If the shirts in attendance tonight are anything to go by ANIMALS AS LEADERS have a far more diverse audience than you may expect for an instrumental progressive project usually viewed primarily as a guitar nerd’s wet dream, ranging from MOOSE BLOOD and ARCHITECTS to SUNN O))) and BELPHEGOR amongst the usual djent t-shirts covered in geometric shapes. But then again, ANIMALS AS LEADERS aren’t as easily pigeonholed as that. They’ve spent the last week touring the UK including a headlining slot at Tech Fest, impressive for a band without a frontman, but now almost a decade into their career ANIMALS AS LEADERS are firmly established as one of the most interesting properties the tech metal scene has to offer. Tonight’s show in Plymouth is one of the lowest profile dates as things begin to wind to a close, but the place is buzzing nonetheless.
An interesting aspect of this bill is that not a single band on it has a vocalist. While ANIMALS AS LEADERS have long since proved that they can manage without, filling a whole bill with instrumental projects could potentially test an audience’s patience if those projects fail to engage. It is testament then to the quality of both supports that at no point does this happen, PLINI especially getting things off to a fine start. A one man bedroom project recently graduated to full band, Plini himself immediately endears himself to the crowd by jokingly asking if they’re ready to circle pit to his light music and does not lose any of his likeability. PLINI’s music is honestly rather lovely, songs like Away and Heart dripping in warmth and while the musicianship is technically at an impeccable level, PLINI have the sense to include nothing that does not work directly to the benefit of the song. They actually benefit from a lack of major heaviness as their nuances are more clearly defined, and most complimentary of all when they leave there’s a sense that the audience would have happily watched them play for longer.
Bizarrely, INTERVALS walk on stage with three fourths of the same lineup as PLINI, only swapping a drummer as PLINI returns the favour of INTERVALS mainman Aaron Marshall playing in his band. Combined with the fact that they again lack a singer and specialise in melodic guitar-based prog, this almost feels like watching two sets from the same band back to back as INTERVALS share many of the same qualities as PLINI. Plini’s quiet charm takes the backseat here to Marshall’s more North American enthusiasm, but the interplay between the two guitarists both aurally and visually remains compelling as everyone on the stage is clearly seen to be actively enjoying themselves, which goes a long way in a genre that can often be all too po-faced. Differences do make themselves clear as they settle into their groove however, INTERVALS clearly the more metallic of the two especially when they suddenly break into thrashier tracks like Black Box. They don’t quite maintain the same level of interest as PLINI with less obvious components to latch onto and stick in the memory, but while their name may suggest that they are the lull in the middle during which to go grab a drink, INTERVALS mostly hold their own.
ANIMALS AS LEADERS meanwhile have this crowd eating out of the palms of their hands from the first note. The US three-piece are coming to the very end of the touring cycle for 2014’s The Joy of Motion with a new record on the horizon, and it’s clear that these are songs they have honed to their utmost point. Cuts from their first two albums are greeted positively but it’s actually those from that most recent album which shine the brightest, feeling the most organic like a real band of human beings rather than machine-like. Lippincott is uplifting, the snaking guitar parts of The Woven Web are captivating before eventually giving way to one of the most crunching grooves of the night beneath eerie atmospherics, and a scathing Tooth and Claw is abrasive and violent with the band visibly pleased by the pits that erupt without prompting during their first time in this city.
They may be wielding guitars with thicker necks than Corey Taylor, but the depth of sound Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes create between them considering they lack a bassist is impressive nonetheless, and for something often viewed as Abasi‘s baby he and Reyes share the lead parts pretty evenly without him hogging the limelight he so easily could as one of the most admired guitarists of his generation. What’s even more impressive is how emotionally affecting, catchy and dynamic their songs are than those of bands with far more conventional line-ups. Things reach their peak during the infectious percussive slam of Physical Education with the lead melody provoking a bigger singalong from the crowd than most bands with vocals could ever manage, and a closing CAFO from their debut is beautifully visceral. Theirs is a scene which has arguably become oversaturated and somewhat tiring at times, but ANIMALS AS LEADERS stand head and shoulders above so many of their peers proving why they can both headline events like Tech Fest and small venues like this with ease, leaving the rest floundering in their wake.
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