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Tool - Lateralus CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

4.22 | 1644 ratings

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3 stars My first exposure to this group came through their strange videos back in the mid 90s that aired in heavy rotation on MTV. The sordid images of twisted claymation imps cavorting around in shadowy, macabre catacombs where bloody, sausage-like substances flowed endlessly through sewage pipes delighted my then-teenage offspring no end. I wasn't particularly impressed by their music but I could appreciate their uniqueness nonetheless. The subsequent years rolled by and I thought little of the band until I found that they are revered by many in the prog community and that respect piqued my interest even though I own nothing from the Experimental/Post Metal category. In fact, Dream Theater and Riverside are about as metallic musically as I normally care to venture near to but I've never been one who is afraid of exploring different aspects of music so I felt it was about time I delved into the universe Tool inhabits and form an opinion for myself. The extreme heaviness of their approach was exactly what I expected but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the lyrical content is intelligent, literate and poignant throughout.

"The Grudge" is an excellent introduction to everything this entourage and this album is about. After a rumbling onset it reveals an ominous yet highly-skilled voice accompanied by huge guitar chords from Adam Jones before it backs down for a more emotional vocal from Maynard James Keenan. It then gets quite intense as the group surrounds the finely-tuned drums of Danny Carey and takes the listener on a journey through various textures of sound, culminating in a glorious, prolonged primal scream and a supercharged ending. Here Maynard urges us to let go of perceived sins or we will become people who "wear the grudge like a crown of negativity/calculate what we will or will not tolerate/desperate to control all and everything/unable to forgive your scarlet lettermen." This tune serves as an impressive start but couldn't someone have toned down Justin Chancellor a hair? I have to roll back the bass knob just to be able to hear the rest of the ensemble. "Eon Blue Apocalypse" is a shorty that comes off like incidental music for a spaghetti western where some na´ve cowboy has made the horrible mistake of saying something curt to snake-eyed Lee Van Cleef. "The Patient" follows and, while it's not as good as the opener, it has its moments. It features a much quieter beginning with a repeating guitar riff and just when I start to wonder why it was necessary to bury the vocal so far down in the mix the whole thing explodes with gigantic power chords that shake the walls. They eventually settle into a flowing groove and the dynamic arrangement keeps it from getting too stale but nothing really grabs my attention and makes it memorable. Lyrically it compares existence to that of a terminal patient who somehow maintains hope that things in his life will get better. It has to because "this paranoid, paralyzed vampire act's a little old," he relates.

"Mantra" is a brief piece that sounds much like moss-covered gnomes chanting in an immense underground cavern and it leads directly to the best tune on the album, "Schism." This driving ball- breaker contains a highly infectious riff, sublime guitar tones and a track that is as tight as they come. I love the way Keenan fits the words around the odd time signatures. He laments the sorry state of the world we live in and what he expresses about the human condition is timeless. "I've done the math enough to know the dangers of our second guessing/doomed to crumble unless we grow and strengthen our communication" for "cold silence has a tendency to atrophy any sense of compassion between supposed lovers/brothers" he sings. That's primo stuff. The subtle "Parabol" follows and its mystical aura and Indian influences provide a nice change of pace at this juncture. "All this pain is an illusion" he warbles. The obviously related "Parabola" is next and it's more of a straight ahead rocker than what's come before. Carey's drum work is outstanding on this cut but I find the finale to be uninspired and somewhat tedious. However, the words continue to dwell in the metaphysical realm and the optimism they convey is refreshing. "Twirling round with this familiar parable/spinning, weaving round each new experience/recognize this as a holy gift/and celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing" he encourages.

A hot drum intro draws you into "Ticks and Leeches." This sledgehammer of a song has a plethora of hardcore metal screaming and general mayhem running through it from A to Z. There's not much prog here, just a pressure-relieving head-banger that eventually slides down into a more serene segment briefly before predictably returning to a full-force onslaught of cold, hard steel and flying shrapnel. I understand the need to lash out at soul-sucking corporate/government ogres and trolls but this brand of loud, symbolic carnage is better suited for younger ears than mine. "Lateralus" is okay but it reveals a pattern that this band falls into much too often. It has a subdued outset with tribal drums rattling along and, though the dynamics are well-intentioned and the ending is suitably intense, one gets the sensation of been there, done that with the whole thing. The song's saving grace lies once again in the competent words being sung. Here Maynard dips into the well of Hermetic principles and serves up gems like "as below, so above and beyond" and "over-thinking, over-analyzing separates the body from the mind/withering my intuition, leaving all these opportunities behind." Again, not what I expected to find in the land of throbbing metal. Kudos are appropriate.

But just when musically their process is getting to be routine Tool smartly offers up something entirely different. "Disposition" is a slow-to-build, mesmerizing number where the introduction of tablas is a welcome turn of events and it segues smoothly right into "Reflection" without tampering with the hypnotic mood or the momentum as a droning synthesizer adds yet another dimension to the thick atmosphere they create. I particularly admire how they resist the urge to bring in their standard wall- of-sound approach until the later stages. Here again the lyrics uplift instead of grovel in self-pity. "So crucify the ego before it's far too late/to leave behind this place so negative and blind and cynical/and you will come to find that we are all one mind/capable of all that's imagined and all conceivable" Keenan sings. Well put. These two tracks are true highlights of the album. I can't say the same for "Triad," however. It's a pointless jam that drifts in from the ether like a tormenting swarm of cosmic wasps and Jones' screechy guitar noises and gratuitous feedback are nothing short of nerve- wracking. This is what they should play non-stop to get captured terrorists to spill vital information but then I can also see where such torture could be considered inhumane. (They'd probably opt for waterboarding over this!) After a much-needed two minutes of blessed absolute silence they throw in the queer "Faaip De Oiad" which consists of grating static and an overwrought basket case delivering a frantic, conspiratorial soliloquy about aliens taking over. I prefer to think the boys were playfully inspired by the hilarity of The Firesign Theater's classic album "Everything You Know Is Wrong" than to contemplate that they are being serious in any way, shape or form. Surely they jest.

Some reviewers I respect think this is a masterpiece. Others think it is a waste of plastic. I'm right in the middle though I've heard much, much worse in my time and am inclined to give the Tool men the benefit of doubt. There's no denying that they sound like no one else and their intent to convey something substantial, positive and thought-provoking through their music is a major plus with me. Their talent and dedication to their craft is evident as well. The downside is the overall sameness to their approach that grows tiresome after a while. I can appreciate their loyalty to the legion of metalheads that made them superstars but I think they are capable of incorporating a wider variety of influences into their art. "Lateralus" is not an album I'll spin often but I know there will be days when this will match my mood perfectly and I'll be glad I have it in my collection. 3.3 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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