Live Review: Animals As Leaders - O2 Ritz, Manchester
1st November 2023
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Bill Mawdsley
Finally making back to Manchester after having to postpone their January jaunt, mind-bending progressive, post-rock instrumentalists, Animals as Leaders mark the beginning of their European tour at the Ritz.
Kicking the evening off is Swedish post-metalcore act, Allt, who make a second visit to Manchester this year after their appearance at RADAR Festival in July. That day they were dark, blending the progressive with hard-hitting blasts, whereas tonight’s performance leans much more into the heavy ideas. Bludgeoning blasts and staccato riffing lay the platform for soaring guitars and screaming vocals. Sometimes the music echoes fellow-Swedes, Meshuggah, through the use of precision, metronomic progressions, infused with a mechanical pounding. Those polyrhythms play against a seizure-inducing lightshow, battering with every note.
Allt aren’t simply a Meshuggah-clone and incorporate progressive, metalcore and djent moments into the show. They wear a whole host of different masks to set the crowd’s brains to Stunned, including some post-hardcore elements, seeped in emotion, and loaded with primal beatdowns
Los Angeles trio, Animals as Leaders don’t need an elaborate intro; they simple walk onto a darkened stage, strap-on, and start to play. Half of the show is dedicated to tracks from the latest record, Parrhesia, but the band chose to open the show with the upbeat Tooth and Claw from 2014’s The Joy of Motion album.
First night of the tour or not, it’s clear from the opening notes that Messrs Abasi, Reyes and Garstka are fighting-fit and ready to engage. Guitars soar throughout, permanently seeking areas in the music to explore, while the rhythm section, holding it firmly fixed to the ground, take off on flights of fancy themselves. It’s like a free-form Jazz recital, one where all the players are anchored to a musical point but have the free-reign to explore at will.
Wave of Babies starts with a gentle Zeppelin sound before giving way to a far more abrasive and confrontational musicality. Ectogenesis begins with electronics that could have been lifted from an Eighties Sci-Fi film, morphing into a mesmerising and hypnotic presentation.
The lack of vocals and the extreme levels of technical prowess on display by the band is hitting the engrossed crowd exactly where it’s supposed to. For me, as more of a casual listener to the band, I’m finding a cerebral connection to Animals as Leaders, their ethos and their delivery. Tracks like Conflict Cartography, Gestaltzerfall and Micro-Aggressions are firing the synapses and having me examine my relationship to the music.
For others, it’s provoking a more physical reaction and I watch pogo’ers and heads being banged. There are at least half of the heads in the room tonight bobbing back and forth with the complex rhythms. Tosin Abasi even calls for a circle pit at one point and, by golly, he gets one – though not as excitable as one likely to be found at a Terror show.
The choppy, frantic guitars of Monomyth see phones raised and minds blown, Red Miso feels like a mission statement for the band, and I can’t but help hearing a distinctly calypso passage during Physical Education. The evening draws to a close through The Woven Web and ends with CAFO from the self-titled debut, demonstrating the increased subtlety developed by Animals as Leaders over the years.
I’ll be honest with you, dear reader, but this was a show I was unsure of before attending: an instrumental progressive post-rock band wouldn’t necessarily be high on my preferred list. But, to
Animals as Leaders’ credit, their music is compelling enough to draw you in and do what all great art should by provoke an emotional reaction. There were plenty here who were also prompted to move their bodies, but I had my cerebellum tickled sufficiently enough to dive deeper into the intricacies and complexities of the trio going forward. Hopefully, our paths will cross again soon.