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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Album Review: Animals as Leaders - The Joy of Motion

Album Rating: A-
Whether it's because of the real drums, Misha Mansoors' widely regarded return to the drawing and mixing board, or simply the group's newfound preference for exploration over critical reverence, there's no denying it—The Joy of Motion sounds mind-bogglingly huge.  It's explosive, yet composed; volcanic, yet regulated.  The showy instrumentation on Weightless, while certainly far more apparently impressive than much of what comprises the 2014 record, was ultimately hindered both by its excesses and an additional unintrusive mix.  The Joy of Motion, contrastingly, is easily the progressive band's most "normal" release to date, very much content existing within the musical confines of the djenty present, but it's additionally, without question, Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes' most successful effort thus far.  If this is what the present sounds like, why do we ever try to break free in the first place?

The three years between records has done the trio well, as an aged sense of focus and discipline now command Abasi and Reyes' pristine fingertips, where a simple, but strong melody can accomplish so much more than the expected masturbatory fretboard acrobatics.  While the opening of "Crescent" finds the group teetering dangerously close on the familiar edge of stringed extravagance, the album-three-wisdom promptly kicks in to construct a real-life, actual composition, with a beginning, middle and end, complete with transitions and an expertly operated emotional release valve.

"Another Year" masterfully brings such a low simmer to a boil and takes a ton of chances while doing it—its delicate and refined cleans owning the reigns for nearly the entire duration.  The 3/4 bridge (with a healthy dose of 13/4 sneaking in at the end of each refrain) preceding Abasi's expertly crafted methodical solo, made more of melody than magniloquence, is about as close as Animals As Leaders gets to the assumed obligatory head-banging here.  "The Future that Awaited Me" follows a similar trajectory, with the six-strings willingly stepping aside to make room for the cinematic electronics, and never once opting to fabricate catharsis through volume.  With the subsequent all-flamenco "Para Mexer" slowing things down to a near halt, djent fans will, despite the oxymoronic acoustic China cymbal breakdown, most certainly be crying foul during the latter subdued half of The Joy of Motion.

It's not really until the penultimate "Mind-Spun" that everything picks up once more, just in time to provide a slick sense of balance that the raging mid-record "Tooth and Claw" cannot simply provide on its own.  Both the heaviest and most straightforward track on the album, "Tooth and Claw" is the best metal song that any accessible modern act could ever hope to write but just can't, because they'd either want to repeat this for eight minutes or helplessly couldn't come anywhere close to Animals As Leaders' current compositional prowess. 

By choosing to focus their immense talent on the songwriting, rather than the overt fretboard stunts, The Joy of Motion manages to raise the bar somehow without raising any bars on their past musicianship.  To deliver something so tame, something so unexpectedly normal to such a notoriously exacting progressive fanbase was, ironically, as big of a risk as ambitiously breaking free from all contemporary genre shackles in the first place, as they attempted to with their self-titled.  This time around, though, Abasi and company know that, to succeed, they don't need to change the world as we know it—it already changes on its own.  A great record reminds us why we fell in love with music in the first place, which just so happens to manifest itself strictly through humility, not the guitar sweep.

Track List:
1. Ka$cade
2. Lippincott
3. Air Chrysalis
4. Another Year
5. Physical Education
6. Tooth and Claw
7. Crescent
8. The Future that Awaited Me
9. Para Mexer
10. The Woven Web
11. Mind-Spun
12. Nephele

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