Last week I went to see British progressive metal/djent band TesseracT at their Southampton show as part of their current European tour. They were supported by two acts: instrumental djent trio Animals As Leaders and solo artist Navene K. Tesseract were incredible and a special mention has to go to vocalist Daniel Tompkins who gave a perfect performance on all of the songs, regardless of which of their previous singers (including himself) originally recorded the vocals. However, it is not TesseracT that I want to focus on with this blog; it is the support acts instead.
Two weeks ago I wrote a blog about instrumental introductions to albums and in a way this blog is a continuation of that discussion on instrumental music. Going to the gig last week I had only heard a handful of Animals As Leaders songs and I was fairly on the fence about their music; it was interesting to listen to, but it didn’t make me want to rush out and buy their albums. Naturally, I attended with an open mind, ready for my opinion of their music to become more concrete.
One thing I can say for certain is that as a band they are very tight. The trio of Tosin Abasi (guitar), Javier Reyes (guitar) and Matt Garstka (drums) are technically superb, playing every note with ease and finesse. As they progress through the set, continuing to be flawless, a smile starts to form on Abasi’s face and the band seem to gel even tighter, like a finely tuned piece of precision engineering. As technical ability goes, Animals As Leaders might as well be world champions.
However, when it comes to writing songs that are engaging and exciting they seem to miss the mark. I was fully expecting the guitar sweeps, two handed tapping, eighth string slapping and syncopated rhythms, but I was hoping they would be applied when necessary, as part of the song’s narrative. Take single and final track of the set list CAFO, for example, which begins with a hectic barrage of guitar sweeps, that to the non-guitar player just looks and sounds like a bedroom guitarist making a mess of a tricky lead. The song eventually evolves, but doesn’t really end up going anywhere – instead it just gets stuck in the dirge of eighth string riffing.
Sadly, the majority of the songs they played seemed to follow the same trend. They often began with intrigue, but spent too long focused on one idea, before they would lose track of their initial direction halfway through. There was also very little melody within their songs, rendering most of them as ‘easily forgettable’ once the next had started. In fact there was only one song melody I could remember from the night.
Now let’s switch attention onto the first act of the evening; Navene K. Navene K is an American multi-instrumentalist and is probably best known as the ex-drummer of Animals As Leaders. With his set, Navene K played tracks from his high-octane electronic solo project, where he had to constantly switch between guitar and drums, laying down looped recordings as the pre-recorded electronics spat and hissed in the background. Once the initial intrigue of his well-choreographed instrument switching had worn off, the music we were left with was still as captivating as it had seemed at the beginning.
His instrumental music had an obvious melody that flowed through the whole song, allowing different sections and dynamics to grow and decay, whilst maintaining the central theme of the track. Navene K didn’t over play either; if a complex drum beat wasn’t needed, it wasn’t used – a simple beat took its place instead. His music wasn’t a platform from which he could show off, but an outpouring of emotion and well executed musicianship, that Animals As Leaders would do well to emulate. On top of this, his actual performance was much better than Animals; he engaged with the crowd, seemed to enjoy every minute and was humble in accepting the crowd’s pleasure. Next time I would like to see him higher up the bill, as he almost upstaged TesseracT too.
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