Sound — 9
Originally opposed to indulging a solo career on the account of seeing the endeavor too egotistical, Tosin Abasi became the next guitar virtuoso to watch when he started his solo prog metal project Animals As Leaders. With his debut self-titled album being built mostly by his own guitar and bass playing (with some assistance by Periphery's Misha Mansoor), Abasi soon turned the project into an ensemble by recruiting the formidable Javier Reyes as a second guitar player, and Navene Koperweis to play drums. The group's follow-up album, 2011's "Weightless," as a result, benefitted from this extra manpower.
In 2014's "The Joy of Motion," AAL acquired new drummer Matt Garstka and featured Periphery members Adam Getgood and Misha Mansoor as guest bassists, and compositionally, the band started to step away from the chiptune/IDM-inspired production value of their previous albums, as well as make room for different genre flavors and strengths next to their base djent/prog metal style. Now on their fourth album, "The Madness of Many," AAL continue to move from the characteristics of their earlier albums to try new things. Further venturing away from the lavish electronica layers, synthesizer elements are sparse but more straightforward, like the modular synth throbbing in "Ectogenesis" and the Dream Theater-esque keyboard riff in "Cognitive Contortions" that lead the way for Tobasi and Reyes to follow with their guitars. Tobasi continues to showcase some jazz fusion moments like in "The Joy of Motion," but also stretches in new sonic directions, with the sitar melody giving the opening "Arithmophobia" an ornate vibe, and the closer of "Apeirophobia" wielding a neoclassical flair by way of frenetic fingerpicking acoustic guitars.
Most noticeably, however, is Tobasi's reservation in his guitar solos that used to be the scene-stealers in earlier albums. With some standout soloing action in "Transcentience" and "The Brain Dance," Tobasi's songwriting in "The Madness of Many" emphasizes the value of its rhythms more so, with his lead guitarwork being more a melody carrier than shredding relentlessness. Still showing off his penchant for rapid slap/thump riffs in the smooth "Private Visions of the World" and the speedier "Inner Assassins" (which also transposes its main thump riff upwards for a dash of thrash influence), Tobasi and Reyes' rhythm riffing sticks out more when it breaks away from a constant flow and works in bursts, heard in the techy stop-and-start riff in "Cognitive Contortions," the messy djent/scratches of "Backpfeifengesicht," and the fluctuating rhythms in "The Glass Bridge" and "The Brain Dance."
Lyrics — 9
[There are no lyrics in this album.]
Overall Impression — 9
Having already proven himself to be a remarkable guitar player in earlier albums, Abasi's songwriting in AAL's "The Madness of Many" smartly emphasizes other aspects rather than being another album consisting of him trying to bury the listener in guitar solos. With more of an emphasis in its rhythmic elements, trying out different sounds and styles, and expanding further from a standard prog metal heaviness by shifting into lower sonic gears, the nuances of "The Madness of Many" helps the album keep from sounding like AAL's previous albums while still sticking to their prog metal specialty.