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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: The Boston Phoenix

Date: May, 2001

Transcribed by
Lauri (sillydreamgirl77@aol.com)


  page: 21
 title: Perfect Circles  Tool connect on Lateralus
author: Sean Richardson
	It's been five years since the last Tool album, but fans of 
the seminal alterna-metal band probably won't need to hear much more 
than the first track off the new Lateralus (Volcano; out this 
Tuesday) to declare it worth the wait. Clocking in at over eight 
minutes, "The Grudge" has all the elements of classic Tool: a 
recurring tribal drum groove, some devilish guitar/bas interplay, and 
spellbinding whisper-to-a-wail vocal gymnastics from singer Maynard 
James Keenan. It's cleverly bombastic, with no discernible chorus and 
a cagy Zep riff to counter each meditative comedown. Keenan sounds 
bitter but not vengeful: "Wear your grudge like a crown," he leers at 
his fellow transgressors, then urges them to forgive those who 
trespass aganist them with a shout of "Let go!" A tom-tom barrage 
brings the song crashing to an end, and there's no doubt Tool are 
back - and sounding better than ever.
	Five years between albums is a long time, even in this day 
and age. To their credit, though, Tool have hardly been sitting on 
their thumbs since the release of Aenima (Zoo), in '96. They went on 
tour with the last Lollapalooza in '97 and one of the first Ozzfests 
in '98; while they were on the road, the none-too-commercial Aenima 
steadily grew into a rock-radio mainstay. Around the same time, they 
started entertaining offers from other record labels because, they 
claimed, Zoo had forgotten to pick up their option. Zoo (now Volcano) 
countered with a lawsuit, and the two parties engaged in a protracted 
round of legal battles that dragged on until late last year, when 
they released Salival, a DVD/CD box set of videos, live recordings, 
and other rarities. Meanwhile, Keenan joined forces with former Tool 
guitar tech Billy Howerdel in A Perfect Circle, whose Tool-like 
debut, Mer de Noms (Virgin), came out last spring and quickly went 
platinum.
	All of which helped whet the rock world's appetite for 
Lateralus, an almost 80-minute disc that's both heavy and spacious, 
complicated and oblique. The first 45 minutes follow the somber, art-
rocking precedent set by "The Grudge"-and, thus, pretty much every 
Tool hit since their early-90's MTV breakthrough "Sober". The band 
drift further into abstraction on the disc's second half, shifting 
their prog stance from jumpy to comfortably numb and often relegating 
Keenan to the background. It's a subtle switch the amplifies the 
jarring intensity of the rock stuff and brings the album to an 
unsettling close.
	Perhaps inspired by the lighter, more pop-influenced tunes 
he's been singing with A Perfect Circle, Keenan doesn't cross the 
line from darkness to ugliness in his lyrics as often as he has in 
the past. The first single from Lateralus, "Schism," is a troubled 
love song where things don't really work out, yet its most memorable 
line is a hopeful bit about "finding beauty in the dissonance." The 
APC analogy is tougher to extend to the rest of the band,  who are 
still toeing the prog-Sabbath line. But alongside the vintage Tool 
monster riffs in "Schism" lie tender, intertwining melodies from 
guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor. Still, you could 
fit about two of APC's "3 Libras" (six Libras?) into "Schism," and 
that's one of the shorter songs on the album.
	Tool push their keen sense of dynamics to the extreme here. 
The disc's sprawling arrangements never sound forced: guitar, bass 
and drums weave casually in and out of the mix in various 
combinations while drummer Danny Carey's mid-tempo tribal beats 
provide a solid rhythmic anchor. Halfway through, the band pull off a 
gorgeous two-song suite ("Parabol," "Parabola") built on some 
surprisingly romantic lyrics from Keenan. "This body holding 
me/Reminding me that I am not alone/This body makes me feel 
eternal/All this pain is an illusion" he cries at the end 
of "Parabol," with only a quiet strummed melody from Jones backing 
him up. He repeats those lines at the beginning of "Parabola," only 
this time the whole band kick in with that postmodern Zeppelin they 
and Rage Aganist the Machine nailed so well at the dawn of 
the '90s. "This holy reality/This holy expirence," sings Keenan, 
harmonizing himself on what's the closest to a pop chorus on the 
album. He doesn't quite sound joyous, but "Parabola" is certainly 
more uplifting than what we've come to expect from Tool. 
	So Lateralus is a subtle departure for the band - there's 
more beauty in its dissonance and less overt diabolical shock value. 
But it's still creepy and puzzling enough to placate fans who revel 
in the group's dark, mysterious haze. Perhaps the most impressive 
thing about Tool in '01 is how - a good decade into their career - 
they're still winning fans among the surburban adolescent hordes that 
keep rock on the charts. Tool were definately at the metal end of the 
alternative-rock spectrum, but that was where they made their name, 
and their '93 debut, Undertow (Zoo), will probably always be 
remembered as an alternative-nation classic more than anything else. 
Check out the rest of the bill from the band's Lollapalooza '93 
coming-out party (Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr., Primus - all, like 
Tool, working their first or second major-label discs at the time, 
and all since drifted into nostalgia) and their continued relevance 
seems even more shocking. Even the mighty Rage are history now.
	But metal has become the ultimate legacy of grunge (as much 
as he dreaded it, fragile indie snob Kurt Cobain pretty much figured 
it would turn out that way), and today Tool are the well-respected 
pre-Korn godfathers of rock radio. In a dubious attempt to legitimize 
this claim, the rock press has accorded a soapbox to one of its 
fiercest enemies, Fred Durst. "Tool's probably the best band on the 
planet. They're too good. They know something that the rest of the 
world doesn't know," goes the oft-repeated (most recently in the 
current Spin cover story about the band) quote from an MTV news 
interview with the Limp Bizkit frontman. Given the source, that's a 
decidedly half-ass compliment; listen to the detuned, Undertow-style 
rantings of Deftones, System of a Down, or Korn themselves to get a 
better grasp of Tool's towering influence on new metal.
	Unlike their Lollapalooza peers, Tool are not yet ready to 
leave all the heaviness to the kids. There is no outright concessions 
to new-metal radio on Lateralus, but "Ticks and Leeches" will surely 
be a favorite among the Korn kiddies. It's the fastest, angriest, and 
most literal song on the album. "Suck and suck/Suckin' up all you 
can/Suckin' up all you can suck," Keenan spits out at the beginning, 
sounding not unlike Korn's Jonathan Davis at his most feral. It's 
hard not to take the song as a dig at the band's record company, a la 
the similarly themed Nine Inch Nails oldie "Suck," from Trent 
Reznor's infamous anti-label screed Broken (Interscope). "Is this 
what you had in mind?/'Cause this is what you're getting," rages 
Keenan during the chorus. As the band thrash things up at the end of 
the song, he has one last thing to say to his unidentified 
nemesis: "I hope you choke."
	That line, you might notice, is a direct quote from the most 
celebrated of all contemporary prog masterpieces, Radiohead's OK 
Computer (Capitol) - and it couldn't be more fitting. American metal 
is filled with bands trying to make a heavier version of OK Computer 
these days, but Tool are the only one with enough nerve to emulate 
Radiohead's business strategy as well. Security around Lateralus has 
been even tighter than what surrounded Kid A  (Capitol), and Tool's 
reverse promotion tactics seem to have generated just as much 
rapturous expectation as the similar campaign for Radiohead's blips 
and bleeps did last fall. The band have lightened up on their usual 
interview embargo (along with Spin, you'll also find them on the 
cover of the current Guitar World), but image control remains very 
much a part of the Tool agenda.
	Of course, Keenan sings "I hope you choke" with a hell of a 
lot more bile than Thom Yorke could ever muster, and Tool certainly 
don't equate staying out of the spotlight with giving up the rock, as 
Radiohead have. But they do employ a similar bevy of prog parlor 
tricks on the new disc, including at least one static between-song 
segue ("Mantra") that floats by inconsequentially enough to have fit 
it on Kid A. And the excitement does slow down once the nine-minute-
plus title track kicks in: Keenan's voice is suddenly obscured 
beneath a layer of effects, and the band start groving on each riff 
about twice as long as they had been before. That's followed by the 
hippie-ish "Disposition," a pretty little ditty about watching the 
weather change with congas and everything.
	But Tool are no strangers to excess, and your average dope-
smoking teen will probably dig the trippy stuff at the end of 
Lateralus as much as the mind-bending math rock that begins the disc. 
Fans will no doubt love the obligatory disturbing sound collage that 
ends the disc too. That's because Tool, like Radiohead, are that 
special kind of giant cult band who thrill fans by maintaining a 
secret code of weirdness even as they continue to forge ahead with 
their art. They may not trust the mainstream, but the mainstream is 
lucky to have them around. 

Posted to t.d.n: 05/12/01 10:15:56