Review Summary: One of the most influential rock albums of this millennia, and quite possibly the most influential progressive album of the decade. Tool's third full length EP is aurally stunning, and only let down by unnecessary filler tracks.
As most people reading this review would know, the American progressive rock band Tool don’t like to do anything quickly. The time taken between the release of their breakthrough album AEnima (released in 1996) and the release of their third LP, Lateralus, was five years. This fact causes one to jump to the conclusion that- considering the time it took to complete- Lateralus must be one hell of a good album. And this notion is one hundred percent correct.
Lateralus was released in May of 2001, and six years later, it has lost none of its impact, none of its ethereal complexity which drew me to the album in the first place. It is, to this day, the most important and influential progressive rock album of this millennia. Sure, some may argue that The Mars Volta’s 2003 effort “De-loused in the Comatorium” rivals “Lateralus” for the crown of “Best Progressive Album Of The 00’s”, but ultimately, Tool’s album is considerably more brilliant, epic and timeless.
1. The Grudge: The opener, and what an opener it is. Faint industrial sounds for the first few seconds, and then a heavy, pulsating riff greets the listener, with Jones and Chancellor playing off each other brilliantly. The first taste we get of Keenan’s voice on this album is quite different to his vocals on earlier albums- he sings with a harsh staccato, but this change of vocal style soon gives way to Maynard’s regular smooth, haunting delivery. The staccato vocal style recurs throughout the track, along with some truly intense, complex drumming (the time signature of “The Grudge” is 10/8) from Carey. The real high point of this song comes in at the 6 minute mark, where a catchy distorted riff accompanies Maynard singing one of the best lyrics on the album- “Give away the stone/ let the waters kiss and transmutate/ these leaden grudges into gold”. At 6:55, all instruments become tacet except for the bass, and seconds later the whole band explodes back in, with Keenan delivering quite possibly the longest and most blood-curdling scream ever recorded (roughly 26 seconds long). The conclusion to the song is also amazing- Carey beats the living hell out of his drums, reinforcing the fact that he is indeed one of the best drummers in the world. The song finishes, and the listener is left with the impression that they’ve been punched in the face by the opener to the album. But in a good way. 4.5/5
2. Eon Blue Apocalypse: After the full-on assault that the band delivered to the listeners ears with “The Grudge”, this track feels like a little bit of a let down. Sure, its really only serves as an introduction to the next track “The Patient”, but it seems as though this track could have offered a little more. Nice, laid back guitars though, which saves the track from being a total write-off. In an interview, Danny Carey stated that this song was a tribute to Adam Jones’ Great Dane Eon Blue, who died of cancer. 2.5/5
3. The Patient: A beautiful song. Upon first listening, I dismissed it as being too depressing and too boring, but this is simply one of those tracks that you have to listen to numerous times to gain a full appreciation of its depth and intricacies. Soft, palm-muted guitar both commences and concludes the song, with some nice wah effects on bass by Chancellor in the intro. At 2:21, the chorus bursts in, with loud power chords and Maynard singing vulnerably “Gotta wait it out.” The guitar by Jones throughout the whole song is lovely and melodic, particularly 6 minutes in, as the guitar, Maynard’s voice, and the backing vocals (presumably Jones?) gel together wonderfully to create a rich aural texture. The only criticism I have of this song (and it’s not much of a criticism, anyway) is that it takes a little while to build up, and this may initially frustrate listeners. 4.5/5
4. Mantra: Don’t get me wrong, I love Tool. But this track is utter rubbish. Apparently the sample for this track (which sounds like whale noises) was obtained by squeezing one of Keenan’s Siamese cats, and slowing down the noise it made in response digitally. This track is totally pointless- it has no purpose or relation to anything on the album. I assume the members of Tool put “Mantra” on this album either because they thought it sounded cool, or because they wanted to screw with people’s heads. The only reason this track gets any points at all is because it partially contributes to the ambience and overall feel of the album. 1/5
5. Schism: The first single off the album, this is the song that made people (even in mainstream circles) sit up and take notice of Tool. The key to this tracks appeal is that catchy, hammer-on bass riff, which drives the song along at a nice pace. The bridge kicks in at 3:32, with some nice flange-styled guitar effects from Adam. At about 5:20, the song transforms into an epic soundscape, with Maynard wailing behind heavily distorted power chords from Jones. After this, Maynard’s strained, staccato styled vocals (from “The Grudge”) return, chanting the lyrics “I know the pieces fit”. The conclusion of this epic belongs to Danny Carey- he utilises his double-kick extremely well, drumming at a lightning fast speed. An amazing song, and definitely worthy of all the praise and air-play it received upon release. 5/5
6 & 7. Parabol/Parabola: I’ve put these two together because they are basically the one song, and because they were released as a single together. “Parabol” is a meditative piece, with Keenan singing in low and subdued tones, and minimal guitar work from Chancellor and Jones. The purpose of “Parabol” is to lull the listener into a false sense of security, which is then smashed to pieces as the volume swells and the distortion kicks in, thrusting at the listener the searing and heavy-as-hell “Parabola”. A fantastic heavy riff introduces the song, which then makes way for a guitar free verse, where Chancellor and Carey drive the song forward with their respective instruments. At 1:45, Jones treats the listener to a fantastic lead section with some nifty sounding harmonics. The choruses on this track are probably the catchiest on the album, with Jones reprising his traditional power chord structure while Keenan delivers some truly inspired lyrics, such as “We are eternal/ all this pain is an illusion”. At 4:36, however, things take a turn for the worst. Jones plays an excruciatingly dull, boring riff for the remainder of the track (something like a minute and a half), with no accompaniment, save for a few drum fills from Carey. If it wasn’t for this prolonged, uninspired riff, the song(s) would definitely merit a higher score. 4.5/5
8. Ticks and Leeches: From the get-go, you can tell this track is going to be intense, with Carey drumming at full-pace almost the whole time. This song introduces yet another unusual vocal performance from Maynard, as he screams his way through the majority of it. It takes some getting used to, but the listener can truly appreciate how hard it would have been to sing in this manner (the song is rarely performed live because it places too much strain on Keenan’s voice). “Ticks and Leeches”, for the most part, is an adrenaline fueled, practically heavy metal masterpiece. However, the middle of the track has a quiet, almost acoustic break that lasts for 2 and a half minutes, which takes away from the intensity and impact of the song. 4/5
9. Lateralus: My personal favorite on the album, the self titled track is extremely progressive, and an incredible musical experience. A soft finger-picked intro gives way to an all out rock section (with yet another unconventional time signature), with fantastic lyrics in the chorus from Keenan (“Over thinking/ over analyzing/ separates the body from the mind"). The song then slows down again, and Jones stamps his mark on the track at 6:40 with a mind-bending guitar solo. At 7:21, Chancellor takes the lead with some awesome sounding slides on his bass, paving the way for the explosive conclusion. A brilliantly written and executed piece of music. 5/5
10. Disposition: A very unconventional Tool track, “Disposition” is very pretty and great to relax to, unlike most other songs by the band. The song is relatively sparse both musically and lyrically, with some great bass harmonics by Chancellor playing for the duration of the song, and Maynard repeating one line through out (“Mention this to me/ and watch the weather change”). It isn’t an amazing song, but it acts as a great introduction to the next track, “Reflection” (“Disposition”, “Reflection” and “Triad” were initially planned to be one song- hence the three tracks melding together so seamlessly). 3.5/5
11. Reflection: In my eyes, this song belongs to Maynard James Keenan. His vocals which- once again- are a departure from his usual style are brilliant, singing in a strained, desperate manner which adds to the feel and the lyrical content of the track. The lyrics in “Reflection” are also the best on “Lateralus”- with lines such as “I pray the light lifts me out/ before I pine away”, its easy for the listener to understand that Keenan’s lyrics convey deep and intricate meanings. The drum introduction to this track is fantastic, with Carey playing in a tabla-like style, although the introduction may put off initial listeners, as it takes 3 minutes and 30 seconds for the song to start proper. The guitar work from Jones in the final chorus is also notable- it blends so well with Maynard’s strained vocalizations and the closing riff is quite possibly the most depressing moment I have ever experienced in a song. All in all, an extremely depressing, yet amazing and ingenious song. 5/5
12. Triad: This is where “Lateralus” starts to go downhill. Triad is, ultimately, a pretty damn good song, but its one that I always skip over, as it is in essence an extended jam session. It’s not particularly interesting, and doesn’t have anything to draw the listener back, other than some mighty fine guitar and drum work from Jones and Carey respectively. A decent track, but forgettable. 3/5.
13. Faaip de Oiad: It would’ve been nice if the members of Tool had chosen an actual song to be the closer to “Lateralus”. “Faaip de Oiad” is a recording taken from a radio station (with tonnes of feedback, drum fills and noise in the background) of a man claiming that an alien invasion was imminent. Gets points just because it adds to the ambience of the album, and because the band members manage to sound the recording sound creepy as hell. 2.5/5
In the end, “Lateralus” isn’t just an album- rather, it is an experience. The only real drawbacks are the same ones that stopped AEnima from becoming classic material- the unnecessary filler tracks and boring interludes within some of the songs. The filler tracks and over-ambitious interludes do not ruin “Lateralus”- rather, they make an album which could have been the “Dark Side of the Moon” of our time fall just short of the “classic” label.
By Scott Gilbert