The Joy of Motion by Animals as Leaders. Review time!

I’ve been a fan of Animals as Leaders ever since i first heard their debut album several years ago. Like everyone else, i probably heard of them first because Misha Mansoor of Periphery helped produce and write their early material. Since then, i’ve followed the band and studied their guitar work a fair bit, and had the pleasure of hanging out with the guys in the band (super nice dudes, by the way). Tosin and i even talked about getting a swirl going a while back, but that project has been on the back burner for a while!

Anyway, i enjoyed the first album, and i LOVED their softmore release Weightless, so i’ve been anxiously awaiting their 3rd release as a band. Whenever the first 2 singles were released (“Tooth and Claw” and “Lippincott”), i feared the band had ceased growth and was happy to stay within the tracks they had laid down already. I bought the album on iTunes last week and have been listening to it since then. Gotta say, i’m more than pleased with Joy… i think its their best album yet. This album is the clearest picture yet of what this band is going for with their sound, and shows an incredible amount of growth, especially for a band that is just a couple years old.

The guitar playing is killer throughout the album. Tosin’s early solos sometimes came across to me as a guy trying to prove his skills to the world rather than someone writing a solo that will enrich the song as a whole. This album features his most tasteful playing yet, with way more expressive bends and vibrato than what we are used to hearing from him, as well as some face melting licks too. He even busts out a few minor pentatonic/blues scale licks in there, and they sound great! I’m not exactly sure what all songs Javier Reyes plays leads on, but its my understanding that he has solos on a handful of the songs too. I kinda feel bad that guy doesn’t get the attention he deserves! He’s a fantastic player, clearly.

The guitar thump/slap technique that has become a trademark of the band is used very heavily on this album. From what it sounds like, both of the guys have gotten WAY more proficient at the technique since Weightless! Everything sounds extremely powerful and punchy now, and every note is very articulate, even in the fast passages. It also sounds like they’ve gotten so in tune with the technique that they no longer feel obligated to write super complex riffs utilizing it; songs like Physical Education feature riffs that are made up of just 2 or 3 different notes. Overall i would say it sounds a lot more organic than it used to, and it has become a natural extension of both guitarists’ playing and writing rather than a “trick”.

The guitar tone is fantastic. I wasn’t a fan of the tone on their self-titled release, and Weightless had a handful of moments that i wasn’t into tone-wise; a lot of the guitars were super dry-sounding, and sometimes got over-edited or clamped down too tightly with a noise gate. Joy’s tones are wonderful. Enough gain to make them sound aggressive, but not so much that it lacks clarity or needs an ultra tight gate to make it usable. And the clean tones are heavenly too. I’m thinking stocks in Fractal Audio gear, Ibanez, and Dimarzio pickups are going to see a notable increase soon.

The guitar tones also get a textural lift thanks to the nifty synth work throughout the songs. Sometimes the keyboard parts will be something very obvious, but on other tracks (like “Crescent”), it simply doubles the guitar part, adding some additional clarity, body, and color to the tone. I’ve heard a few people criticize the synth use and tones, but i’m personally a huge fan and hope they do more in the future. But i’m a sucker for synth.

The drum tones are also MUCH improved from the band’s first 2 albums. I flat out didn’t like the drum sound on self-titled… Weightless was better, but still not quite there (that kick drum will cut your face off!). Joy’s tones are a lot more natural-sounding, but still very tight and punchy. Honestly i would be happy if they were even more natural, especially with a beast like Matt beating on them! They sound great during the heavier moments on the album, but a little stiff on the softer jazzier tunes like “Another Year”. Minor complaint though, they still sound good and Garstka would make even the crappiest drum tones tolerable with his killer playing.

Will you like it? Are you okay with the band doing several songs that could barely be called metal? Are you okay with Tosin NOT shredding your face off every chance he gets? Are you okay with a touch of synth in the mix? Are you okay hearing the band pull even more jazz, fusion, funk, and world music influences into their sound? If so, you’ll probably dig it. If you were never a fan of the band to begin with, i doubt this one will turn you around. Its still VERY much Animals as Leaders! In fact, its the most Animals as Leaders album yet. Very happy to see how successful this band is doing, and i’m already looking forward to whatever they do next. Great job guys!

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~ by ben eller guitars on 04/04/2014.

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