Animals As Leaders: Next Level Progressive Metal

Originally published in Guitar World, September 2010

When it comes to strings, eight is enough for Tosin Abasi.

"Can you call me back in, like, a half-hour?” asks Tosin Abasi with a trace of urgency in his voice. Guitar World has rung Abasi to talk about his role as mastermind of the Washington, D.C., group Animals As Leaders, but the guitarist is unexpectedly busy. Yesterday, he arrived in Cleveland to play a show with rapper Bizzy Bone. Unfortunately, Bizzy missed his flight from L.A. and the show was canceled. Now Abasi has 20 minutes to tear down his rig while last night’s club owner looks on with an impatient eye.

If you find the idea of an instrumental-metal guitarist moonlighting with a member of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony surprising, you’re not alone. “It’s very different from what I normally do,” Abasi admits of the Bizzy gig when we reconnect a little later. Then again, Abasi demonstrates so much range on Animals As Leaders’ self-titled debut that it’s hard to define what “normal” even means for him. On the album’s opening track, “Tempting Time,” he transitions from an explosive riff-bomb sequence to a fluttering Latin-jazz breakdown to a synth-assisted bit that recalls the work of minimalist composer Steve Reich. “I wanted to make music that was more universal,” explains Abasi, who formerly played with the D.C.-based metalcore band Reflux, “as opposed to, ‘I play guitar, mand this has a lot of a guitar.’ ”

Before forming Animals, which tours as a trio with guitarist Javier Reyes and drummer Navene Koperweis, Abasi studied at the Atlanta Institute of Music, an experience that opened his eyes to the kind of technique he never utilized in the world of metalcore. In fact, he learned so much that now he primarily plays eight-string guitar, which he says affords him more options. “It’s not like I’m gonna go up to Pat Metheny and tell him, ‘Your instrument is limited!’ ” Abasi says with a laugh. “But compositionally, eight strings allow you to cover so much ground.”

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