Animals as Leaders wsg Conquering Dystopia (feat. Jeff Loomis & Keith Merrow), Chon, Flood the Desert
The Intersection, Grand Rapids
May 27, 6 p.m.
$18 advance, $20 day of
sectionlive.com, (616) 451-8232
Animals as Leaders didn’t start out at the head of the prog-metal pack.
During its formation in 2007 by guitarist Tosin Abasi, AAL was more of a project than a band. On the brink of abandonment, Abasi decided to turn his personal catalog of recordings into what is now the band’s self-titled debut album, paving its way into the instrumental prog-metal world and relying on electronic tracks to cover what one guitar could not.
Fast forward to the band’s latest release, 2014’s The Joy of Motion, and AAL is much more than Abasi’s personal work. With the addition of fellow guitarist Javier Reyes, new collaborations opened up — the songs “Para Mexer” and “Nephele” written almost entirely by Reyes — and the addition of newest drummer, Matt Garstka, prompted The Joy of Motion to be the first AAL album fully recorded with live drums.
On release, The Joy of Motion charted at No. 23 on the Billboard 200. Some might attribute the album’s success to the band’s audible proficiency — the dual guitar work enough to make one forget the lack of bassist, and the ever-present electronics enhancing rather than accounting for gaps — but for AAL, success is contingent on the genre which describes the band: progression.
"We always want to give the idea that the band is changing and evolving,” Reyes said. “Being instrumental, we’re able to go everywhere.”
The goal with The Joy of Motion was to balance impressions with comfort, focusing on a product that is both stimulating in AAL fashion and ultimately listenable.
Signs seem to indicate the goal was accomplished. After the album’s release, the opening track “Kaskade,” as well as the adventurously upbeat anomaly “Physical Education,” boasted higher popularity on Spotify charts than the album’s more traditional singles such as “Lippincott” and “Tooth and Claw.” Reyes agrees the numbers suggest people are listening to the album all the way through and supporting the new strides AAL is taking along the way.
“I think it’s ironic that, from the first album, one of the songs that was probably the most memorable is ‘CAFO,’ which features all sorts of sweeps, crazy tapping and techniques where one would think, ‘Oh, that’s an Animals as Leaders sound,’” Reyes said. “Physical Education is actually the song with the most moderate tempo that we’ve written. There’s no real solo — there’s a neat melody — but there’s not a solo, and it’s probably the catchiest song we have — the closest to a pop song that we’ve ever come to. ... It’s kind of amazing that people are digging that song just as much as they were with ‘CAFO."
Despite the fact that the band’s debut album was coined Animals as Leaders, it is clear that AAL has a better definition of itself than when it started: the joy of moving forward.