Publication: The Oregonian (A & E section)
Date: May, 2001
K. Hurst (firstname.lastname@example.org)
K. Hurst (email@example.com)
page: 59 title: Retooled with a thoughtful fury author: Marty Hughley "And I'm still right here -- giving blood, keeping faith -- I'm still right here," Maynard James Keenan sings on the new Tool album, "Lateralus." The lyric plays off the dual meanings of the song's title, "The Patient," but if it's essentially a pun, it's a resonant one, giving shape to the music's fitful turns from uneasy repose to churning angst. Outside of the specific context of the song, though, you might also read it as a statement of purpose from Keenan, a reassurance offered to fans who may have grown nervous in the five years since the Los Angeles art-metal band's previous release, 1996's double-platinum "Aenima." Much of the cause of delay between the releases was typical of the music business these days. Amid lengthy stretches of touring for "Aenima," there was a contractual dispute between the band and the Volcano record label. Later the band fired and subsequently was sued by manager Ted Gardner, a co-founder of the Lollapalooza tour, where Tool had its first widespread exposure. But while Tool was mired in the Volcano matter, unable to record, the band's dynamic frontman found something else to occupy his time. Keenan teamed up with Billy Howerdel, a former guitar roadie with such bands as Tool and Smashing Pumpkins, to form A Perfect Circle. Based around Howerdel's compositions, this band's music hit hard at times but was generally more ethereal and melodic than Tool's work, showing a more vulnerable side to Keenan's darkly flamboyant persona. Its album "Mer de Noms" was released last May and had sold more than a million copies by October. Despite speculation that A Perfect Circle might eclipse Tool, Keenan has insisted that both groups can coexist. And Tool's return surely has heartened what is one of rock's most ardent followings. "Lateralus" is very much a devotee's kind of album. Nothing about it -- its themes, structures, rhythms, even its melodic motifs -- comes easily to the listener. It's as though the band expects you to work nearly as hard for the payoff as the musicians did for the creation. If A Perfect Circle broadened Keenan's appeal by presenting him amid lighter sonic textures and more familiar song structures, Tool stakes its claim as the place where fans can, and must, follow him through twisting tunnels of obsession. So welcome to the labyrinth. The album opens with "The Grudge," a brooding, mercurial hunk of technocratic heaviosity that encapsulates the complexities of the album as a whole. Whereas unalloyed anger and self-righteousness have long been heavy metal's coin, Keenan and company express a more nuanced and changeable perspective. Accordingly, the music shifts frequently between pounding, vengeful fury, pensive passages of surprising tension and delicacy, and various carefully measured steps in between. It's still evident these guys came together around a shared love of Black Sabbath, but this music moves with the studied gait of King Crimson and Yes, as well as the menacing stomp of Metallica. The minimalist latticework of "Disposition" and the quasi- Arabic flavor of "Reflection" also indicate potentially fruitful future directions. Amid these dense schematics of intricate single-note figures, shifting pulses and glowering riffage, there's less room for a charismatic vocalist than you might expect. Keenan sometimes seems to be fighting his way through the thick sonic atmosphere. Though this material was developed while he was touring with his other band, with him adding lyrics and vocal parts later, the instrumental dominance seems a function of sound mixing as much as of composition. But even if he has to rant and rave amid all that's going on, Keenan is still here, giving metaphorical blood. As proof they're keeping faith with their fans, he and his Tool bandmates also give their heavy music a welcome thoughtfulness.
Posted to t.d.n: 05/28/01 16:56:18