighter, jazzy interludes that make this band so unique in a genre crowded with excess of blazing technical guitar shredding and pounding drums with no real emotion or inspiration behind all of the talent. Animals as Leaders once again prove that they are a master of their craft, expertly blending elements of jazz, modern metal, and progressive rock in what is sure to be one of their most enjoyable releases yet. Those looking for a simple continuation or a Part II of their debut album will probably be disappointed, as The Joy of Motion truly is different from anything they have done, but ends up being just as impressively well thought out and impactful as ever before, managing to even rival their impressive debut LP.