Animals As Leaders – Parrhesia
Released: March 25, 2022
Tosin Abasi // Guitar
Javier Reyes // Guitar, Bass
Matt Garstka // Drums
From starting life as the solo side project of wunderkind Tosin Abasi, Animals As Leaders have grown into the finest and most influential instrumental group of this generation. In a time where the electric guitar is becoming an under-utilised tool in contemporary music, Abasi, as well as his partner in crime Javier Reyes, have become two of the most impressive proponents of the mighty six string (or in their case, eight string). Album number five for the group, Parrhesia – a Greek term literally translated ‘to speak everything’ – is their first in over half a decade. Previous record The Madness of Many was strong, but not their best – perhaps to mellow in parts, and too inaccessible in others. With Parrhesia however, it appears that Animals As Leaders have doubled down on the classic elements of their sound, yet still continuing to evolve and move forward.
The one-two punch of openers ‘Conflict Cartography’ and ‘Monomyth’ are a sublime way to start the release. They sum up everything that’s great about Animals As Leaders – rhythmically mesmerising and incredibly progressive thinking. The trio are something of musical chameleons – able to delve deep into the richly complex worlds of jazz and classical, as well integrating practically every guitar (and bass) technique into their playing. And of course, as they’ve always been lumped in with the djent scene, there are always moments of crushing heaviness around every corner.
You have to be willing to commit a decent chunk of time towards Parrhesia, as while it is immediately impressive, it’s not straightaway ear-grabbing. It’s only after repeated listens that the hooks begin to become clear and dig in. From the slow and mysterious arpeggios of ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ that melds into warp speed licks to the dissonant, siren-like ‘Gordian Naught’ serves as the record closer – the pummelling outro wraps proceedings up perfectly – the LP really sinks in after a few spins. At a touch under 37 minutes long it doesn’t overstay its welcome – an hour worth of tunes may borderline into sensory overload.
Animals As Leaders music is heavily layered, with atmospheric guitar and synth lines sitting deep in the mix. It makes for a great headphone experience, and Animals As Leaders are wise enough composers to strip these elements away when a thick and heavy groove rears its head for extra power. ‘Gestaltzerfall’ is a perfect example of this, starting off with a relatively mid-gain sound, with complex guitar lines and drums, before moving into a synth-driven bridge that gives way to a thunderous crescendo of low-tuned riffs and dazzling instrumentation. Drummer Matt Garstka is easily on par with his guitar playing bandmates in the talent department. He never detracts from the songs with braggadocios playing, rather adding and building on the already technical material with clever and intricate playing. Garstka’s not a stiff, robotic drummer though; he sits deep in the pocket and has a loose, yet commanding control of his instrument.
Making instrumental music appealing to non-musicians is a hard task. To the great unwashed masses and uninitiated it can sound masturbatory and self-serving, merely an extended act of showing off. While some guitar soloists make their craft more akin to traditional rock and pop, albeit with the guitar taking the vocal role with a simple melodic line throughout, Animals As Leaders never really follow this route. Not to say that they’re not melodic, but there’s so much going on throughout Parrhesia that you never miss the vocals or single lead melody line. It’s a tremendous album, but as previously mentioned only if you’re willing put the work in and really give it at least three to five listens. But once it begins to click, the talent and brilliance of this band becomes impossible to deny.
Animals As Leaders – Parrhesia tracklisting:
1. Conflict Cartography
3. Red Miso
6. The Problem Of Other Minds
7. Thoughts And Prayers
9. Gordian Naught
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