Tool : Lateralus
misery and self-obsessed navel-gazing
RIck Wakeman would be proud
Tool are clearly not a band afraid of their own gravitas. Name-dropped by nu-metallers, consistently cited as the most influential American group of the last ten years, they’re big, they’re quite clever, and don’t they just know it. This LP took five years to make, lasts 76 minutes and the most straightforward song title on it is ‘Eon Blue Apocalypse’. Like, woah, dude.
Tool’s thing, basically, is progressive rock. Their music is highly structured, composed of loads of complex parts, has no choruses, no hooks, and no verses either, really. It doesn’t sound like a particularly great prospect, all told – but in the world of metal, this is more evidence of Tool’s great individuality. They don’t appear in their own videos; their uncompromising stance is all.
All admirable stuff, but it hasn’t, in the past, helped Tool make any particularly good records. Their past two LPs (1993’s ‘Undertow’ and ’96’s ‘Aenima’) used the same principles to make essentially blank, grey walls of noise. Somehow, mysteriously, ‘Lateralus’ has added a little more colour to their palette of chanting, drumming and high drama. Singer Maynard James Keenan has been unaffected by the comparative tunefulness of his side project A Perfect Circle, while the stripped-down nature of the instrumentation means that Tool’s innate heaviness shines out in a world of production tricks and dodges. There’s no trickery – Tool’s progressiveness is all their own work.
In this respect at least, they’re the metal Radiohead. Though it’s definitely a million times more metal than anything the Oxford miserablists have recorded, ‘Lateralus’ still easily contains the same amount of misery and self-obsessed navel-gazing. There’s songs about crawling, dying, explosions, aliens and even one about ‘Ticks And Leeches’ to satisfy any craving for big, serious and grimy themes. And as America has taken Radiohead’s work to heart, so it looks like they have with Tool, too. This LP has gone to the top of the US charts, beating Missy Elliott by 300,000 sales.
The comparison holds thematically true as well. The single ‘Schism’ might be one of their most melodic pieces yet, but opening track ‘The Grudge’ sets the tone of grave menace that takes hold of the LP, yet which is not explained. There’s a sense of something being deeply wrong, but it’s not articulated.
And that, rather than tunes, hooks, or even words, is the root of its addictive quality.