|Tool - Lateralus|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 31 January 2006|
Progressive rock was pioneered by the music gymnastics of groups like Yes, King Crimson and Rush in the '70s and early '80s. It was a style of music that scared most women and confused the general public but found a home in the hearts of music students and the Dungeons and Dragons crowd. This music features complex arrangements, odd time signatures and lyrics that often told of mystical creatures and faraway lands. The songs often ran as much as 15 to 20 minutes in length and were rarely played on the radio. Tool is a band that has taken progressive rock and put their own metallic twist on it to become the leaders of a style of music that I call progressive metal. Their new album Lateralus contains 13 tracks full of twisted lyrical imagery, thunderous metal music and, of course, odd time signatures.
Tool took quite a long hiatus after their last studio album Aenima, but fans of the band were given a dose of material to help tide them over the past five years between albums (not counting the limited edition CD/DVD box set Salival). Singer Maynard James Keenan is also the singer for the new band A Perfect Circle, whose 2000 album Mer De Noms has sold well over two million copies. The similarities between the sounds of Tool and A Perfect Circle are undeniable, with the latter band being the softer and more melodic of the two. With Lateralus, it seems as if Maynard was inspired by his other band and decided to work a little more melody into this new Tool release. This does not mean that the new Tool album does not absolutely crush at times, but it does have a wider dynamic range than the band's previous records.
Although there are 13 tracks on the album, Lateralus is really nine songs with a few short tracks of random sounds and musical interludes intercut between some of the fuller offerings. It’s obvious that the band and producer David Bottrill created this album to be listened to from start to finish, not just as a collection of songs that would work just as well if you selected "random" on your CD player. This music requires your full attention and if you try to let it just become background music, you’re probably not going to have an enjoyable experience. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is a complex album that is just as good whether you listen to every note and nuance, or just let your mind wander and get lost in the mood. Lateralus is 100% the opposite of this, demanding your full attention at all times. For this reason alone, you can write this record off of your shopping list if you don’t like music that requires this much of you as a listener.
Beginning with a syncopated odd time bass rhythm, the eight-minute-and-thirty-six-second epic opening track "The Grudge" sets the tone for the entire album with dynamics that range from whisper soft to full-bore metal. This same theme runs throughout the album, with the band shifting musical gears at a moment’s notice. The thunderous double bass drumming of Danny Cary in synch with Justin Chancellor’s distorted bass guitar tone is the signature Tool sound and Lateralus makes no attempt to reinvent it. This is intricate metal music with heavy guitar riffs, combined with Maynard’s vocals, which run the gamut from the softest whisper to blood-curdling screams. The album’s longest track, "Reflection," weighs in at a hefty 11 minutes and seven seconds. People with pre-existing heart conditions or pregnant women should not board this ride.
Lateralus sounds as good as any Tool album, with the drums being the standout instruments on this recording. On previous Tool albums, the subtle nuances of the drums were lost at times in the mix, but on Lateralus, you can hear every cymbal crash, every hi-hat hit and of course the huge sound of the double bass drums.
The packaging for this album and the accompanying website Toolband.com are also an example of how a modern band can further the consumer’s experience with modern technology. When I opened my copy of Lateralus, it had no words, no song titles, and no production credits. Instead, it had a clear plastic eight-page insert that showed the inner anatomy of a human body from the waist up. As you open the cover, page by page, each of the different systems of the body are uncovered. It’s like one of those multi-page plastic inserts in an anatomy textbook (Just for kicks look up the word Lateralus in an anatomy textbook). The actual CD case insert in the back is clear plastic as well, so you can see through the entire case. At the Tool website, fans can get all of the information about the album that is not provided with the CD. It is a well-developed site that complements the album exceptionally well and makes this excellent piece of music into a piece of modern multimedia art.