Animals as Leaders are rightly considered the perennial instrumental prog metal band as of this moment. However, it’s hard to escape the fact that their songs are showcases and not really songs. Apart from the odd exception (‘CAFO’, ‘Physical Education’), the songs are really just Tobin Abasi noodling away in an effort to confuse the listener into thinking what he’s doing is brilliant. That’s right, sports fans, I’m calling it right here, right now: math time signatures are examples of impressive musicianship and muscle memory, not songwriting.
Sure, you say I’ve missed the point, that it’s about the display rather than the hooks or melodies. You say that real music fans are the target market, and that the faceless hordes don’t know what they’re missing. Well, you say that, but Nickelback is selling out multi-thousand seat arenas all over the globe with formulaic pop music. They have a far bigger fan base than AAL. Surely the majority rules? Besides, a real music fan is just someone who likes music. No one is any less a music fan for not liking extreme avant-garde instrumental prog metal.
This brings me neatly to the topic of Polyphia and what they do right that AAL don’t. Polyphia are a band that understand that songs are meant to be songs. It sounds simple, but you need to remember that music is music. Throwing a bunch of cutlery down a flight of stairs will always be less appealing than a catchy chorus. The fact that your metallic brain doesn’t like it doesn’t make it inferior.
I’m speaking to myself more than anyone else, too. Polyphia made me realise that music is music, and it always needs a hook, a melody, something like that to make it reach its full potential. Don’t believe me? What’s Meshuggah‘s best song? ‘Bleed’, right? That song is lousy with melody. This is a trend that continues throughout the genre. Opeth? ‘Blackwater Park’. Oh, Sleeper? ‘The Color Theft’. Norma Jean? ‘Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes’.
Polyphia are an instrumental prog band that have songs that you could slot lyrics over in a heartbeat. I’m not a massive fan of the mix, but I’m in love with their compositional style, and to be honest, the mix is probably fine and I’m just expecting to hear djent where djent is not needed.
The musicianship is absolutely sublime; variable, mature, technical within the confines of melody and they are very good at making you feel wholly inadequate. The songs are considered and perfectly fleshed out. It isn’t the best record I’ve heard all year (that’s still Killer Be Killed), and it does have its flaws, but it taught me something about music. Actually, it’s done more than that; it has fundamentally changed the way I see the entire concept of composition. For that, I am eternally grateful.