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Swing on the Spiral [Lateralus album review] May 8, 2006

Posted by benj in Tool.
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Tool has went through several phases in their career and have made surprising changes regarding their song themes, playing style and song structures. From the more rudimentary (but by no means simple) arrangements (relative to their later releases) of Opiate (1992) and Undertow (1993) to the aggressive tone of 1996’s breakthrough album – Aenima, the band has certainly done a lot of changes in their system. Opiate and Undertow both delved into the spirit of personal struggles against religion and the imperfections of humans. Aenima then came with a more straight-forward (and at times, juvenile) account of the human experience. The underlying themes of the evils of organized religion and existentialism have been well adapted in Tool’s 2001 release – Lateralus.

For almost ten years and counting, Tool continues to reinvent not only its music, but its stands on various issues as well. Aenima contained tracks like the hideously titled (and don’t get me started with the lyrics) “Hooker with a Penis” that seem to have undertones regarding the validity of vengeance. With the new album’s opener – The Grudge, this notion is dispelled in grand fashion. Starting on a very erratic yet structured sound signature, the off-beat and pounding rhythm can either throw you off or get you hooked. The guitar parts are complemented very well by the calculated and precise drum lines of Dan Carrey while Maynard James Keenan’s (the best there is, the best there was and the best there evil will be) powerhouse vocals grab your attention keeps you listening until the end of the more-than-eight-minute-long track. The lyrics are simply… well, exemplary. Gone are the days that MJK was happy to blurt out expletives to make his point. Now, He tactfully picks his words to create a very competent piece of literature as well.

And regarding the theme, “The Grudge” actually encourages people to let go of their grudges. And with this suggestion, people are even threatened with cryptic allusions regarding Saturn’s return (fyi: ‘the return of Saturn’ is a term for the soul-searching period for people between the ages of 25-35. In Greek mythology, Saturn also came back to devour his children). Apparently, the band has gotten enough of holding grudges against people and institutions and this is why they are encouraging people to “give away the stone/ let the oceans take and transmutate (sic) this cold and fated anchor”. Let me remind you that I’ve been only done reviewing the first track of the album. This is how rich the album is. It is hard to put into words the sheer genius that is behind the songs.

The second track is actually an interlude called “Blue Eon Apocalypse”. The song showcases fast plucking with minimal bass licks. This seems to be a perfect pit stop for the listener to really absorb the dynamics of the new Tool sound. It is short but at the same time chaotic.

By the time “The Patient” comes around, the entire song structures in Lateralus would be unveiled. The structure is very much alike to their 1996 single Eulogy. Almost every song has a long (and I mean long) intro. The type would make those teeny-bopping-nu-metal-listening-dreadlocked cabbage patch kids’ brains numb (no pun intended!). “The Patient” starts with very languid yet persistent guitars from Adam Jones and haunting wails from Maynard James Keenan. Due to the innovation and bravado of Tool, it is so easy to be thrown off as a first-time listener. This is very good follow-up to the irregular “The Grudge” since the layering effect by the tight drum lines and the explosive outputs of Chancellor and bassist Justin Chancellor are just overwhelming. This is the first song on the album that dabbles on spirituality and religion. And true enough; the aggressive stance of Tool in the past is no longer evident in this recording. The band has really matured a lot. The song probes into atheism and raises points that deists and Catholics can’t seem to comprehend. “If there were no rewards to reap/ no loving embrace to see me through/ this tedious path chosen here/ I certainly would have walked away/ by now”. Amazingly, Keenan even says, “I must keep reminding my self of this” and that “he might still may” (walk away from his ‘tedious path’) as if to not negate the chances of him embracing religion or at least the idea of a higher being in the future.

From the music down to the lyrics, once again, Tool hits the mark. Just as when as you are beginning to think that you get the entire idea of the album, you are hit with a disturbing wall of noise that seems to have no intention of going away. I am talking about track number four – the baffling “Mantra”. It is nothing more than layered wails that seem to have come from the deepest pits of an unfamiliar territory. It is not an exaggeration to say that in the favorable conditions, this track will scare the hell out of you.

After “Mantra”, the opening strains of the band’s first radio single can be heard. I would like to say this right off the bat, “Schism” is the song I like the least in this album. In this track, Tool follows the same long repetitive intro except that in this song, instead of using the laidback bass work in “The Patient”, the instruments are much more distinct and dynamic. The driving and almost catchy bass line dictates the tempo and mood of the entire track that has been often interpreted as a song about relationships. Actually, the track is about deviance from religion and dabbles on man’s confusion, frustration and nuisance regarding organized worship and theology. It is deep and is top-fodder for the mainstream, yet it is as deep and instrumentally competent as any Tool song. It is unfortunate that some people have just been using phrases such as “Schism is the coolest!” and “Schism rockzzzz!”. This is in my opinion pure blasphemy. Something done intellectually deserves to be appreciated intellectually as well. Oh well, let’s just say not all people are keen and observant enough to actually consider such things.

Track six is the haunting “Parabol” – a sequel to the riff-heavy “Parabola”. The former starts rather slow and is devoid of any flamboyant guitar work, but the whole track segues explosively as “Parabola” starts. You won’t even notice that it has already changed tracks. “Parabola” is the complete antithesis of its predecessor. It has astounding and soaring guitar parts that are wonderfully syncopated by the solid and precise drum lines. Keenan also show his voice’s exceptional range and power as he sings the chorus “we are eternal all this pain is an illusion”. The track is about existentialism and appreciating the fact that one is given a chance to live. Unlike your typical run-of-the-mill rock tracks with soaring guitar parts, this track doesn’t end abruptly; it ends up and gives you a sense of closure – a sense of orderliness even, to the blissful chaos that was cramming your senses earlier in the song.

The next track is the odd child in the album. “Ticks and Leeches” is nowhere close to the other tracks aurally, lyrically and instrumentally. It is almost a complete antithesis to the entire theme of the album. If “The Grudge” had the theme of forgiveness “Schism” had the points of compromise, this track has every ounce of angst that Tool once had – lyrically at least. The track is eight minutes long, but by the start of the fourth minute, the guitars and the drums slow down and Keenan’s singing is reduced to mere whispers. In essence, these could be interpreted as again, Tool’s new stand regarding grudges. The fact that yes, holding these grudges could really wear one out. But again, as just about as you are ready to say that ‘Hey, I understood it”, you are baffled because suddenly, the music picks up and becomes as tenacious as ever. The angst factor seems to have tripled and you’re lost again.

Track nine is the title track and incidentally, second radio-single – Lateralus. From the very first time I listened to this track, I was hooked. The sensibilities of the song was once again patterned after their tried-and-tested formula, but the way the surreal drum beats of Carrey and the cyclic guitar and bass play seems to give the track a transcendental feel. It also doesn’t hurt that the track is about man’s search for meaning and purpose. The lyrics also delve on man’s yearning to see what his future holds and how he pursues these by “embracing his will to feel the rhythm/ to feel connected/ enough to step aside and/ weep like a widow/ feel inspired to/ fathom the power/ to witness the beauty/ and bathe on the fountain”. Clearly, this speaks about joining religion and fooling oneself by believing unproven and baseless claims. Keenan termed this as “swinging on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human”.

In the final verses of the song, Keenan sings with conviction, “with my feet upon the ground/ I move myself between the sounds/ and open wide to suck it in./I feel it move across my skin./ I'm reaching up and reaching out./ I'm reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me./ what ever will bewilder me./ And following our will and wind we may just go where no one's been./ We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been./ Spiral out./ Keep going.”. And he hits it right on the mark. Man indeed follows what captures his fancy. Keenan in the end encourages everyone to trudge a path that would answer one’s questions and would rest one’s spirits. Instead of keeping oneself in box, one must explore and discover things that would enrich and enlighten him.

Track number ten is the ambient "Disposition”. It’s one of the shortest tracks at almost five minutes, but the approach is quite different. Instead of using dynamic patterns with drum shuffles, guitar riffs and bass licks and vocals, Tool opts for a steadier and repetitive effect – establishing the pattern rather than doing anything flashy to impress listener.

The next track in my opinion is one of the most overlooked tracks in the album. “Reflection” seems to be the track that everybody throws in everything and more instead of having one back down or having one or two take the cudgels. The instrument work is flawless and its complementation is beyond belief. Carrey’s tribal tinged drum lines are exceptionally supported by Jones and Chancellor. Keenan’s vocals are wonderfully layered and altered to create a surreal flavor in the track – incidentally, the album’s longest at eleven minutes. Lyrically, it is about self-realization that “(one) must crucify the ego before it’s far too late/ to leave behind this place so negative and blind and cynical/ and you will come to find that we are all one mind”. It is indeed puzzling and it is a challenge to interpret the lyrics. So challenging in fact – that to this day, I have yet to fathom most of the allusions made in the text.

The twelfth track is an almost purely instrumental ditty. But if you pay more attention, you would notice that it is the hybrid of all the drum lines, guitar parts, bass lines and even vocal parts that were in the album! The most obvious of which were “The Grudge(‘s)” persistent drum lines and vocals and “The Patient(‘s)” haunting guitars. Strains of “Ticks and Leeches”, “Schism” and “Parabola” can also be observed.

The album closes with the weird in twisted “Faaip de Oiad” were in only a madman on drums and a dirty and static-noise-laden recording a former worker of Area 51 could be heard. It actually sounds like someone lamenting the extinction of man due to an alien invasion. The enigmatic force that Tool is; they have not only given you a lot of answers to new and old questions, but in accordance to this, they have also issued out a lot more queries for you to ponder upon.

This is why I encourage everybody to really think and meditate on the music if it’s worth it. Intellectual efforts should be appreciated in intellectual ways and not with mindless hee-hawing.

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Comments»

1. mitch - May 8, 2006

wow. very extensive review. 😀

found your page sa stat msg mo sa YM. hehe. will link you up ha? hope you don’t mind.

carry on! 😉

2. lateralus - May 8, 2006

thanks. may nagcclick naman pala ng status na yun. sure. thanks for linking me – ive already linked you up.

3. Tony - May 8, 2006

hi benj, thanks for registering and dropping by PA.org. Obviously, it’s still a work in (slow) progress. I am updating it on my spare time and I am not as talented as other people around. 😀

4. comelecako - May 9, 2006

thanks for dropping by my site, benj. i like your site very much. considering that i’m not a huge basketball fan or tool, i guess that’s saying alot. Personally, i’m into football and tori amos. Anyway, drop by often. maybe we can exchange ideas.


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