Lateralus

Tool

Volcano Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/18/2001

Think back to five years…1996.

Limp Bizkit was packing the clubs, it would not be uncommon to hear the phrase, "Who the fuck is N*Sync?" and hearing the words "OK Computer" would probably describe a two-year-old 486 model. It was also the year that Aenimacame out from Tool..

The album was a sprawling tour de force about the need for a catastrophic breakdown of the human condition in order to break through with a new level of enlightenment. "Break Stuff," and "American Badass," this shit was not. Tool's astounding musicianship is only matched by lyrical ambition. And now they continue the trend with Lateralus.

Though the band has been absent an album for more than five years, it is not entirely their fault: legal troubles, ambitious side projects and a staunch belief in waiting until inspiration strikes were all factors in this huge wait. But no matter. After digesting Lateralus,it is safe to say that it may take five more years just to let the album sink in. Running close to 80 minutes, Lateralus is a hard album to sit through. But like Aenima,it is an album that almost requires you to sit through it, front to back, to fully appreciate it.

After the first spin, the listener feels gorged. You can compare it to those challenges that those Texas steakhouses give to diners: eat the entire 44 ounces of rib eye…and the meal is free. With Lateralus, you must endure pulverizing beats, off-kilter experiments and jazzy experimentation, sometimes within the same song. Some of the songs, if you can even call them that, run in excess of seven minutes. If you thought their epic "Third Eye" was overkill, be cautious: there's about five songs that are just as baffling.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But Tool's rabid fan base would want nothing less. Maynard James Keenan delivers his ghostly creepy uber-metal-rock-god vocals with an intensity that is chilling and breathtaking. Adam Jones is also in top form, able to withstand the dynamic changes from thrashing intensity to eerie mood music. Justin Chancellor's bass work is also key in establishing Tool's presence. Few bassists have the ability to create a staple sound of a band with only a couple of chords.

However, drummer Danny Carey may get the MVP honors on this outing. Always an amazing asset, this time, Carey explodes with an intensity that has been building since the Opiatedays. His playing on the songs "The Grudge" and "Reflection" rival Rush's drummer Neil Peart in terms of sheer complexity.

When it comes to sheer power, Tool's aggression is noticeably toned down. Still, songs like "Ticks And Leeches" and "Parabol" have enough sonic force to keep those who have been hoping for another "Intolerance" and "Hooker With A Penis" satisfied. As for the rest of the album, well, there's a bit of everything in each track. The album leads off perfectly with "The Grudge," a track that darts from straightforward rocking to arty experimentation to an odd jazzy free-styling. That is also repeated with the title track and "Reflection."

Unfortunately, this can be a bit daunting at times. Lyrically, hell, find a web site and find out for yourself. But from what I've been able to piece together so far, it's about trying to reopen yourself up to human contact again. I would like to subscribe to their new philosophy, but I'm going to lose a lot of human contact if I try to listen to this album repeatedly, trying to familiarize myself with the material.

Rumors abound that this may be Tool's last album. Take it with a grain of salt: Their last tour was supposed to be their last tour. But Lateralus would be a fitting end to one of the saviors of heavy music in the 1990s. While Aenima may have strayed from the traditional song structures of Undertow, Lateralus all but abandons your typical verse-chorus-verse structure. While this may pass as elitism in some circles, Tool inject enough humanity and give the listener enough surprises to keep coming back for more.

Lateralus could have benefited from an editor. But so could novels like "Underworld." But Tool's resilient risk-taking pays off. Listeners will want an album that will not get old after the first three listens. After all, this may be the final album released by this band. If you're looking for a smoother ride, no doubt A Perfect Circle may be a better choice. But, with a brave ear and a whole lot of time, Lateralus will likely seep in and take you over.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2001 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Volcano Records, and is used for informational purposes only.