For a band that is seriously responsible for inspiring the current malnourished, virtually talentless, disease of rap-metal infesting America, Tool clearly saw an inspired path out of that emotionally dead scene and dutifully took it.

Why, might you ask, should you care about a group who is taking strident steps to remove itself, not only from the ’90s aggro-metal scene, but from the entire genre itself? Easy, because Tool rock. Their music is fresh, intelligent, bludgeonly powerful and irreverent to all things normal. All these are crucial ingredients to the current underground metal scene, we are enveloped with now; right? Not that bitter details count, but Tool has mastered the hidden, progressive art of King Crimson more proficiently than the sanctimonious, metal-opolis Opeth.

Opeth need not worry. Their crown is secure. Tool is too discriminating and too recognized to render any artistic coups against counterparts like the aforementioned. Where Opeth slice with metallic precision, before gently opening their progressive/folk wounds to reveal sly genius; Tool, is quite the opposite. An effortless sleight of hand is used to drown the listener in a barrage of feedback-riddled, progressive metal riffery, accentuated with occult-fueled Middle Eastern rhythmic tones and grooves the said listener even realizing they took a breath. Rare ability is seen in Tool to connect with mullet-ridden Mt. Dew swigging Metallica fan or Adidas wearing Korn fan as well as every Radiohead fan or Robert Fripp (King Crimson mainstay guitarist) intellectual musician.

Like Radiohead, or in more metal terms, Anathema, Emperor, Katatonia and Opeth, Tool can be taken at face value or as top-notch artisans of their craft. Serving as either a rage-fueling soundtrack for every prick frat guy who tries to compensate for his uneventful manhood, or as a launching pad for egghead music fans to search desperately for the hidden truths behind Tool’s “God is inside us all” message – their coverage runs the entire spectrum. Thus Tool is put in a rare position – one that King Crimson should have been in 25 years prior – in that they attract a wide enough audience to further a unique musical agenda that involves musical progression, intelligence and the dissemination of all things dark and transparent.

Metal needs this, rock needs this. Hell, the American artistic medium needs this! Magnum opuses are a needed rarity these days, but Lateralus is unarguably just that. At close to 80 minutes of cognizant, splintering music. With Lateralus, Tool’s nullification of putrid bands like Linkin Park, Disturbed or Staind has begun. Not only is Tool’s sound heavier, and more obtuse, but all the other “nu” metal vocalists (including Maynard wannabe Aaron Lewis) wither when faced with Maynard’s shockingly exorcising vocal attack. Mr. Keenan’s range now lies somewhere between gorgeously composed (“Reflection”), achingly bleak (“Disposition”) and crazed-as-fuck metallic (“Ticks & Leeches”). Lyrically esoteric as always, the failure to include lyrics only entices one to listen closer and think harder. Song titles paint a vivid picture (“Schism,” “The Grudge,” “Eon Blue Apocalypse” or any of the aforementioned) of where Tool’s occultic energy is pointed. Bassist Justin Chancellor helps Lateralus maintain the inventive, sludgy – yet dynamic – bowels of darkness ambiance that Tool served on previous ventures. He maintains a pulse or heartbeat, if you will.

Even in complete silence, one never ignores the vacuum created, as Tool exemplifies unknowing creepiness. Like opening a dark quiet room and fearfully entering inside, Tool has mastered the tentative mysteries of sound. No wonder Robert Fripp and King Crimson (among others) has called Tool today’s best band. Period! Artistic genius behind Tool’s imagery/guitarist Adam Jones feeds listeners with elusive, mathematically desolate riffing (out of the Fripp school of thought) with some clever metal grooves crawling beneath the undercurrent. One minute he is sparse and empyrean (“Parabol”) while the next he is dense and razor sharp (“Ticks & Leeches,” “The Grudge). His playing reaches new heights with “Triad”, the ritualistically murderous instrumental, which “musically” closes the album. A melting pot of Crimson, Sonic Youth and the Melvins, Jones has never sounded more inspired. His fragmented human body album layout is numbing, holding the attention of all those who dare to ponder the mysteries held within the artwork.

“Schism,” the album’s only single features Jones and Chancellor at their peak of stringed unity. Jones splatters cosmic acrylic across Chancellor’s most mesmerizing bass line to saturate a canvas of sound meticulously held together by Tool’s strongest, most crucial link – Danny Carey. Carey’s drumming is a blinding revelation. His is the finest rock drumming of this, and possibly any, era of music. By using a proficient lack of cymbal-work, he provides Lateralus with a tribal, Middle Eastern feel that hypnotizes with its dense, decisive tonality. “Reflection” feels like a mystical, hand-drumming seance with dark spirits being conjured to better slip into your inner-consciousness. When he does chose to test his vast skills on the cymbals (“The Patient,” for example), his cryptic polyrhythmic attack is sharp and gliding. Amazingly all in same breath. His total mastery is breathtaking, daunting – never has a drummers presence been so crucial- and form-fitting in the rock/metal world (not even Slayer’s Lombardo competes). Take Carey away and Tool is another good alternative/metal band, but with him, they are a separate entity, rivaled by none. For some in the metal world, his presence will be a replete introduction to the brilliant arts of Middle Eastern music (sorry, Amorphis; quasi-scales don’t count). To others, Carey will be an accentuation that pushes popular rocks pre-conceptions of what is expected of great rock music to the nether regions of the mind, where one will often find Tool already occupying.

For Tool, it all seems natural. Maybe this is a fresh beginning for rock and metal. A total bleaching of the canvas. Most will overlook this as too unyielding, but for those who do enter the dark gateway of Tool, sit back and enjoy Lateralus while it lasts. We will see what unfolds from Tool’s mystic genius next.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jason Hundley
May 11th, 2001


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