One of my favorite all time bands is Tool. Since first hearing Sober in the years of my adolescence, it was something I gravitated to. Among all of the bands I love, Tool is the band I’ve seen the most, second only to Nine Inch Nails. I’ve been to Tool shows 20 times. Flown to California, driven to Bonnaroo, and seen them in about six different states. All of those shows have been amazing, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Their third full length album is the perfect melding of all of the things that made the first 2 albums and the early Opiate E.P. worthwhile. It has anger, long songs, experimental rhythms and chords, and a kind of free form spiritually that isn’t often heard in heavier rock. Today brings another entry to “The Albums of my Life” series, with Tool’s magnum opus Lateralus.
Does anyone else think the opening moments of “The Grudge” sound similar to an elevator going down in a creepy horror film? Maybe it’s just me, but it always signified the beginning of a musical journey that blows all of the previous albums out of the water. The thumping of Danny Carey's drums are immediately heard, while Keenan’s vocals slowly lurk up from the background. When the album was being created, things were a bit tense within the band. Many times it seemed like things might not be completed. Thankfully for us though, cooler heads prevailed, and we got this excellent album.
One of the things I like especially about this album is how mythological some of the lyrics and ideas conjured here are. Talk of “Saturn Ascends,” and “Wearing the Grudge like a Crown,” show where the band was at this point. Or maybe Tool is just a band that likes to lead fans on wild hair-brain theories for their own amusement. Either way, it makes for interesting conversations among die hard fans. The almost Egyptian guitar part at the tail end of the song is also done very well. For some reason I’ve just always found Adam Jones’ style and overall guitar sound to be ancient, clean, and yes, Egyptian.
So if you’re a fan of Tool, you by now know that these “songs” tend to be a little bit long. I say “songs” because a few times they cover more than one track on the album. While the proper album stretches to thirteen tracks, many of these are two and three parters. Ultimately the album ends up being eight songs, or pieces. The first multiple-part track, and one of my personal favorites is “Eon Blue Apocalypse/ The Patient.” The quiet segue to “The Patient” is appropriate and leads slowly down a darkened path, The chimes and cymbals from Carey’s drums are whistling in the background, and you hear Keenan’s vocals echoing distantly in the background until you hear a breathe and the words are more intelligible. The song has all the makings of a classic among the other songs on the album. The buildups are simply incredible. I’ve probably heard this song over one hundred times in my life, but it still rewards me every time. The up and down measures and notes keep coming all the way to the end, and we’re treated with not only some of the best lyrics of the band's career, but the vocals are completely mind blowing. I’ve seen this song probably 9 times live now, and every time it’s a pretty emotional thing. It’s just a masterpiece in my opinion.
Even the singles on this song are pretty cool. Over the next two tracks, we get the ultimate rocking of “Schism” and the slow tension builder of “ Parabol(a)” “Schism” talks indirectly about the tensions in the band, and the jam out part at the conclusion is one of the best moments of the entire record. The vocals are a little angry and raspy, but the guitar part is what really stands out in this song. “Parabol(a) builds up in a very quiet and gentle way only to let itself go and enter into the heavy arena rock territory the band had now begun easily filling up. Now you are likely thinking that my spelling of the song is incorrect. I guess to an extent it is, but honestly I just really like the way it looks. To me it makes perfect sense. Parabol comes first, warning us of the impending doom, and then Parabola arrives to seek its payment. But there’s more to this song. It may get very heavy at times, but it’s one of the more uplifting and spiritual songs on the whole album. Sonically it’s in your face and chaotic, but the lyrics aren’t in that vein at all. It’s a song about living life, and giving it all in a positive way to make your world a better reality. “We are eternal but this Pain is an Illusion” is a perfect example of how Keenan felt around this time. Working to one goal can be hard as fuck sometime, but it’s important to keep your eye on the prize. In interviews during this time, MJK had spoken about the “Saturn Return.” Essentially it’s a theory that around the ages of twenty-nine or thirty, people have an awakening of sorts, and these new revelations about themselves and the world serve to lighten their load and allow things to get easier. I think that is lyrically what’s happening here. “Celebrate this chance to be Alive and Breathing” perhaps points to the bands difficulties and how MJK wants to learn from the mistakes of the past and let the anger that was so obvious on the first albums dissolve and become a non issue. This is all just speculation on my point, but thought like this make me grateful that even heavy music can at time be meaningful and positive. That’s the magic of Tool.
The next song however, come from an older place. “Ticks and Leeches” is easily the most angry, throwback Tool song on the album. The drums in this song are FUCKING INSANE. They open at the extreme start of the song, and they never even slow down a little bit. It’s a pissy, venom filled song, and while it doesn’t lyrically fit in snug with many of the other songs, it showcases how Tool can still be pissed off. Keenan’s vocals here are without a doubt the most aggressive of the whole album. While I’m thinking about it, can we talk about the epic hellfire scream that’s unleashed near the end of the song? “Suck me dry” is quietly whispered at first, but as the song breaks into madness, these same lyrics are screamed at an incredible intensity for well over thirty-five sections. Now, that might not be super impressive to you, but the sheer intensity of it always amazes me. It’s really quite badass. As a conclusion to that scream conversation, it’s so difficult for Keenan to perform this is one of the songs that rarely is played live.
Now, the next song is a juggernaut. The ninth track on the album, which also happens to be the title track, “Lateralus,” begins with a nice but slow guitar part. Before long though, the drums and Justin Chancellor’s bass come thumping in and the song really takes off. The song is probably among the best the band has ever written, and it’s also one of the most popular. Again the lyrics here speak to a certain otherworldly positivity that wasn’t really embraced on previous albums. It’s a song about “Overthinking and overanalyzing” and about “separating the body from the mind.” Pretty progressive stuff happening here if you ask me. For many of the shows I witnessed, this was the closer, and it’s perfect. The song makes you want to go into the dark willingly, and tackle whatever obstacles may face you. It’s about the pain we suffer, and the love we give, and how without one we can’t possess the other. It’s an overwhelmingly thought-provoking song, and with this concluding a concert you truly feel like you can go out into the world and be victorious over anything you need to conquer. Finally getting to the music itself though, the time signatures here are really something. The original name of the song was 9-8-7, which is the 16th number in the Fibonacci sequence. This is interesting because while music was being made, the band had no idea this would happen. The time signatures happened just to be 9-8-7. To tie all of this together, the themes of spirals in the song also tie into the Fibonacci sequence. Now, there’s no way to know if this was done on purpose, but it’s pretty cool to think about.
The album concludes musically with a three-part beast of a song. The first part, “Disposition,” is a quiet drop off from the after effects of the previous song. While it’s very slow and even, it musically is very interesting. The drums are quiet and light, as are the vocals and guitars. It’s a pretty great transitional song, even more so when you consider where the song is going from here. As “Disposition” ends, a drum beat appears that isn’t like the beat you hear on the song. This signals the second movement of this piece. The slow rise and pull of part two, or “Reflection,” glides over and once again we’re greeted by music I imagine you would here in a Stargate type movie, except this music is better than anything found in that movie.
“Reflection” is to me an example of where the band would go even more so on the next album “10,000 Days.” Lyrically it starts out late, and you can tell the band went many different directions before they decided ultimately on going down this meandering route. The music bob and weaves down into uncharted territory until nearly four minutes in when Keenan’s voice comes into voices. The echo effects used on his voice are really spectacular, and it helps to add another layer of depth to this already solidly deep song. This might be the song where MJK’s voice is most unlike what was expected of him, and that is awesome, because he shows you yet again his exceptional range and how he knows precisely how to use his instrument, his voice. The buildup and crescendo of the finale is great, and it gives the song a little boost when it’s needed to put it right over the edge. “Triad,” the last part of this arrangement, is totally instrumental, and is basically one pulsating drum part over and over again. There’s not much variation, but it completes the song in a really carefully.
The last song on the album, is the super fucking creepy, is it or isn’t it real “Faaip De Oaid.” While I know now it’s not a real thing, it’s still cool to my conspiracy theory filled mind to think that it’s true. Basically a caller is trying to reach out to anyone who will listen. As the call goes, the man becomes more frantic in explaining how since his firing from Area 51, he’s been chased around the country, and how ultimately the government, with the assistance of E.T.’s are trying to get people into giant metro to wipe them out. It’s incredibly creepy, and I’m really not doing it justice, but it’s the last moments of the album, and it takes a toll.
Lateralus was a rare gift that saw the band rise to absurd heights of perfection, and for that, the world received an amazing musical gift. Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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