Review Summary: A refreshingly earnest take on an inherently arrogant genre
It’s very easy to come away from listening to a lot of technical metal feeling a little empty. Beneath the showmanship and undeniable talent, the genre is often guilty of failing to invoke any real feeling: when surgical precision takes centre stage a certain energy almost invariably paves the way. Animals as Leaders are no exceptions to this – where their 3 previous full-lengths have all in their own right been extremely impressive, stellar pieces of work, they are not without their shortcomings: a truly inventive and well-realised debut was somewhat clouded by muddy production and slightly blunted guitar tones, Weightless
was at times cold, and is massively top-heavy in this reviewer’s opinion, and The Joy of Motion
percussion was a little overpowered and detracted from a lot of the new-found warmth the tracks brought.
The Madness of Many
threatened to baffle once again on the release of the three singles. Indeed, it has to be said that ‘The Brain Dance’, ‘Arithmophobia’ and ‘Inner Assassins’ are not perhaps the best representation of the album as a whole, with the second possibly providing the weakest point on the record. However, Animals as Leaders are not, never have been, and presumably never will be a singles band, and while they have backed this up by only ever releasing two official videos, it’s interesting to note that a contrasting frustration with the trio is that their records have never really held a solid concept or structure throughout, more often feeling like disjointed compilations of pieces. Fortunately, The Madness of Many
goes some way to rectifying this unwelcome formula, and while the title of the record would seem apt for music as technically challenging and unpredictable as the band usually are, there is an underlying purpose to this body of work. Madness, this is not. Then again, The Clinical Perfection of an Annoyingly Talented Few
lacks a certain something, right?
This is not a reinvention as such, as similar to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s swansong earlier this year, Animals as Leaders have taken specific elements that shaped their previous albums and dressed them up in a new gloss and intent of using them to their best potential. The self-titled debut is referenced in the razor-sharp romp of ‘Backpfeifengesicht’ and the culturally schizophrenic aforementioned ‘Arithmophobia’. The electronics that shaped Weightless
take on a new guise here, abandoning the clinical glitchy territory in favour of deeper techno loops on ‘Cognitive Contortions’ and personal album highlight ‘Ectogenesis’, allowing Tosin and Javier’s guitar work to proudly strut and swell atop the synthetics. The majority of this record is, however, shaped by the ideas on The Joy of Motion
. Almost every track on offer here serves up blissful slices of lush, dense jazz-infused euphoria in almost natural contrast to the angular, jutting riffs. The guitar tones on display here are immaculate, and no imperfections have been re-recorded or disguised, creating an extremely organic feel (for example, the second half of ‘The Glass Bridge’ feels almost painstakingly improvised, and the vulnerability of the beautiful flamenco-acoustic closer ‘Apeirophobia’ is truly breathtaking).
With regards to the rest of the instrumentation, the production on this album is a marked improvement on all of their previous releases. The whole project sounds deep yet intimate, inviting despite being inherently tough to break into, and while a few of these tracks are definitely some of the most complex the band have ever put to record, Animals as Leaders seem to have developed their stance from actively challenging people to enjoy them (anyone remember the ‘chances are we’re better musicians than you’ t-shirt?) to presenting their work almost with their hearts on their sleeves – this is still technically outstanding, but with an emotive sheen on the end package which is extremely endearing. The band seem to have fallen in love with their instruments rather than soullessly pimping them out for our consumption - Matt Garstka is in particular a revelation on this record, creating jaw-dropping moments with consummate ease. Any discomfort caused by turning Animals as Leaders into a band from the solo project that it was born as is a distant memory - everything clicks into place blissfully. It finally feels like the band have found themselves.
To sum up, The Madness of Many
is a sprawling yet defined, difficult yet pleasant, and a refreshingly earnest take on an inherently arrogant genre, offering more with every repeated listen without requiring effort by the listener to crack the code – an absolute success.