Animals As Leaders is the reluctant brainchild of guitar virtuoso Tosin Abasi. Formed as a solo project to showcase his technical prowess, with programming assistance from Periphery’s Misha Mansoor. Abasi was well known to be reluctant to compose the album, both as a reflection of his feelings of his own skill level, and his opinion that the concept of a solo release can lead to excessive egotism. Regardless, the self-titled debut exploded into the progressive metal scene’s consciousness with astounding force. Soon after release Abasi recruited Javier Reyes on rhythm guitar and Navene Koperwies on drums, creating a stellar live band that began touring extensively.  After a two year gap the project has returned with the sophomore release Weightless. It is with great regret that I report this is not the same Animals As Leaders, and not all changes are for the better.

The nature of the music makes a song-by-song break down a little redundant. This is progressive, highly technical metal of the highest order. No one with ears can say otherwise. There is melody, texture, and staggering complexity in every track. With that said, where on the debut there was a distinctive sense of soul, Weightless is lacking in this department. Mere seconds into the opening track “An Infinite Regression” it is clear that there is a new musical direction at work. Behind the scenes, Abasi has taken a notable amount of the composition and production duties off of his shoulders and spread them amongst the rest of the group. This has a couple of different effects, chiefly a decreased emphasis on the Abasi’s singular guitar style, and a drastic increase in the fusion/jazz influences.

Additionally, and from this listener’s perspective, most controversially, is the drastic increase in electronic noises as a binding agent for many segments and transitions within the songs. This electronic approach lends the entire sound a sort of muddled, sameness that makes picking out the impressive aspects of the compositions difficult. Even after many spins I have a constant sense of déjà vu as I move from song to song. There is a total and complete lack of a clear, concise direction. The tracks wander off into aimlessness with flashes of brilliance constricted by the overall sense of the mundane.

Production wise, this is one heck of a disappointment. The percussion has a processed, tinny sound, and the guitars are muddled. The extreme low end of the spectrum sounds muddy, and the electronic effects tend to sit outside of the compositions as opposed to in harmony with them. When all is said and done, Abasi needs to retake the reigns of this project going forward and address the issue of focus. I can’t help but feel there is more of his vision that can be brought to light and the current creative processes within the band has resulted in a diminished shadow of a depthless well of potential.