Review Summary: A Surreal Experience
I’ll make two things clear. First, in certain cases the most helpful thing a reviewer can do is to make his opinions on a band’s prior work as clear as his thoughts on the album in question. While I have a healthy respect for Opiate and Undertow, I find Ænima and Lateralus to be utterly pants-crappingly fantastic music. Some fans have complained the band has gotten too long winded, too artsy, and too experimental. Keep spiraling out, I say. I’d rate Ænima a 6/6 and Lateralus a 7/6. Bias claimed.
Tool is among the group that exists as the exception that proves the rule. First impressions of Tool are worth very little. Coming to know, and finally establishing a final opinion of a Tool album just seems to take a little longer than usual. And that’s just a face value “knowing”. The mouth watering intricacies and idiosyncrasies come later. And then some more after that. I have no doubt that six months down the road I’ll look back at this review and cringe, because then I’ll have a better understanding and different relationship with 10,000 Days. So what you get now is the “so far” of it. And my so far view is still changing with every spin.
My first impression (you know, the one that’s not worth much) was not good. Not good at all. I found little on 10,000 Days that measured up to the band’s earth shaking, third eye prying last two albums. But I kept listening. And things changed. Keep listening and things become clearer. Listen how much" Enough to bury the lingering specter of expectation. Based on my expectations alone, 10,000 Days is not the album I wanted to hear. Lateralus II would have been just fine. But Tool doesn’t make the same album twice, and this time is no different. Good things started to happen after I returned to 10,000 Days for a second round of spins. Namely, I quit ruminating about the album this wasn’t and started to enjoy the album that it is. The album opening duo “Vicarious” and “Jambi” are a formidable, predominantly heavy pair that are easy to jump right into, but what really sank its claws into me first was a portion of the nearly eighteen minute title track, which has been split into two songs. “Wings for Marie (Pt 1)” and “10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2)” initially felt unassuming, overlong and without pay-off, but subsequent listens have revealed its true nature as an incredibly subtle, intricate, highly personal epic. The song is about the recent death and ascension to heaven of Maynard’s mother (who suffered a stroke and partial paralysis 27 years before her death), and this achingly moving and beautiful song has the delicate, introspective nature that the subject matter would suggest. The song weaves, twirls and builds tension in painstaking slowness and glorious anticipation, but rather than peaking and exploding into the expected snarling outburst, reaches a massive emotional climax juxtaposed by a musical anti-climax with Maynard singing “Ten thousand days in the fire is long enough, you’re going home”. It’s absolutely chilling. And even when the band does eventually shift into the song’s lone “heavy” (it sounds so silly to describe it that way given context) section, they maintain a more restrained and respectful element. This is a gorgeous and true jaw-dropping epic. The introspective, personal, and even spiritual vibe is a theme that continues to crop up again, along with a passive (or at least puzzled) observation of the declination of society. “Lipan Conjuring”, one the patented Tool interludes (three are offered this time around), consists of spiritual sounding Native American chanting, while “Right in Two” describes the angels watching from the sidelines in shock and wonder as mankind uses its freewill to destroy itself (taking what is one, and enough, and dividing it right in two). “Vicarious” is an indictment of vampire-like mainlined media exposure to sensationalized death and tragedy. There’s even the story of a “chosen one”/high school dropout who wanders into an ER during the interlude track “Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman)”, then on the subsequent “Rosetta Stoned” tells his story. While in the throws of a bad acid trip thinks he’s been abducted by aliens who have given him a warning about the end of man, but to his dismay he’s too ***ed up to write it down to relay the message to mankind.
The vocals on 10,000 Days are frequently slightly less prominent than usual and occasionally use atypical approaches. Maynard’s megaphone, machine gun, LSD rantings at the beginning of the twisted and fantastic “Rosetta Stoned” are a prime example. The a cappella intro of “The Pot” is grating initially, but suits the song, and Maynard soon after resumes a more usual approach. The bass heavy track is a “who the hell are you to tell me” track reminiscent of “Hooker with a Penis”. Once you become more familiar with the album it feels like a natural and logical step for Tool, and unless you’re of the opinion that the band needlessly stretches things out these days, you’ll find yourself up to your neck in everything you love about Tool. Some of the ideas and presentation are different, but the language of it remains the same. The back breaking syncopated riffing, odd time signatures, obscenely talented and unique drumming, complex and winding compositions, and a spectacularly talented voice continue to combine to deliver mind-bendingly satisfying and addictive heavy music of the highest quality. With all the talk of “Meshuggah influence”, I expected more aggressive and explicitly heavy tracks. Given the marathon “Wings” duo and the serene “Intension”, as well as interludes and quieter portions of other tracks (especially “Right in Two”), a large portion of 10,000 Days’ 76 minutes consists of quieter and slower material. Just don’t mistake that for a lack of intensity. There are moments along the way that conjure allusions to earlier times—the sound and role of “Intension” bears a similarity to “Disposition”, the familiar nature of “The Pot” has already been discussed, and “Vicarious” and “Jambi” could be a blend of the last two albums. Other glimpses emerge and disappear. But overall, 10,000 Days is different enough to raise an initial clamor of disappointment, familiar enough to be a long-craved comfort, and powerful enough to transcend both of those things to become something all its own. Fantastic.