Ah, Tool! Poster children of modern metal that is still music and not, well, nu metal. The thinking man’s metal band. “Grinding post-Jane’s Addiction heavy metal”. Do they live up to all that hype on what is considered their best album to date? Yes and no. It’s a great album, no question, but there are some elements which it could have done without.
The first 20 seconds define the album. It’s heavy, broodingly angry, tribal and primal, as are the emotions behind the lyrics. The non-rhyming and uneven phrasing of the lyrics is translated extremely well by the band into music. It works especially well in the meditative mood of ‘Parabol’. The downside is that on first hearing, some of the vocal melodies sound contrived, and there is a distinct lack of vocal ‘hooks’ that you want to hear again and again. ‘Schism’ would be completely unlistenable had it not been for the bass hook. No wait, it is unlistenable despite the bass hook. Listen to it only if you are a lyric nerd, or if you have a crush on Keenan. By comparison, ‘Parabola’ has brilliantly resolved vocal melodies, and the song as a whole is Tool at its rockingest, hookiest best. It’s far and away my favourite Tool song, with Keenan’s lyrics carrying things through in a genuinely spiritual vein. This is heavy, soulful, beautiful music.
I love the lyrics too, despite the occasional references to things that only truly anal lyric nerds would care about knowing. They are brought into sharp focus by Maynard James Keenan’s singing. I’ve lost count of the number of voices that nestle within him. He has a wonderful knack for dignifying lyrics, which is supported ably by the rest of the band.
I love Adam Jones’ guitar playing. No wank-tastic shredding here, no siree. He exploits my favorite feature of the electric guitar, which is seldom used in today’s plasticky guitar production….. ambient noise. He adds the sort of atmosphere that couldn’t be provided by synth strings, and is the only modern guitarist I know who uses noise so effectively (the other being John Frusciante). The mixing of the bass is quite flawed, according to me, oscillating between too loud and too soft. Chancellor’s tone though, is interesting and he too manages to make the string noise a part of his sound. I’m also fond of his use of droning open strings, which layer ‘Schism’ with a machine like humming. Finally, we come to Danny Carey (drums), for many the only reason for listening to Tool. What a drummer!! The tribalness of the whole things stands out the most, but there is a lot more going on if you hear closely. I wouldn’t hesitate to call him the most musical of the foursome. Awesome, awesome drumming, especially on ‘Ticks and Leeches’, and ‘Reflection’.
Despite all this high praise, I cannot recommend this album to anyone other than the ardent Tool fan or someone dying to get into new music (such as myself). The album is way too long. The heaviness of the lyrics and the music and the concentration required to hear it leads me to believe that this isn’t the best thing to hear in a single sitting, despite it being intended that way. I don’t see the point in naming the soundscapes preceding certain songs or musical leitmotifs separately, like ‘eon blue apocalypse’ and ‘Mantra’.
Though there are many wonderful songs even after ‘Lateralus’ in the running order, I’d rather listen to them separately when my mood dictates than again and again as a whole, because by the time I reached them, my ears were pretty much fried and choked. As a result, ‘Triad’ and ‘Faaip de Oiad’ make precious little sense and no real impression. In terms of start-to-finish listenability, this is no Fear of a Blank Planet (Porcupine Tree).
If this album were a little shorter and a little more accessible, it would sound extremely right.
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