When we ranked The Top Five Metal Guitarists Under The Age of 30 in 2011, our comments section blew up with readers upset by the fact that we ranked Animals As Leaders mastermind Tosin Abasi number two behind Colin Marston of Behold… The Arctopus.
But in 2014, Animals As Leaders is far from a one-man show. Since joining the instrumental prog-metal group in 2009, second guitarist Javier Reyes has developed into a force to be reckoned with in his own right. The group's third album – The Joy of Motion – was released this week, and Reyes' voice is growing just as strong as Abasi's.
]”There's definitely more of me on this album than there has been prior,” Reyes says during a phone interview from a tour stop in Seattle. “The songs 'Para Mexer' and 'Nephele' were things I had been working on outside of Animals. When we're writing music, we're not writing specifically for Animals As Leaders, or any other specific project. Sometimes we come up with stuff we have to put to the side because it's too… 'not Animals.'”
The definition of what is considered “not Animals” is getting narrower and narrower with every effort. The trio – rounded out by drummer Matt Garstka – has built its name on a whirlwind of influences welded together. Almost every song has an array of crunchy mosh riffs and guitar shred to make fans of acts like Meshuggah and Joe Satriani equally dizzy. As the band has evolved their sound, moments of electronica and jazz now add layers of ethereal atmosphere to their already powerful sound.
“We just want to write music that we want to hear,” Reyes says. “Everything from classical, electronic music, jazz, doom metal… Animals As Leaders is our way of mixing all of that stuff together. There's an excitement that each of those forms of music have. We want all of those elements in what we do.”
It's these elements that have helped Animals As Leaders stay ahead of the many instrumental metal acts that have emerged in the wake of their success. Even with other contemporary instrumental acts like Scale the Summit and Cloudkicker emerging around the same time, The Joy of Motion is the sound of a band staying just a little bit ahead of the pack.
“It's cool that we're part of an overall scene,” Reyes says. “But what we enjoy most is trying to not just be a metal band… trying to integrate other genres. It's good to have people outside our immediate scene enjoy our music. We don't want to be seen as just another metal band.”
During our interview, influences as widely varied as Pantera, Squarepusher, and James Blake are namedropped by Reyes when questioned about what has musically inspired him, past and present. But the script got flipped recently when John Petrucci – guitarist of longtime progressive-metal greats Dream Theater – listed Animals As Leaders as a modern influence on him during a recent interview.
“That's insane, but I guess it's just a normal circle of life sort of thing,” Reyes says. “I started playing guitar because of bands like Dream Theater. I started playing eight-string guitars because of Meshuggah, who we toured with last year. We still continue to be influenced by bands like those. It's definitely a life-lasting effect. I feel blessed and lucky.”
After converging over those shared influences years ago in their hometown of Washington, D.C., Reyes and Abasi relocated to Los Angeles in 2010. It was the classic story of band goes on tour, plays Los Angeles… and just stays here.
“D.C. is still home,” Reyes says. “But as far as music activity, there's just so much more here. Creatively, there's constant inspiration here in all types of music. I don't need to search for music out here.”
Animals As Leaders performs at the Roxy Theatre this Sunday, March 30th.