By 2000, Tool were on the precipice of being one the biggest arena rock bands out there. All they had to do was release their highly anticipated new record, “Lateralus.” During the 90’s the band had steadily risen in the ranks of the metal/ rock world on the heels of career making albums ``Undertow,” and 96’s “ÆNIMA.” Tracks like “Sober,” with its ominous opening struck a chord in the early 90’s, with continued momentum occurring around the release and touring cycle of “ÆNIMA.”
By the time they got to ÆNIMA” song progression had gone farther than it had previously. During this period the band begins experimenting more frequently with song lengths, such as the epic “Third Eye” or the cerebral journey of “Pushit.” As one of the lengthier, but equally stand out songs of their entire career, “Pushit” serves as not only an excellent leap forward into more trippy landscapes, but also as a clear indicator as to where the band was heading next. In my opinion, the journey of this song is the tipping point for brilliance. From where I’m standing you can clearly see that not only were they pleased with the road this took them on, but that they were eager to go further with subsequent releases.
That album, more than anything that came after, cemented the foursome, which by this point now included Justin Chancellor from Peach, joining Danny Carey, Adam Jones and Maynard James Keenan. Together they would embark on a big fall tour, which occurred after the bands Ozzfest run, filling mid sized arenas for the first time as the crowd, just as rabid as they are now, started the trend of notorious overthinking Tool fans.
By 2001, the recording process for the forthcoming “Lateralus,” had already been mostly completed, with the band and Chancellor recording together for the first time since Chancellor joined the team. One of the best things about this record is its sonic sphere of elements and how they create an ever evolving, changing sound . Segments are angry and raw, sure, but moments like the finale of “The Patient,” with its all encompassing effect as Keenan’s voice blends in with the atmosphere built by Jones on guitar, Carey on drums and Chancellor on bass. Throughout the song 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 breath and the words are more intelligible.
I remember the first day it came out, going to buy it first thing at i think nine or ten in the morning. The booklet and coer art is still one of the better designed and executed around, but it was even more ahead of its time than it is now. As you listened to the album more and more, the imagery of the album began to not only coincide with the music, but also make it clearer in terms of the spiritual element casually lingering around some of the songs. Tracks like the two piece “Parabol(a)” fit into this idea perfectly.The piece builds up gradually, with MJK’s delicate whisper hovering right ier the underground tension so palpable as the song morphs into the heavy arena rock territory the band had now begun easily filling up.
Yet, there are songs like opener ”The Grudge” filled with resentments, and punishingly steady drum beats that set the course for the entire rest of the album. It’s nearly nine minutes long, and while not quite as lengthy as some of the tracks that came before, it still does more than enough to get the blood flowing. The vocals are nestled in sections, quietly at first, but as the song and it’s shared intensity with the vocals join together, you get the full scope the band was going for.
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 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.
But also, it’s described as the opening of a LSD trip, where bright colors slowly make themselves known. Now, we talked about the importance of Justin Chancellor earlier, but this is the song where he easily shines the most. Now, one of the most interesting things about this song is the time signatures. I’m no musician, but I think most hardcore music fans can recognize the brilliance. The weirdest thing about this song however, is how the signatures, and the lyrics were both thought of separately and without mutual knowledge from the two key participants. In an interview Keenan goes on to explain while he was writing the theme of spiral’s turning in on themselves stuck out and brought a clear focus not only to the song, but the band’s feelings at the time. Here’s where it gets really intriguing though. The original name of the song was 9-8-7, for the weird time signatures, but then the band realized that 987 was the 16th number in the Fibonacci sequence, which also shares interests with the “ Golden Spiral.” I hope that doesn’t confuse you. In other words, there are lyrical and musical reasons why this is the most important, and strongest Tool Song. The positivity of the song is worth noting. It’s imploring us to live every day to the fullest, and maybe, to always try to expand your knowledge, one way or another. Ride the spiral, to the end.
This tour lasted for about two years, and then a darkness crept in while the band quietly rested. By 2006 it was time for forward progress. A few months earlier, the title had been announced, with many wondering what the meaning was, but also what the references were in the album track titles. As a huge fan i had no idea, but as the roll out began and the record was released, it became clear. Keenans mom had passed away from something that robbed her of ten thousand days, and the “Wings” tracks were all about her memory, in a way I suppose. The song is beautifully sung and written by Keenan and the rest of the band, but it's obviously MJK’s song to showcase his respect and love for his late mother.
To me it’s gorgeous because it's so honest, he doesn't sugar coat this pain and his myriad feelings,, which is part of why it was so difficult to be played live. It's too personal, and a Tool crowd hasn;t quite caught up to the maturity of the band we venture to see time and time again.
You also have tracks like “Lost Keys” and “Rosetta Stoned.” Beyond the thumoung power of “Jambi,” there’s no better track on this record. towards the end of the song though, As the second half of the track glides epically to conclusion, Kerman’s voice erupts over the ambient Egyptian style grooves with the line “Overwhelmed as one would be placed in my position, such a heavy burden now to be the one. Born to bear and read to all the details of our ending, write it for the whole wide world to see. But I forget my pen, Shit the bed again, typical.” I've probably heard that song a thousand time and that part still hits me like a sack of bricks. It’s just so well done, and orchestrated. Beyond that, the mixing by "Evil Joe Barresi” makes the song it's entire world of chaos. It;s a good record still, fifteen years on, but it's nestled in between two behemoths, so there’s a lot of shade.
So before we start the final portion of our reading time together let me just say, Wow, so many things happen in thirteen years. When “!0,000 Days” came out, i was single, going through maybe the worst year of my life, up to that point…. But yeah by 2019 i had fallen in love, got married, gotten a degree, starting writing and making money off of it, lost my last grandparents, got divorced, fell in love again, not to mention countless other experiences I’ll never forget. It's a long damn time and shortly after the release of “Fear inoculum,” I got married again. All of this is to say, it was mostly worth the wait, and in some cases made the band bigger than ever with the big push from Spotify and many other outlets.
So imagine how much a band’s sound can alter itself in that time. It’s a significant album not just because of its brilliance, but also because of just how worth the wait it seemed to be. Keenan’s lyrics, especially in more somber themed tracks like “Invincible,” are poignant and well phrased.
With tracks like “Pneuma” the band and Keenan again allow the music to be more welcoming and nurturing during tracks. The days of angst are… mostly over, but for a song like “Pneuma” this kind of gentleness really pays off when you start thinking about the lyrics. It does have a social consciousness attached to it, but it fits the song well, which makes it more powerful in turn with just being a well written epic song.
Those types of songs are all over these tracks. Keenan, for all his snarkiness, truly is one of the best vocalists and lyricists in rock today. The band is so far from where they began, both musically and I imagine in maturity, that it's refreshing to see a heavy rock band embrace elements that aren't necessarily thought of in the same breath as this type of sound.
There’s regret in the record, feeling like you’re now in a business model you can’t keep up with, the industry has changed. They’re older now too, with other responsibilities. But the record itself is a perfect symbol of where they’ve been and whatever they’ve become. But then, you get a song like “7empest,” which shouldn’t work,but its length and aggression fill teh final moments of yeh record with an urgency not that intense since maybe “Hooker with a Penis” or especially “Ticks & Leeches.”
Except here, there’s no screaming, but then again there’s not a single scream in the entire record. It’s an incredible song, ending one of the most powerfully heavy records in a long time, and should be revered as such. This track, which seemed aimed at a certain non-president small hand man, fits the aggression and frustration te world would face just the next year when we found out how fast the world could stop. The sing was heavily mentioned in early interviews and reviews, so expectations were high, but in my opinion, they were met, its a masterfully complex song.
Much of the album you’ll be focused on Keenan’s trademark cryptic lyrics, but on “Fear Inoculum” you find that record pushes the work of Adam Jones and Danny Carey to the forefront. The drums and guitars are devastating, heavy, perfectly synced up and working of the strengths of the other members. This is the record that belongs not to the vocals, but the wonder and thickness elevating the lyrical content. Tool is a household name in the world of rock music, and at long last they’ve delivered a record worth the wait.
Even tracks like the devastating, calculated “Descending” revolve more around the trio of Chancellor, Carey and Jones then they do Keenan, who’s well known for writing lyrics quickly after music is completed. It makes sense that it would feature more sections to breathe with instrumentation, seeing where thirteen years got them often to near perfectly mixed and produced effect, it really is a masterpiece, and a record that is more often interesting and thought provoking than most of the rock out there today.
As an album that many thought would never come, much like the sixth Game of Thrones book, or Half Life 3, it's refreshing to see something get released that we thought would never come. Even better than it was so well executed as an album and an insanely cool album package. As a band, Tool has seen and done everything you can do as a successful unit, and over the course of a three decade career, the band has transcended what they once were, replacing it with massive layers of music, swaths of heartfelt thought provoking lyrics, and if you're a concert fan, more video screens and lasers than you could ever imagine.
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Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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