Tool are the ultimate rock band. They sound cool enough for causal fans while still remaining smart enough for critics. They mix testosterone-driven heaviness with sensitivity, to appeal to all tastes. They make videos that are weird enough to scare your parents. They package their CDs in fascinating ways. And as befits their status, they had the customary label struggles (what band doesn’t?) before releasing the huge Lateralus, their first album since 1996. Like all ultimate rock bands, Tool make their fans feel like they’re part of some select group (although since Lateralus debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, that’s obviously not true). No matter what, Tool are your personal secret.
Lateralus is exactly what you’d expect from Tool, which is exactly what you want: meditatively dark. Lead singer Maynard James Keenan sings and screams over the driving guitars of Adam Jones, the gloomy bass of Justin Chancellor, and the pounding drums of Danny Carey. There is nothing revolutionary about Tool’s sound, but that doesn’t matter. Tool are good at what they do, and they know it.
At nearly 80 minutes long, Lateralus asks a lot of its listeners. Songs quite often clock in at over seven minutes (and sometimes, they’re closer to the nine-minute mark). Strangely, though, it works for the band as the songs build and collapse with a great rhythm. The gorgeous companions “Parabol” and “Parabola” play off each other like mirror images. Together, the two songs create a fascinating effect that could nearly go on forever. While still rooted in their traditional penchant for abnormality—such as on “Ticks and Leeches”, with lines like “Workin’ up under my patience like a little tick. Fat little parasite. Suck me dry”—Tool do seek out higher answers. While name-checking the return of Saturn is nothing new (musicians from No Doubt to Goldie have also dealt with this event), “The Grudge” does reveal a certain amount of reflection as Keenan sings “Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down. Justify denials and grip it to the lonesome end”. Maybe they aren’t the deepest lyrics ever written, but at least Tool are looking for more than just what is on the surface.
While Tool are probably not the most progressive nor the most innovative musicians out there, who cares? Tool make music that people like, while they still maintain their own creative freedom. Lateralus doesn’t make things easy for fans, old or new, but it was embraced anyway. Tool are doing something right. You probably already like Tool, or at least you should. They’re one of the few true rock bands left, and we all need to be thankful for that.