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Animals As Leaders - "Animals As Leaders" (CD)

Animals As Leaders - "Animals As Leaders" CD cover image

"Animals As Leaders" track listing:

1. Tempting Time (5:24)
2. Soraya (4:27)
3. Thoroughly At Home (4:00)
4. On Impulse (6:10)
5. Tessitura (1:06)
6. Behaving Badly (4:26)
7. The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing (5:32)
8. CAFO (6:41)
9. Inamorata (6:08)
10. Point To Point (1:44)
11. Modern Meat (2:06)
12. Song of Solomon (4:17)

Reviewed by on August 3, 2009

"Abasi may have originated in a heavy metal band, but his skill and artistic talents beyond metal are clear."

Reflux was a progressive metalcore band that released one album in 2004. After the group disbanded, Prosthetic Records asked guitarist Tosin Abasi to make a solo instrumental record. Initially he resisted, but in the end he recorded a splendid instrumental guitar record, and he called it “Animals as Leaders.”

Despite Abasi’s metalcore background, the record itself is not wholly metal. There are certainly metal elements and heavy songs, such as the pounding “Tempting Time” and the technical “CAFO,” But Abasi draws in multiple musical elements. Jazz, blues, progressive rock, punk and hardcore, classical, folk, and funk all get their shots as the lead horse. Despite the eclectic mix, Abasi is a good conductor, taking each element and making sure it is used well.

Abasi himself is a talented guitar whiz. Playing six, seven, and eight string guitar, his imagination and dexterity are surpassed only by iconic legends – Steve Vai comes to mind as a good comparison. But Abasi is not a Vai clone, as Vai played mostly hard rock and experimental jazz fusion. Abasi has a much larger base to draw from. The key is Abasi’s technical abilities as they allow him to express any emotion, and write and play any piece of music he wants.

“Inamorata” starts with a tapped intro which leads into a call and response riff and lead section, all layered over a heavy metalcore riff. Abasi plays off the main chord progressions, getting more and more experimental as the song continues, using searing electric guitar solos, meditative acoustic sections, and atmospheric overlays to draw the themes out. “Modern Meat” is a contemplative acoustic piece, while “On Impulse” is a straight forward rock song, punctuated by turntable and studio effects where the vocals chorus would normally be.

Abasi does well not to combine too many styles on any one song, as his penchant to delve deep into all his musical ideas is not apt for too much mixing. Each song is a fully contained exploration of a small piece of his musical ideas. Abasi also tries to base each song on a conceptual theme. As he says in the promotional materials, “‘Tempting Time’ loosely deals with some of the time-based societal pressures that come with getting older.” This focus on thematic elements expressed as music keeps each song focused and distinct from the others.

Abasi may have originated in a heavy metal band, but his skill and artistic talents beyond metal are clear. While he does not limit himself to metal, the fact the music tends to pay frequent homage to his metal roots is satisfying, as he never loses sight of where he came from.

Highs: Abasi’s technical and artistic talents are impressive.

Lows: The record gets very experimental at times, detracting from the listenablity.

Bottom line: An instrumental guitar album that plays as art and metal.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)