Animals as Leaders/Intronaut/Dead Letter Circus/Last Chance to Reason/Evan Brewer

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Animals as Leaders seem to finally be getting the attention they deserve. Since guitarist Tosin Abasi created the progressive instrumental band back in 2007, they have slowly been doing more and more tours and gaining exposure thanks to a deal with Prosthetic Records. I had first seen them live back in March of 2010 when the group was a part of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s headlining tour, and because of their opening slot the audience watching them had been fairly small. It is now over a year later and the band is now in the middle of a headlining tour, and I was happy to discover that a sizeable crowd had come to watch at the Ottobar in Baltimore, MD (especially considering this was a local show as AAL is from Washington D.C.). They brought along Intronaut, Dead Letter Circus, Last Chance to Reason and Evan Brewer along for the ride, resulting in a fun night of experimental music that everyone in attendance enjoyed.

I had a few issues at the door so I missed the local opener that was performing at this date and managed to get inside just as Evan Brewer took the stage. While his name may not be familiar chances are you know the band that he joined earlier this year, technical/progressive death metal group The Faceless. However, Brewer’s solo work is very different from what you might expect. On stage, Brewer remains seated and switches between different bass guitars while triggering pre-recorded parts as he plays. The material is mostly acoustic, as the triggered parts often incorporate some electronic elements rather than putting in drums, but it’s definitely impressive and sounds closer to shredding and experimental jazz than metal. It was a very laid back way to start the evening, as Brewer raced through a relatively short set that had a lot of cool moments and enough melody to attract listeners who might not be into The Faceless. The crowd responded quite well even though it was so early in the evening, and the set left me interested in hearing more from the album as there seems to be a lot more that this instrumentalist is capable of. Don’t go in expecting loud in your face metal, instead go in expecting bass driven material that encompasses a wide variety of genres in a short period of time.

Last Chance to Reason was up next, and this was the second time that I had seen them perform. When they opened for Atheist earlier in the year, I found myself unsure of what to think as they were a little too out there and had so many different elements represented in each song. The best way I can think of to describe the group is as a mixture of progressive metal, metalcore, and video game music (this last bit is important to mention as not only is their newest album game themed but they had an indie game created to accompany it). I thought that this show would give me an opportunity to definitively give my thoughts on the band, so I made my way closer to the front and began to absorb everything they had to offer. My impression is that the transitions are still a little jarring, as the instrumentalists like to go from chugging, half time riffs to much faster ones at the spur of the moment and this sometimes makes certain sections feel a little awkward. However, despite the fact that a few of the songs are a little too jumpy the instrumentalists are doing a lot of cool things during the individual segments and their technical ability is evident, I just would like to see the various elements flow together a little smoother. Vocalist Michael Lessard caught me off guard last time with his sheer variety of pitches, but now that I went in knowing what to expect I was able to pay better attention to each one. Lessard moves from high pitched pterodactyl shrieks (think early Job For a Cowboy) to guttural growls and mellow clean singing without ever losing any energy or tonality. It’s impressive to say the least, and once you get used to how often he changes style you’ll likely appreciate them and enjoy what is going on. Overall, while I’m still not absolutely crazy about Last Chance to Reason just yet I found them a lot more likeable than before and would be happy to watch them again.

Dead Letter Circus was the one band on the tour that I wasn’t too familiar with, although the main thing I did know about them was that they were from Australia. As it turns out, these guys are a bit mellower than the other groups as their sound is closer to alternative/progressive rock than metal. This American tour is coinciding with the release of their debut album This is the Warning in North America via Sumerian Records, and although it is just coming out abroad a good amount of people in the crowd seemed to already be familiar with Dead Letter Circus’ material. Their set seemed like a nice change of pace and made it evident that this tour was really able to provide quite a bit of variety to those in attendance. The group reminds me a bit of acts such as Muse early in their career and Tool, as they have just the right mixture of sweeping melodies and hard edged rock riffs. While I haven’t heard the album just yet, the songs sounded great in person as the various textures swept around the room and really grabbed you. Lead singer Kim Benzie has a very mellow singing voice that makes Dead Letter Circus distinguishable from some of their inspirations, and while he sounded great throughout the course of their set there was a song or two where he got drowned out by the volume of the instrumentals. I suspect this may have been inevitable, but I would have liked to have been able to hear him just a bit better as the singing seems to be one of the defining elements of the group’s material. Regardless of this I was impressed though, and plan on checking the album out in the near future.

As excited as I was to see Animals as Leaders again, I was even more excited for the opportunity to see Intronaut a second time. While they started out as a fairly traditional experimental metal band that followed the same path as bands such as Isis, starting with 2008’s Prehistoricisms they really began to find their own sound and incorporated mellower elements that had various jazz and ethnic influences. Once again Intronaut blew me away live, as their combination of harsh riffs and extended jazzy breaks is absolutely breathtaking when it is happening all around you. The group performed a set made up of only a few songs but the selection they chose represented the various points that they’ve been at throughout their career and because of this they not only pleased established fans such as myself but I’m willing to bet that they convinced a lot of newcomers as well. Like Dead Letter Circus, the acoustics at Ottobar sometimes made it hard to hear the clean vocals, but Intronaut has the added benefit of two vocalists that do clean harmonies which helped out a bit. In recent years these guys have quickly become one of my favorite experimental acts as they have really started to find their own sound and direction, and their live performance is an exact representation of the album which showcases that the band has great musicianship and technical ability.

Finally it was time for Animals as Leaders to take the stage, and the crowd was beginning to get anxious. I was wondering if the group would do anything special for a headlining set and it quickly became apparent that they were going to as two large video screens were put behind the band on each side of the stage. As soon as Tosin Abasi and his crew of musicians took the stage the lights were turned down and the video footage began. You can tell that a decent amount of effort was put into this production, as the abstract imagery builds up in intensity as the songs start to reach their loudest moments, and it was fun to watch how everything tied together. But while the trippy imagery was cool, the real focus of the performance was the incredible instrumentation that makes up Animals as Leaders’ material. Abasi has surrounded himself with musicians that are just as technically proficient as he is, and guitarist Javier Reyes and drummer Navene Koperweis are just as mesmerizing to watch. Their material may be all instrumental, but each song has a feeling of its own and they really feel like songs rather than a collection of riffs. This was easily the largest crowd I’ve seen for not just this band but music of this type, and it was great to see that there is a sizeable scene that supports this type of music that is able to combine technical ability with thought provoking passages. Like many of the bands that played before them, Animals as Leaders is great to watch live because their music just washes over you and makes you want the material to never come to an end. These guys definitely deserve the headlining slot after having been opening for a number of different bands over the years, and with the added time they give attendees plenty to enjoy.

Links:

Animals as Leaders- http://www.myspace.com/animalsasleaders
Intronaut- http://blogronaut.blogspot.com/
Dead Letter Circus- http://www.deadlettercircus.com/
Last Chance to Reason- http://www.myspace.com/lastchancetoreason
Evan Brewer- http://www.sumerianrecords.com

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