Animals as Leaders is not simply a band, but a trio of true students of music and craft. Over the past eight years the group has released some of the most impressive progressive metal/jazz fusion music around. The Madness of Many, its newest effort, may be an album by definition, but much like the band’s previous releases, it could easily be a thesis in music theory. This music is not for casual listeners, but for those looking to discover just how far the boundaries of music can be pushed. Still, anyone with the most basic concept of music theory could agree that those boundaries are shattered each time Animals as Leaders releases a new album.

The Madness of Many picks up where Animals as Leaders’ previous album, The Joy of Motion, left off. Here are pieces of freeform musical experimentation and expression with a metal edge that operate as movements more than anything else. These aren’t “songs,” not by their most basic definition. On these linear, mind-bending pieces of music, you won’t find any conventional melody, beat or groove that lasts for longer than a handful of fleeting seconds before the band moves on to another section.

Any given passage can be incredibly heavy and frantic, with mastermind Tosin Abasi’s guitar tuned down to A-minor; then the same piece can shift into a beautiful jazz interlude which will make anyone want to see how these gentlemen manage to use their instruments and their fingers in such baffling ways. It’s easy to get lost in such music, and even a close listen can be exhausting for work that requires multiple plays in order to understand what’s happening. Even then, it’s doubtful anyone but musicians with similar talents would be able to fully grasp the proceedings.

Such an album needs to be addressed as a complete body of work rather than by individual parts. From the deep, grim tones of “Arithmophobia”—which will set a rumble in your chest and scramble your brains by equal measure—to the lovely final movement of “Inner Assassins”—which could be some of the most beautiful notes you’ve ever heard, it works like a metal symphony. Tracks like “Private Visions of the World,” “Backpfeifengesicht” and “Transcenstience” offer nearly point/counterpoint musical modalities, which, you’ll realize after multiple listens, is all part of the craft of Animals as Leaders—more than most bands, each track is a puzzle piece and the only way they truly work is together as a whole.

Far more challenging than The Joy of Motion, which may be a more accessible entry way into the band’s mindset, the latest from Animals as Leaders is a marked step forward and a superior album. However, the sad truth of musical advancement often shows that the more technically sound, the more theory-laden the music, the more difficult it is for the listener to comprehend it. The Madness of Many may be deemed unlistenable even to those who love progressive music. But keep your wits about you while you’re listening, and like the band’s previous album, it will reward the effort.

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