Okay, we all know Tosin Abasi is a filthy guitarist. Everyone has their favorites, everyone has different ideals for what perfect tone and precision sounds like, but it’s generally agreed upon that Abasi knows what he’s doing. The first album with his solo project, Animals As Leaders, came out in 2009, corresponding with a massive movement of deathcore kids into much more introspective and intelligent metal. Everyone became interested in progressive methods, djenting, and the like. Whatever. Trends aside, Abasi is a musician’s musician, and he writes some seriously mind-bending guitar work. But technique isn’t everything, as expert musicians will tell you; it’s got to have feel. This is especially important in instrumental music such as this. I will now narrate my experience of the ability of Animals As Leaders to feel with their second album, Weightless.
“An Infinite Regression” was very mechanical and intricate-sounding. The frantic, yet structured bass drum patterns and layered synthesizer gave the impression of the workshop of a clock maker, with many ticking patterns intertwining at once. A spacey, changing lead dominates the song like a singing tune to break up the monotony of work. “Odessa” transfers successfully out of this structure and convention with what appears to be Super Nintendo theme music. This song in particular stretched the melodic section of my mind. This, though, is what always makes me enjoy Animals As Leaders; Tosin, Javier, and Navene will constantly write tunes that expand the musical part of your mind. Just when you think you’ve written something freshly strange and new, they throw “Isolated Incidents” at you.
If you have experience with Animals As Leaders, you know that Tosin likes to explore several emotional moods within a song, but also in a series of songs. He’s just as good at exposing the strange, the powerful, and the touchy-feely. “Do Not Go Gently” jumps in and out of the foreground of the mind, bouncing like a Periphery jam and sneaking in bits of Tosin’s signature jazz soloing.
Animals As Leaders explore the final frontier with “Earth Departure”, which takes me into the inside of a spaceship terminal. As Navene presses every button on the dashboard, Javier manually pounds your heart for you, and Tosin finds the exact tune one would expect to hear in one’s own head upon realizing just how alone you are. As music listeners, we want to try and identify with the music we listen to. Honestly, “Earth Departure” sounds exactly like the intangible, unexplainable sound I play in my head when I watch Contact with Jodie Foster. Space. Deep, empty, yet beautiful space. Well done.
“Cylindrical Sea” pulses in and out with intense reverb and circular scales. The solo feels like a lone sailboat on this sea of musical fluidity, the one brash effort of man to break the simple, undulating continuity of crashing waves and rolling swells. About halfway through the tune, a storm brews, thrashes the mind’s boat around a while, and breaks into calm quietude, as all storms do. The album’s title track channels the element of air as much as “Cylindrical Sea” channels water. The use of fuzzy distortion, juxtaposed with the bright, noodly tone of Tosin’s leads is skillfully executed.
I’ve got to say, though, that something small yet important was missing for me from Weightless. When compared with their self-titled album, it seems as though Animals As Leaders left out the realm of touchy-feely emotion. I’m talking about the downy, sleepy softness of “On Impulse” and the gently rocking “Modern Meat”. Though the palette Tosin paints Weightless with is varied and vivid, it’s missing that warm, neutral brown that grounds the painting and brings it all together. Still, Weightless, as a symbol of Animals As Leaders, is a truly mind-expanding, beautiful work of art that will live on as a key piece of progressive metal for years to come.