Saturday, August 8, 2009

August 8: Tool, "Lateralus"

Artist: Tool
Album: Lateralus
Year: 2001
Label: Volcano

Fusing together heavy, dark metal with a direct and strong groove, and then pushing it to a frenzy of nearly chaotic speed, there is truly no other band in history that even remotely resembles the music of Tool. Tool has never been a band concerned about making "radio friendly" music in any sense of the term. Their songs are rarely under five minutes, and the few that are are usually just over a minute, and these are often the strangest moments of Tool's music. Furthermore, the lyrics are usually rather questionable in content, and the unrelentingly aggressive tone of the music makes the songs far from what a majority of radio stations are looking to play. Yet, the bands' music ranges in style within this overall powerful and confrontational mood. Releasing only four (stellar) albums in their nearly twenty years together, each Tool album is a musical masterpiece, and while they all sound like the same band, each record simultaneously has a very distinctive and individual sound. After nearly five years of litigation with their record label, Tool returned to the music scene and forever changed it with their monumental 2001 record, Lateralus.

It is very challenging to write about Tool, as they are one of a handful of bands whose fans are so fervent and dedicated, that the slightest inaccuracy or misrepresentation is treated as a capital offense. Tool is a band who have created (often unintentionally) a huge amount of lore and myth behind both their music, as well as the band members themselves. Throughout nearly the entire first decade of their career, the members of Tool were very rarely photographed, and interviews were also few and far between. Specifically relating to Lateralus, there is a lengthy theory that the songs on the album are not in the correct order; and if one applies the mathematical theory of a Fibonacci Sequence, there are, in fact, two "spirals" hidden within the music. It is true that the title track, both musically and within the syllables of the lyrics, perfectly follows the Fibonacci Sequence, but applying it to the album as a whole is perhaps something only for the most dedicated fans. Some might say that people who create theories like this have too much time on their hands, but others may see it as a band whose music is so amazing, that the fans find joy in seeking out these possibilities. Truth be told, Lateralus is not a record that can be taken lightly in any sense of the word. The album demands the attention of the listener, and there is constantly new aspects of the music to explore and enjoy.

The music of Tool is unquestionably centered around the brilliant bass playing of Justin Chancellor. The bass is always near the front of the mix, and the manner in which Chancellor plays always brings with it a certain menacing mood or even a sense of impending doom. Guitarist, Adam Jones, is equally as talented, and his pulverizing chords and phenomenal solos keep him amongst the greatest and most original guitarists in history. It is also Jones who is credited as directing most of Tool's music videos, which never fail to be as unconventional and strange as the music itself. When one discusses the most talented living drummers, it is impossible not to bring up Danny Carey. Drumming in unorthodox, often seemingly impossible time signatures, and maintaining breakneck speeds for unfathomable lengths of time, there are truly few drummers who can be mentioned in the same breath. Carey is also very open about his love for geometric drumming patterns, and this is clearly the basis for the aforementioned Fibonacci Sequence. With these three musicians in place, it is no surprise that the music of the band is always of the highest caliber. Perfectly summing up both the album, as well as the band in general, the song, "Parabola" is easily one of the greatest songs the band has ever written. It is heavy, yet amazingly catchy, and it is impossible to NOT "rock out" whilst listening to the song. Similarly, the song "Ticks & Leeches" is by far one of the most heavy and violent songs ever committed to recorded tape. The album ends with "Faaip De Oaid," which is truly one of the most strange and haunting combination of recorded sounds in history. Oh, and for the record, the sound you hear on "Mantra" is, in fact, the slowed down sound of Maynard gently squeezing his cat. From the almost tribal sounds of "Triad" to the tension and release of "Lateralus," Tool prove time and time again that they are, by far, the most intelligent and creative "heavy" band of all time.

Even with the phenomenal musical talents of the band, the final element that makes Tool so amazing is, in many ways, the most important. Tool's singer, Ravenna, Ohio's own Maynard James Keenan (born James Herbert Keenan) is far and away one of the most dynamic and distinctive frontmen of all time. Maynard has one of the most unique voices ever, able to instantly shift from his somewhat warning sing-speak to his mighty yelling as well as his unparalleled high-pitched wail that he presents from time to time. It is often his somewhat soft style of singing that plays in stunning contrast to the music, and it makes the songs of Tool even more superb. Lyrically, Tool's lyrics often appear as dark and angry. However, the reality is that in most cases, Keenan's words encourage the listener to look inside themselves to find truth. His lyrics are also very often filled with somewhat religious, or at least philosophical, undertones, though they are never anything resembling "preachy." Two songs on the album also have very literal meanings, with "Eon Blue Apocalypse" being about Jones' dog, Eon, who passed away from cancer, and "The Grudge" containing references to the book, The Scarlet Letter. The combination of clever, thought provoking lyrics, alongside the unparalleled voice of Maynard James Keenan, the singing in the music of Tool is always just as important as the extraordinary music.

Taking home their second Grammy Award for "Best Metal Performance" for the song "Schism," Tool's 2001 release, Lateralus, further cemented their iconic status in the annuls of music history. Undoubtedly one of the most unique bands to ever record, Tool constantly pushed the boundaries on what could be done musically, from time signatures to melodic structures to lyrical patterns. Though their music is always very serious, the band members themselves are well known for their senses of humor, and often play small jokes on their fans, from silly "announcements" to some of the most memorable awards acceptance speeches ever (read as Chancellor thanked ""my dad for doing my mom" at the 2001 Grammys). Tool's music is always extremely aggressive and the sound created by the musicians-strong of the band is rarely anything short of pulverizing. With Maynard James Keenan's sensational vocal talents on top of the music, every song is a breathtaking musical tour dé force, and this has helped the band gain one of the most dedicated and passionate fan bases of any band in history. Though they seem to only release one album every five years, the new music is always worth the wait, and their 2001 musical gift to the world, Lateralus, is without a doubt one of the greatest musical works ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Schism," "Parabola," and "Lateralus."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In reference to The Scarlet Letter, I would go further and say several songs/song titles seem to reflect the classic literary work. While reading the book one will come across the concepts of "the leech" and "the patient" as well as the aforementioned "grudge" which in turn seem to reflect the same over arcing themes present in many of Keenan's lyrics.