Review Summary: ‘Lateralus’, the third LP from American rock band Tool is a great rock album; rather, it’s their magnum opus, a masterwork that stands as one of the greatest rock albums ever made.
• Maynard James Keenan - vocals
• Adam Jones - guitar, art direction
• Justin Chancellor - bass
• Danny Carey - drums
It seems that every great rock album deconstructs our conceptions about rock music; tearing apart the assumptions and cozy familiars like so much wet paper and piecing it back together in ways never seen before. It almost feels like a requirement. ‘Lateralus’, the third LP from American rock band Tool is a great rock album; rather, it’s their magnum opus, a masterwork that stands as one of the greatest rock albums ever made. Like all masterworks it has its detractors; tongue lashing critics who bite with words, and ignorant pop rock lame brains who can’t sit through any song lasting over 5 minutes. But how can you blame them? Clocking in at almost 79 minutes, chock full of esoteric concepts, self-help adages and unconventional song structures it is no wonder the layman (or woman) will merely shrug their shoulders and move on to a much shorter, more basic album (Sum 41 anyone?). ‘Lateralus’ is immense, epic, lengthy, deeply emotional, cryptic, complex, and full of so much esoteric mumbo jumbo that it deserves all the hate thrown at it; it also happens to be my favorite album.
I’ll be honest; Tool really went overboard with this one. It’s a record that will only be fully embraced by hardcore fans, while the casuals or the occasional listener who dug ‘3 Libras’ on the radio will be turned off, lost in a whirlwind of “huh?” while they try to piece together what mathematical concepts and alchemy have to do with rock music. That is the beauty of it all; it’s so over the top and preachy that it works. ‘Lateralus’ is one of the greatest rock albums ever crafted; it’s the second coming of Christ, only better and 1000 times more interesting.
From the mechanical whir that signals the beginning of ‘The Grudge’ its quite evident that this is no mere retread of ‘Aenima’, and once the tribal rhythms and trance-like guitar riffs invade your ears you’ll realize that musically, this is another plane all together. The bass and drums are mixed way into the front, allowing the hypnotic rhythm section full command of the audio spectrum; a technique largely unconventional in rock music, but for Tool it works all too well. The guitar takes somewhat of a back seat, but when it explodes its pummeling; not in its technicality or its brutality but in its sheer epic emotional presence. Then there are the vocals, buried deep into the mix but ever present and powerful; just another instrument amongst the others, playing its role. Complex time signatures, mutating passages and true progressive song structures are met with impeccable song writing, an avant-garde attitude and a hint of pop sensibility, wrapped up in a warm blanket of slick production.
While ‘Lateralus’ is no concept album by any means, there is certainly a unifying theme present through each track. From the art of letting go (The Grudge), the path of healing (The Patient), the death of the ego (Reflection), living in the now (Parabol, Parabola), the desire to dive headfirst into the unknown (Lateralus) to the act of recapitulating a broken relationship (Schism), there seems to be an underlying connection of a very personal journey toward enlightenment.
Tool is at the top of their form here; Danny Carey’s octopus-like drumming is intense, massive and literally all over the place in ways most drummers wish they could be. His primal, tribal drumming is the stuff of legend, and including it in a rock album is pure genius. Adam Jones’ creative, mutating and emotional guitar work is drenched in pedal effects and expertly played, changing from silently contemplative to head nodding groovy with a professionals precision. The complex and commanding bass lines of Justin Chancellor act as lead more than they do support, and their technical work is astounding. Maynard, with his cryptic lyrics and esoteric concepts can croon, scream, shout and sing with the best of them; his voice that of an angel, a devil, a demon and a stripped down human. Of course it would all be for naught if the production wasn’t up to snuff, but thankfully mastermind David Bottrill served as producer, engineer and mixer, and the album is all the better for it. Each instrument is clearly audible, each sound effect, ambient noise, snare hit, tom fill, high hat pattern, each vocal styling can be heard with an awesome clarity.
Listening to this album is no small feat by any means. From the 8 minute opus of ‘The Grudge’ to the 11 minute journey of the title track, to the album ending trilogy of ‘Disposition’, ‘Reflection’ and ‘Triad’, a whole sit through is a very emotional and long experience; a slow burner of an album that will take many listens before it finally reveals itself to you. Like any rock masterpiece worth its salt ‘Lateralus’ dismantles our view of the world of rock and builds up a new outlook; one that fuses primal rhythms with American aesthetics, new age concepts with pop sensibilities. In a barrage of complex time signatures galore, worldly instruments, effects drenched guitars and the hallucinogenic imagery of spiritual artist Alex Gray, Tool have given us one heck of an album; one that takes time to digest.
Regardless of whether or not you find 'Lateralus' interesting, it will most certainly go down in history as an important piece of art, a landmark achievement for a band way ahead of its class; sadly a feat that this band will most likely never achieve again.