ANIMALS AS LEADERS @ The Aztec Theater – San Antonio, TX (May 1st, 2019)

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The DC-based trio Animals as Leaders has spent the last decade forging a unique take on the djent sound. Led by perhaps the most absurdly talented guitarist of our generation, the Animals as Leaders approach is a far cry from the “let’s jam it out in the practice room” approach that birthed heavy metal in the first place. It’s also well removed from the 80s shred heyday when style overpowered substance. Rather, it reminds me of a slogan on a Spiral Architect shirt I bought many years, the front of which reads: “thinking man’s metal.”

Which isn’t to say that Animals as Leaders sound anything like those Norwegian lunatics, but that none-too-subtle nod to Cynic is hard to escape. The compositions Animals as Leaders create are just that: compositions. Pushing both the boundaries of theory and musicianship, Animals as Leaders have become an unlikely force in latter-day prog, carrying the banner that Holland’s Exivious laid down with their disbanding, and pushing the boundaries even further.

I admit I’m late to the party, but I was invited long before it was even planned. I first became aware of guitar god/Animals as Leaders honcho Tosin Abasi when his technical hardcore band Reflux toured with Strapping Young Lad circa 2006. Though their songs were on the forgettable side, Reflux’s technical abilities left my compadres and me stunned; this group of guys were shredding and changing times as if they all had the same metronome built wired into their bloodstream. And it wasn’t every day that you saw a young black dude completely dominating on the guitar. I knew that moment I saw Reflux that this Tosin Abasi guy would go on to do incredible things.

Animals as Leaders began their Spring 2019 tour in San Antonio’s beautiful Aztec Theater, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Wednesday night turnout was far greater than when I’d seen death metal legends Cannibal Corpse there some years ago. Moreover, I was very pleased to overhear many people in the audience completely geeking out over Javier Reyes, Matt Garstka, and Abasi‘s prowess as musicians. I came of age in the alternative rock era, when dedicated musicianship was discouraged and even frowned upon, so seeing this mostly young audience eat this stuff made me realize that not only is it now socially acceptable for rock musicians to be actual musicians, my beloved progressive metal seems to have gone mainstream without selling its soul. Fuck yeah!


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