Reviewed on Sunday February 26

When asked if they would be attending Animals As Leaders’ gig at the Metro Theatre, a fellow music journalist replied, “No, I don’t go to AIM” (the Australian Institute of Music). Ultimately, it’s their loss – while the barb was tongue-in-cheek, it overlooks the distinctive emotional space that this kind of progressive metal can create.


One need look no further than this Sydney show to see the draw of the genre: long before the headliners took the stage, a packed Metro Theatre greeted local guitar wizard Plini. For a Sydney crowd to rock up early is almost unheard of, but the 24-year-old’s reputation clearly precedes him. His music is warm video game nostalgia, a salve to old Metroid fans. On a distinctive, hyper-gainy electric guitar with no discernible headstock, his fingers drew out landscapes, creating a vibrant and tangible space. Behind him, a similarly prolific collective of musicians – including the astonishing Troy Wright on drums – carved out their own stomping grounds in Plini’s aural worlds. The crowd was all indulgent smiles and gently nodding heads – and the occasional shout-out to beloved wah-pedalling bassist Simon Grove.


(Sadly, owing to timetable mix-ups, this reviewer missed out on Nick Johnston’s fret-thrashing, which is well worth checking out for fans of instrumental rock.)


Even with all this love, Plini would be the first to acknowledge that his brand of instrumental prog rock wouldn’t exist were it not for the influence of Animals As Leaders. To see them live is to witness true masters in action; the kind who have devoted their lives to the perfection of their instrument, and who can wring from it unprecedented sounds.


Guitarist Tosin Abasi is unparalleled – his fingers fly across the frets with such speed, it seems he’s barely touching the strings at all. And yet, every note is precise and clear, layered into a heady djent mix that gets the pulse racing.


The single-minded organism that is Animals As Leaders defies belief. How Abasi, guitarist Javier Reyes and drummer Matt Garstka could ever structure and sustain such complex compositions, let alone play them for 90 minutes straight, is beyond understanding. But technical proficiency alone – as that other critic believed – is not enough to draw a crowd. Animals As Leaders have a special energy to their ostensible showing-off that makes them humble and engaged. Their audience locks in to the emotional space they create, and every shift of tempo and phrase of arpeggiated two-hand tapping is marked by the movement of the crowd. They, too, know every note.


Animals As Leaders are for anyone who has ever wanted to mosh at a Bach recital – mathematical proficiency made emotionally resonant and metal as fuck.

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