Hey, everybody! Anthony Fantano, here. You know who it is. I hope y'all are doing well. I'm here on my text thing again for a track review of a song from this new Animals As Leaders album, Weightless. These guys are a Washington, D.C. metal band who I've known about since they dropped their self-titled debut in 2009. And let's be honest here: I wasn't really a big fan.
Maybe I didn't give the album enough of a chance to really sink in or something. Ultimately, I just found Animals As Leader's style to be kind of, well, robotic. While these guys do display a lot of really impressive musicianship, I don't feel like I was getting a lot of soul out of it, honestly. I felt like the band's members were merely showcasing their technical abilities and not much more. I think there's merit to that kind of stuff, but it doesn't keep me interested for long periods of time.
It's not like all progressive metal feels that way to me, though. More acclaimed groups like Atheist and Mastodon have some killer releases, and Meshuggah--a group whose riffs I would liken highly to Animals As Leaders'--has always been able to make their dizzying, odd-time riffs groove hard.
Still, Animals As Leaders was a debut album. A lot of debuts end up being a group's weakest album. Considering that, I was ready to give this band another visit and see if things had moved in a direction I liked more on this new LP, Weightless. I figured I could make a track review of it and hit up what seems to be this album's lead track: "Isolated Incidents."
With "Isolated Incidents," the first thing I'm picking up is how much prettier some of the sounds are this time around. Animals As Leaders are pulling out some very beautiful guitar tones on this album. The clean, clear leads that start playing behind the main riff at about the one-minute mark are really tasteful. They're a lot like something I'd expect out of a modern jazz album. The guitar solo coming in right after shreds a bit, but what's most important about it is that it's really emotive. I think the drums get a little buried behind the guitars, but the total package achieves a high volume without feeling flat.
Still, even as I praise this track a bit, I have to admit Animals As Leaders have kept a lot of what makes them a somewhat robotic listening experience. The introduction to this song has a strong electronic ambiance. The tapped guitar melodies are met with some skittering percussion I doubt is played by hand. These two sounds meet up again on this track in the middle and towards the end. While the meticulously executed guitar taps don't really do much for me, these guys really let loose and impress during the points where I'm hearing the solos.
That's not merely because the playing is pretty remarkable, but because the riffs change up nicely and the drums play off them in a way that empowers the groove. Actually, I'd say the drums manage to bring up two different grooves during moments like the one-minute mark.
Overall, the music on this particular track is sounding pretty human. I actually feel like I'm listening to a group of musicians, not a quartet of cyborgs sent from the future to eliminate the musicians of the present. However, I'd still say Animals As Leaders' style sits closer to the more mechanical side of things. The combination of rock and electronic music has always been an interesting one to me, but my favorite artists to combine these two worlds have always been those who have taken electronics and made them rock, not taken rock instrumentation and made them feel electronic. Some examples of the former, for me, would be Holy Fuck or Ministry.
I think what I'm hearing on "Isolated Incidents" is a step in a really attractive direction for this band. However, is this something that really gets me excited? I have to admit the answer to that question is "no." It's not for lack of effort, though. Animals As Leaders have tons of that. It's personality that they lack, to me. I know it's there somewhere, though. Loads of emotion flares out of these tracks whenever a solo comes flying by. The first guitar solo to come in on the track "Do Not Go Gently" is especially jazzy. These guys are top-notch improvisers when they want to be.
Sadly, a lot of this album, including the song being reviewed here, seems to get locked into a series of riffs that don't feel terrible, but just come off to me as being alright. Nothing I'd write home about, basically. Plus, some of the electronic textures that pop up here and there just sound pretty generic at times.
Those gripes aren't huge, though. I think this band has come together with something way more listenable and relatable this time around. Though it's not really for me, I do find it pretty admirable.
What do you think of this track? Love it? Hate it? Why? What should I review next? Also, find a stream of this track below. Forever.
Video: Animals As Leaders- "Isolated Incidents"