Album Review: ANIMALS AS LEADERS Parrhesia

It’s been over five years since progressive metal instrumentalists Animals As Leaders released their superb fourth studio LP, The Madness of Many. However, the forward-thinking trio—guitarist Tosin Abasiguitarist/bassist Javier Reyesand drummer Matt Garstka—haven’t exactly been taking it easy and resting on their laurels. Rather, they’ve been working hard to ensure that follow-up parrhesia is a commendable successor that’s well worth the wait. While it certainly checks off both of those boxes, the album doesn’t do much to exceed those requisite expectations. In other words, it’s mostly by-the-numbers Animals As Leadersso you know exactly what you’re getting into.

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Of parrhesiafounder Abasi aptly explains that it “isn’t necessarily a reinvention, but it’s a sharpening of the knife. It’s a heavy album with an aim to make each song a clear musical statement. Where previous albums had acoustic guitars and electronic bits, this one skews back to the more aggressive end of the spectrum for us.”

That’s a fair assessment, as this one is decidedly heavy and relentless compared to its immediate predecessors, with a stronger emphasis on core metal instrumentation and attitude. Producer Misha Mansoor (who, of course, is also one of three guitarists in Periphery) contributed to some of the arrangements as well, prompting Abasi to conclude: “In a way, he’s like a silent fourth member.” As usual, he keeps the timbres and effects impeccably balanced from start to finish.

Undoubtedly, parrhesia contains some of the fiercest and fastest djent flights of fancy Animals As Leaders have ever concocted. This is highly evident on “Gestaltzerfall” (German for “shape decomposition”), an almost ceaselessly thunderous and—somehow—uplifting torrent of hyperactive guitar licks and pounding rhythms. There are mellower melodic respites along the way (with nice electronic touches and dynamic build-ups), but for the most part, it’s a swift and destructive ride.

Similarly, opener “Conflict Cartography” is appropriately named since it’s basically a nonstop battle for supremacy amongst each instrument. That said, Garstka likely shines most due to his inventive dexterity, whereas “Thoughts and Prayers” includes truly jaw-dropping guitar scales and “Micro-Aggressions” soars due to its maddeningly technical bass playing. (Plus, the symphonic break halfway into “Micro-Aggressions” is among the most beautiful passages the band has ever crafted.)

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Although almost no track is without intimidating hecticness, a few of them devote considerable attention to softer bookends and/or interludes as well. In particular, “Red Miso” begins with a mystical sonic environment that’s charmingly cosmic and encouraging, with all three members playing calmly as they let the space around the notes and percussive strikes breathe.

Then, brief centerpiece “Ashai” is wonderfully atmospheric and vibrant, yielding a transcendental soundscape that gives the trio—and listeners—a much-needed recess from the chaos. Afterward, “The Problem of Other Minds” uses a soothing digital loop as the sustained foundation into which heavier elements are elegantly woven. Really, it finds an ideal middle ground between dazzling catharsis and forceful calamity.

parrhesia is an extremely enjoyable and exemplary—if also fairly familiar—addition to Animals As Leaders‘ catalog. True, it could go further in changing up the formula, yet for better or worse, that isn’t really the trio’s intention here. As it stands, the LP is about as strong a display of their mastery as any prior outing, proving once again why Animals As Leaders are the kings of what they do. If you’re not already a fan of theirs, this definitely won’t convert you, but if you’re just looking for more of their one-of-a-kind theatrics, you’ll be pleased with parrhesia.

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