It’s safe to assume if you have any sort of ear for guitar playing, you’ve heard of Animals as Leaders and their founding stalwart, Tosin Abasi. Abasi made it big when his YouTube clinic videos went viral and shocked the active guitarist community. At the time, playing an eight-string guitar the way he does – meaning, like a high energy bassist with lots of finger picking, tapping techniques, and odd legato runs – was a rarity.
Fast-forward to 2014 and eight-string guitars are ruling the world. Numerous copycat bands and blatant rip-offs have spawned what some have called “djent,” a bizarre term used to describe anyone even remotely similar to Animals as Leaders or Periphery.
“I would define a djent band as somebody who is ripping off Meshuggah or some way, shape or form,” muses Javier Reyes, who has been Abasi’s complimentary guitar player, who also exclusively rocks an eight-string, since joining Animals as Leaders in 2009.
“In my eyes, whenever I hear a djent band, I think that anybody who is working with polyrhythms over a four/four type of groove… I think Meshuggah were the first band to do that and I feel like metal, now, is highly influenced by that.”
Reyes is quick to emphasize the Swedish band’s contribution while seemingly downplaying his own group. It was arguably only after Animals as Leaders broke through that the movement really started to gain steam. Unfortunately, the majority of the other groups, including Veil of Maya, Rings of Saturn, Born of Osiris, and more, fall short of surpassing mediocrity.
Animals as Leaders, along with founding djent fathers Periphery, really are the only worthwhile flagships from the unconventional, technology-laden sub-genre. It’s something that they plan to continue when they release their third album, The Joy of Motion, later this year.
“Harmonically, there’s some new elements being added to the sound of Animals as Leaders that we haven’t done before,” says Reyes of the bands progression. “Having Matt [Garstka] play real drums on the album definitely added to the feel of the band. It definitely feels more like our live experience.”
Having Garstka playing drums on the record is a new step for Animals as Leaders, who have previously used computer-programmed drums on their earlier material. The injection of a third human player into the mix should take some of the robotic feel out of the mix, which is a huge problem among djent bands.
Those other bands also don’t have Abasi, though, as the entire metal world continues to froth at the mouth for more of his recorded wizardry. For those close to him, like Reyes, it’s business as usual.
“I think every band has the one person that’s the stand-out player and Tosin is a stand-out individual, if you will, with even his looks and personality so, I think it’s kind of a natural thing.”
Abasi and his inherent personality are a welcome breath into a subgenre that has stagnated from sameness, built on a foundation of over-layering and the Fractal Audio Systems AXE FX, a high-end guitar processor that’s becoming a mainstay in the modern guitarist’s rig. In some cases, it has replaced live amps altogether; guitarists are plugging directly into the soundboard.
For some, it masks the utter lack of innovation behind their own fingers, masking many of the riffs in downtuned noise. For others like Reyes and Abasi, who know how to properly utilize all the modern techniques available to them and have helped shape the future of guitar, it’s an exercise in creativity and innovation.
See Animals as Leaders at the Republik on March 21 with After The Burial and NaveneK.
By Brandon McNeil