Sound — 9
The third full-length release from the progressive metal giants, Animals as Leaders (AAL), is an impressive but sloppily crafted piece of work. Weightless, their 2011 effort was a disappointment for me as a lot of the melodies and chord sequences were a bit too peculiar, so I was pleased to find that the trio had found a balanced blend of both releases - incorporating the easier to digest melodies and more metal approach from the self-titled, with the djent-ier and rather quirky Weightless.
There is so much diversity on the album that each and every song becomes memorable, however not always for the right reasons. Ka$cade kicks off the album with intense and energetic riffing and is one of their strongest tracks to date. One of the key reasons for this is the consistent quality of the songwriting. I find that a lot of AAL's music has brilliantly composed parts scattered amongst largely dull sections. Take "Para Mexer," for example. The first half of this acoustic track is a masterpiece that brings Javier Reye's Latin influences to the forefront (note that I can only guess that Javier was involved here). The penultimate section, which sounds like a rather generic progressive metal song played acoustically, is where the music begins to tumble downhill. It seems like the band just couldn't keep up the quality of songwriting that preceded this section.
"Physical Education" is another piece that I find frustrating to listen to. It's filled with plenty of great moments, from the chorus (if you like) to the "floating" clean section, but just when it feels like it is reaching the climax of the piece, it cuts off and enters a groove to fade out on. Now there is nothing wrong with ending a piece on a groove, but the journey the music takes you on leads the listener to believe there is something grand at the end of it. The same issue is apparent in "Tooth and Claw." Nonetheless these are both tracks that I keep coming back to just because the highlights of each make it worthwhile.
Misha Mansoor, of Periphery, was involved in part of the songwriting and this seems to be noticeable in the finale, "Nephele." The track opens with a very Periphery-esque riff that is tasteless and dull. Not to say that I dislike Periphery, as they are one of my biggest influences. While similarly weak riffs and melodies plagued "Weightless," fortunately "The Joy of Motion" keeps them to a minimum.
There are plenty of strong tracks despite my criticism, including the jazzy "Another Year," and the classical but heavy "The Woven Web." Not to mention Matt Garstka, on his debut recording for the band, who displays an incredible show of talent on the drums throughout the entire album. Matt's work really stands out compared to the band's previous releases, with "Para Mexer" being the real showcase for him.
On the other hand, the bass is lacking and unmemorable. The bass is definitely audible in the mix, but there is no creative use of it. Perhaps this is due to the lack of room in the texture of their music or because of the lack of an actual bassist in the band.
Adam "Nolly" Getgood, again of Periphery, has done a brilliant job on the production. With more electronic components than any AAL release so far along with the rich guitar content, powerful low-pitched bass and busy percussion, it could have been absolute chaos. But the mix manages to bring clarity to every note of every voicing in the music, even during thick textured sections with low-pitched, distorted and palm-muted riffs like in "Ka$cade."
Lyrics — 10
I think the music speaks for itself.
Overall Impression — 9
AAL's first release seemed like a showcase of Tosin Abasi's ability, Weightless felt like a failed attempt to distinguish their selves, but "The Joy of Motion" displays an evolution pushing the band back in the right direction. There are weak moments spread throughout and the unresolved musical journeys can be dissatisfying, but there is just about more right than wrong in this album, and when they're doing it right, the music is incredible. That is why I will continue to replay this album for months and hopefully years to come.