If progressive metal is akin to going to Berklee College of Music and wearing your guitar all the way near your collarbone, then Animals as Leaders are the Ph.D. principal investigators of the graduate program. Their prowess is clearly seen on their latest, and fifth full length Parrhesia, following their 2017’s spectacular The Madness of Many.
Parrhesia, which embodies the idea of speaking candidly is an apt title for the latest offering by this army of three. Kicking things right off, “Conflict Cartography” spends just the right amount of time building up to its centerpiece riff, and oh my, it is prog metal AAL at its finest. After the more ambient/acoustic tracks The Madness of Many it feels extremely satisfying to get some high-gain djent-thump throwing us back to AAL’s earlier catalog. For any of the newcomers to the genre and the band, it only takes getting through the first section of “Conflict Cartography” to see why Animals as Leaders are doing something so very special.
As beautiful as “Conflict Cartography” is, follow up and lead single “Monomyth” opens with a bassy thumped riff that would make the titans at Meshuggah check their rear-view mirrors. Call this wishful thinking, but “Monomyth” has bits and pieces of “CAFO” (from their debut record, and the track that put them on the map) in its final moments. Parrhesia is a gift that keeps on giving, and “Red Miso” is clear proof that Animals as Leaders is aiming at writing more cohesive tracks that are not simply them flexing their skills at us in a garbled mess of auditory jargon. And they do this by exercising restraint and letting the space between their notes and percussive hits speak as loudly as the music, leading to a more relaxing yet enjoyable listen. That isn’t to say that “Red Miso” isn’t filled to the brim with guitar and drum virtuosity to make any guitar-center boomer cringe. Arrangements on “Red Miso” get downright frenetic in the later half of the track, but the band does not lose sight of the message they are trying to convey. This is a particularly commendable feat as they cannot hide behind vocals and lyrics to maintain a motif.
“Gestaltzerfall” (German for “the decomposition of shape”) begins to put more of the AAL arsenal on display, leaning in equal measure on whimsy and aggression. But it is the mid-record interlude “Asahi” that is a first for Animals as Leaders. A space-gaze ambient synth heavy interlude is exactly what Doctors as Leaders ordered and is truly mesmerizing. It also forms the perfect springboard for the next track, and follow-up single “The Problem of Other Minds”. This track leans into more bass-laden percussive riffs, which is again complimentary commentary to Animals as Leaders as they do not feature a bassist and rely on the low-end provided by their dual extended-range eight string guitars.
There isn’t much to be said regarding the musicianship of Animals as Leaders. They are at the top of their game, and are yet still finding new and exciting ways to portray their product in a palatable way. Guitarists Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes are household names in the prog and djent metal communities, and have spawned legions of copy-cats and starstruck kids, in the best possible way. Abasi’s innovative pervussive thumb-thump style of rhythm guitars is as unique as it is jaw-dropping in its versatility and precision. Drummer Matt Garstka is the glue that holds the machine together. As a personal note, I never fully appreciated how much Garstka brough to the table in terms of tying seemingly disparate tempos, moods, and sections effortlessly, changing entire vibes by raising or lowering the BPM of his drum lines. The production, courtesy of Periphery’s Misha Mansoor should be a heavy enough name-drop regarding the quality of the mix and instrumentations on Parrhesia. If I did not know any better, Mansoor was behind many of the elements on “Asahi” as well as the flairs and sparks of melodic synth arrangements that litter the tracks (see “Micro-Aggressions”, which sections suspiciously close to a Periphery track, and that is a compliment).
“Micro Aggressions”, “Thoughts and Prayers”, “The Problem of Minds” and “Gordian Naught” as well as the album title is semi-serious tongue-in-cheek social commentary with enough levity to navigate the troubling times we live in and consume art like Parrhesia.
Parrhesia is Animals as Leaders focusing their creative form into a razor sharp blade of skill, cohesion, and enjoyability. This is possibly among their best work! More Please!