Tool is back, and as frighteningly good as ever. Delayed
by years of difficulties with their former label, Zoo Entertainment,
and deferred somewhat by lead singer and lyricist Maynard
James Keenan's other amazing project, A Perfect Circle, Lateralus
was well worth the wait. Lateralus is unmistakably
and gloriously a product of the unique and original collaboration
among the four talented musicians who constitute Tool, the
inimitable saviors of heavy metal. Though it may remind the
listener of many other artists -the growling jams of the Melvins,
the progressive compositions of King Crimson, the metallic-yet-meditative
improvisations of The God Machine - Lateralus could
only be a Tool record.
Many reviewers have faulted Lateralus for demonstrating
a lack of progress and for treading much of the same ground
as the 1996 masterpiece, Aenima. This reviewer, however,
finds Tool to have developed even more than one might have
expected in the intervening five years. It is a rare band
that retains a common artistic vision and passion across so
many years (we must remember that it has been nearly 10 years
since Tool first wowed us with the Opiate EP) and through
so many difficulties (the label problems, the side project,
living in Los Angeles). Tool has not only persevered and survived,
but they have also grown in similar musical directions and
become a better band with each new record. Their first full-length,
Undertow, was somewhat overshadowed by the grunge feeding
frenzy of the early- and mid-90s, but outshone with musical
ambition many of the lesser records that were dumped into
bins in that post-Nevermind boom. The 1996 follow-up,
Aenima, received critical acclaim and limited airplay,
but took the complexity of Undertow to a whole new
level, single-handedly giving birth to the prog-metal genre,
occupied by few brave souls. A new millennium once again finds
Tool pushing the envelope and pushing themselves to new heights
of musical sophistication and brutality. Though likely to
be consigned to a similar commercial fate as their previous
albums, Lateralus demonstrates that Tool is committed
to artistic development and musical quality above all else.
The record is filled with Tool's signature polyrhythmic grooves,
unpredictably dynamic compositions, and Keenan's mystical
lyrics and distinctive vocals. Most of the songs on Lateralus
were written by the instrumental 75% of Tool -drummer Danny
Carey, bassist Justin Chancellor, and guitarist and video
visionary Adam Jones- while Keenan was touring with A Perfect
Circle. Keenan recorded his vocals later, adding further structure
and depth to the band's compositions, and bringing some of
what he calls the feminine edge of APC back to Tool. Keenan's
lyrical ambition and vocal histrionics add a new dimension
to Tool's already-complex sonic landscape.
Since most of the compositions on Lateralus are in
the eight- to nine-minute range, there is plenty of time and
space for the band to explore vast musical and emotional territory.
Many of the compositions seem to grow and metamorphose organically.
Expansive tracks such as "The Patient" (which begins
much like an APC song) and the two-movement "Parabol/Parabola"
begin in one location and end in quite another. Quiet breaks
in the action (most notably on the bone-crushingly beautiful
"Ticks & Leeches") allow the listener time to
lie on the floor, panting, before the perfect musical ass-kicking
resumes. Mantra-like vocals over raga-like musical figures
give way to full frontal assaults of ear-popping bass and
crunchy guitar. Prepare to spend most of your first listen
to this record shaking your head in disbelief and grinning
with delight at the band's virtuosity.
While Jones's guitar work and Keenan's vocals are the most
distinctive aspects of Tool's sound, this record does plenty
to give the drummer some. Carey's understated-but-driving
style on all manner of percussion instruments is integral
to the development of most of the songs on Lateralus.
In contrast to the in-yr-face guitars of "Schism",
for example, or in concert with Chancellor's amazing bass
work on "Reflection", Carey's drums guide Tool's
compositions through their life-cycle of build-release-rest-build-release,
providing backbone, structure, and drive.
The most staggering and laudable achievement of this new
album is Tool's ability to present incredibly lengthy, complicated,
and gothic compositions without allowing them to seem pretentious
or overly mathematical. Tool's compositions may seem jam-like,
but they are so carefully constructed and orchestrated that
any comparison to Phish would be unseemly. Tool's craft on
Lateralus has more in common with their prog rock brethren,
such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and the aforementioned King
Crimson. On the other hand, the aggressive edge of their music
allows Tool to carve new paths untraveled by any of their
influences. With Lateralus, Tool proves that heavy
metal doesn't have to be dumb, and that intellectual heavy
metal doesn't have to be boring.
Tool remains a band that few even dare to imitate because
few are capable. In this age of anti-intellectual nu-metal
and ersatz hip-hop hybrids, Tool manages to stay -if not a
step ahead- at least a step to the side of the current trends.
Lateralus confirms Tool's position as heirs to the
heavy music throne previously occupied by the iconoclastic
likes of pre-"black album" Metallica and Badmotorfinger-era
Soundgarden. This latest entry in the Tool catalog is sure
to hit many top ten lists this year, including yours.
1. The Grudge
2. Eon Blue Apocalypse
3. The Patient
8. Ticks & Leeches
13. Faaip De Oiad
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