Animals As Leaders. Okay...I first heard of AAL when I really started listening/following Meshuggah. In 2011-2012ish, I read reviews that indicated a group called “AAL” was opening for them in Europe. As far as my opinion and dollar goes, anyone who is worthy enough to open for Meshuggah is worth paying attention to. I listened to a few of their more popular songs, such as “CAFO” and “Tempting Time,” and liked what I heard. Fast forward a few months to when Meshuggah toured the US in February 2013 and took AAL in tow. I saw Meshuggah three times that tour (Philadelphia, NYC, and Boston) and caught bits and pieces of AAL each time, and fell in love with them from that moment on, proceeding to see them do support for Summer Slaughter tour 2013, than twice on their own tour in 2014.
One thing that has always impressed me about AAL is the same sort of layout as another band I love, Primus, in terms of personality, style, and quite possibly, business practices. Tosin reminds me in so many ways of Les Claypool, the founder and “brains” of the band. He plays his instrument with a style that is very unique and specific to the sound and “package” the band is delivering.
Another noteworthy aspect about the band is their lack of vocals. While some metal fans may consider this move pretentious, it is smart not to lasso lyrics and/or a voice to music that is already so accomplished, as it would only do detriment to their art/style/message. Anyone into or looking to get into AAL should also check out an unfortunately defunct band called Spiral Architect. Their progressive sound and jazzy free-form style bear many similarities to AAL, although in my humble opinion, Spiral Architect's vocalist did not always compliment them.
That's another review for another day. On to the show itself.
While I missed Plini, I did manage to catch a little bit of the second support act, Intervals, who sounded as if they have been mentoring under AAL. Instrumental progressive metal, but not double digit length songs, with a tuning so similar to AAL, I thought AAL had already taken the stage. Once they finished their set and their equipment was cleared away, some Richard Cheese-type Christmas music began playing on the PA. While “’tis the season,” the way this ironic “happy” music clashed with what lay ahead was, for lack of a better word, amusing.
At approximately 9:05, the lights go down, with Tosin, Javier, and Matt assuming their respective positions onstage. The sitar notes at the start of “Arithmophobia,” opening track of AAL's new album “The Madness Of Many,” filled the venue, to be matched by the crowd’s roar of approval. The Indian vibe and sensibility of the track quickly gave way as AAL wasted no time doing what it is they do.
Quite often, Tosin would take a lead on guitar, spinning and riding off with a riff and give way to a calming bridge filled in by Javier, until he relented back to Tosin who would spiral off on another riff before concluding. Clearly a testament to their professionalism and confidence in one another, while the band was in action, there appeared to be little to no need to make visual or audio cues to one another. Whether they started a song or progressed to a new portion of the current song, each member remained on point. The lights took on a much more prominent role this tour, stopping and starting dramatically with the music, very akin to Meshuggah's lighting setup and techniques with dramatic color changes and spotlights reaching to the rear of the venue.
One aspect of the music on their new album I found specifically noteworthy are the introductions. Apart from the Eastern sensibilities of “Arithmophobia,” new song “Ectogenesis” begins with a keyboard sample very reminiscent of late-’80s/early ’90s synth, something Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails would have considered for Pretty Hate Machine. Tosin's guitar quickly mimics the beat while Javier’s twists and turns in a “solo” style that breathes, but unlike most progressive metal, is compact enough to not wear out its welcome. These newer songs, while not a dramatic change in style, hint at a possible evolution as far as their beginnings are concerned.
Classics such as “Tempting Time” were preformed flawlessly. However, the most shocking aspect of the night was that "CAFO," a staple of the seven AAL performances I’ve attended, was not performed. As disappointing as it was (a LOT disappointing, to some), it was also refreshing, as it may be a sign that AAL is moving out of their comfort zone, so to speak, not wanting to have to fall back on the songs that made them popular. Suppose Radiohead played “Creep” each and every single concert they performed. All passion for the song would be completely void, meaning would be lessened, and the fans’ expectations would be dramatically lowered. If nothing else, I believe AAL is doing us and themselves a favor by shelving their tried-and-true classic, at least for now.
- Chris C.
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