Released: 2014, Sumerian Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
The third album from D.C. area instrumentalists Animals As Leaders (AAL) offers yet another heaping helping of prog/djent prowess and dexterity that will dazzle and delight those who are into that sort of thing, and is less likely to leave everyone else bored or befuddled than others of this ilk. It is one of the most enjoyable instrumental albums of late, and is certainly more engaging and exuberant than 2011’s somewhat aimless Weightless.
Weightless was the band’s first album as a genuine “band” – AAL’s debut being more of a solo effort from lead guitarist Tosin Abasi – yet didn’t seem as focused, with lots of electronic distractions and scattershot songwriting. Motion – which isn't so much a band effort as a team effort, with Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor and bassist Adam "Nolly" Getgood, Volumes guitarist Diego Farias and former AAL drummer Navene Koperweis all helping out in the songwriting and production departments - has a looser, more natural overall feel and flow, and the electronic elements are used here mostly as accents or background and don’t seem nearly as intrusive.
Motion is jammy and lively, yet without sounding show-offy, and remains sufficiently “songy,” which can be a difficult balance given the talent that's involved here and the kind of music that is being presented. The eight-string wallop of “Lippincott” is offset by graceful leadwork and King Crimson-like finger picky runs. The jazzy “Air Chrysalis” and “Another Year” have a smooth, almost George Benson-like feel to them – though each boast moments of metallic crunch to keep things from getting too laid back.
“Physical Education” drops some serious funk, with its pronounced bottom end and pulsing back beat, as does “The Woven Web” later on. The real thunder doesn't emerge until halfway through with the jagged “Tooth And Claw” where Abasi and Javier Reyes, who's no slouch on guitar in his own right, let loose in a hail of hooks and shred.
“Crescent” boasts a similar djenty dissonance in its abrupt, stutter-step riffing before AAL eases things back again with the far more serene “The Future That Awaited Me” and the flamenco-flavored “Para Mexer” that borrows a page from Rodrigo Y Gabriela. The band save the heaviest moments for last, with the dive-bomb cacophony of “Mind-Spun” and bowel-loosening shudder of “Nephele” bringing Motion to a jarring close.
With so many cooks adding to the stew, Motion very easily could have been all spice and no substance. Instead, the added flavor makes for a more interesting and satisfying recipe. The songs are memorable and impeccably performed, as one might expect, yet not too flashy. And better yet, there is a nice balance and breadth of mood and might, and offers plenty for both guitar nerds and casual fans to chew on.