Rock & Roll Feature: Lateralus is the Tool

This is the third in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller and I love blues so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like from those genres every month.

Over the years my musical tastes have progressed significantly. I've listened to folk, blues, classic rock, heavy metal, thrash, nu-metal and probably about everything in between. I have favorite albums in all genres ranging from the simplest folk to the hardest metal. This month's feature is a unique hard rock/heavy metal album that breaks all boundaries for this genre to create not only a unique sound, but a unique mystique, a cult following and an epic listening experience.

The Band is called simply Tool, and the album is Lateralus. Previous efforts by Tool straddle the line between metal and progressive rock, producing a very heavy sound that is still progressive and thought provoking even after many listens. This album is no exception and to me, it represents a peak in their work (they have a newer album but I haven't heard it yet so this may change).

I first came to this band via a song off this album and it really sparked a deeper foray into other heavier and progressive rock formats. The single, called "Schism", was my first real experience with this band. The song has a unique hypnotic riff that was supposedly inspired by a mathematical series of numbers. It's the kind of riff that draws you into the song as the other instruments come in and creates a sonic landscape with layers of sound. As the percussion and heavier guitars kick in, the hypnosis continues to build until it explodes in a hard metal riff, only to pull back and revert back to its previous self. There are ebbs and flows, spikes and recessions throughout this song, featuring this hypnotic, almost mystic feel to its guitar work, fantastic percussion and drum work, and an ever changing sonic feel. As it progresses from light mystic riffs to hard metal stomp all with pounding percussion, its hard to believe the song plays for nearly 7 minutes. It is the capstone of this album, not only a great song, but the perfect index of this entire album.

Although "Schism" is great, the whole album is unique with each song adding another piece to the puzzle. "The Grudge" is the perfect album opener, setting the stage for the power that is to come with a riff that is echoed again in slightly different forms throughout the album. "Parabol" and "Parabola" read like the same song with the same lyrical lines and progressions but with distinctly different takes on the same emotions. The first is sad and soft with a very mystic feel while the second builds on the first taking it to its obvious metal conclusion before returning to the original melody. "Ticks & Leeches" is the albums most angry song. With pounding rhythmic drum work, it make me wonder how anyone can play that many drums at once. This combined with a screeching opening guitar riff that breaks into a more pulled back but fast paced verse before exploding in a powerful chorus, makes this song a head bangers dream. Throughout the entire song the drum work just amazes me as it really drives the song forward unlike anything I've ever heard, almost becoming part of the guitars and bass. The title track is also a highlight (as is nearly every song on this album) starting with a simple riff that builds and builds and builds. It finally rips open to reveal a powerful metal riff as the base for what is probably the deepest song of the album, but never does it become over powering or over the top. Instead it plays like a great progressive metal song that surges back and forth in a tug of war between the power and the mysticism, the loud and the quiet, before building to a pulsing conclusion.

"Disposition" and "Reflection" both echo with the same mysticism and eastern and progressive feel that makes you think while "Triad" serves as the perfect hard metal pounding conclusion to an epic album. This second to last track serves as a recap of the entire album, the perfect closer, but there is still the coda.

"Faaip De Oiad" continues the progressive feel of Tool albums as it is a very experimental track that reminds me of similar tracks from previous albums. With a mash of static and drum noodling that gets louder and louder throughout the piece, it features a unique vocal track that can be absolutely disturbing and terrifying if you listen to the album in a pitch black room with great headphones because of the terror in the vocals and the emotional content. I won't give away the content of this track, but I urge you to do exactly as I described. Get a great pair of headphones, crank it up, sit in a dark room and just see if it doesn't make your spine tingle.

Whether a reminder from the band to keep an open mind, or to remember that there may be more to the world than meets the eye, this unique track serves as a good coda to an album that makes you think, and makes you question both the world and yourself

The most important aspect of Tool as a band in my opinion, is the lyrics and vocals. Maynard James Keenan is a lyrical mastermind, developing thought provoking lyrics that when sung in his haunting but honest and emotional voice, offer a true window to the soul. The emotions change from sadness to anger to confusion, all while wrapped in a philosophical cloak that makes you want to analyze every word to pick up on their meaning and get a glimpse at the big picture. This album is only slightly less angry lyrically than previous Tool albums, but that does not make it less powerful. It's far more philosophical than previous albums with lyrics always echoing a sense of logic. It follows that logic through its twists and turns and past all sorts of strange logical paradoxes that in the end leave you wondering what you actually know about the world and how you could ever actually know anything. The lyrical content makes you think and get lost in your thoughts, in your emotion, in why the world is the way it is, in your own consciousness. Combined with pounding music, mysticism and eastern melodies these lyrics make for a less straight forward metal album and much more a progressive album, yet it isn't too over the top or self indulgent.

In the world of mp3s and music downloading, some musicians gear their albums towards singles as opposed to albums. This is an exception as this is certainly an album, a complete work intended to be listened to as a whole. I've even seen various theories that if you listen to the tracks in different orders than the track listing, they tell different stories. I can't even pick out a real favorite song, although the obvious choice is "Schism" on first listen, I prefer to look at this as a complete work. Removing any of the songs seems too much like trying to remove a single brush stroke from a painting instead of looking at the whole painting.

Tool has always had a very loyal cult following and I must say that after listening to this album (and their other albums) I am one of them. It inspired me to check out their previous albums (which are great as well) and look forward to every new release to see what new philosophical questions they will bring up, and what new progressive concepts they will bring to the genre of heavy metal and hard rock.

Where classic rock has Pink Floyd, metal has Tool. Lateralus is metal's Dark Side of the Moon.

You can buy this album directly from Amazon.com here: Lateralus

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