Bart D. : Animals As Leaders are one of those rare instances where an instrumental group becomes widely popular in a field where bands normally include a vocalist of sorts. There are at least two factors that have enabled this. The first, and with this release it has become very obvious, is that Animals As Leaders are as much a progressive metal act as they are a traditional fusion act. And in fusion, the listener is used to having stories told to them through other instruments than vocal pipes. Now, Animals As Leaders appear to be mostly popular among metalheads, which might change with this release though, so let's go to factor two.
The past years the business of technical metal has been getting a new boost, among others through developments such as widely available many-string guitars. A lot of people have become quite obsessed with the low-end possibilities this creates for heavy music. And obsession is instrumental to, well, freaky instrumental music becoming popular. There is nothing wrong with both freaking out and instrumental music. Even more so, people who can't listen to instrumental music are, to put it mildly, (musically) underdeveloped.
A lot of people might be disappointed to notice that 'The Joy Of Motion' isn't all about grabbing that eight-string and an Axe-Fx and sound as low and mind-blowingly distorted yet transparent as possible. There are a lot of mellow songs and moments, often sounding like coming straight out of the heydays of fusion. Which also leads to a point of criticism: sometimes, it seems to be more about the patterns and progressions than about creating an interesting dynamic with melodies that urge you to keep on listening closely. Sometimes it's frighteningly close to being suitable for elevator music (given, this would be one weird elevator). The main issue with the eight-string is that it invites to almost piano-like patterns, but never comes close to the dynamic possibilities of that instrument. The clean sounds in these cases often are very thin, even when layered with effects to give it some more body. But in the end, Animals As Leaders deserve nothing but praise, because what they are doing here is truly in the progressive spirit: they are exploring new terrain, and as such this album is extremely listenable and likeable. And in the end, there is still enough grooviness and kick-ass guitar work to enjoy straight ahead and right away.