TOOL – Lateralus (2001)

TOOL – LATERALUS May 15th, 2001, TOOL released their third full-length album, Lateralus, through Volcano Entertainment. Following up an album as exalted and fawned over as 1996’s Ænima would have had most bands scratching their head in befuddlement as to which direction to turn for the follow up. TOOL, who were seemingly unfazed by such concerns, used the monumental statement made on Ænima, as a springboard to launch their vision into the stratosphere.

Where Ænima took a squeegee to your third eye, Lateralus stuffs you in a deprivation tank, pumps it with hallucinogens and shoots you into space. It’s mind altering music, equal parts crushing, dense, consistently breathtaking, otherworldly, harsh and often wilfully inscrutable.

Nine songs with four instrumental “interludes”, Lateralus packs weight and substance into every crevice of its near 80 minute runtime.

The journey begins with “The Grudge”, a nine minute juggernaut that references Roman mythology, Saturn’s return, and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan is searching for answers on the human experience, on what divides and unites us, on what we can control and what we can’t. Guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey’s near mythical interplay is in strident form here, right out of the gate. Dishing out limb twisting time-signatures and staggering dynamics, often within the same sequence. Their ability to weave more voluminous detail into a single song, than most bands can wring out of an entire album, is staggering.

“Eon Blue Apocalypse” the first of four transitional instrumental pieces follows, and leads us into “The Patient”, A beautiful, slow build. It’s intro and verse, a looping guitar motif resembling the ticking of a clock, over which Chancellor and Carey masterfully add heft and movement. Maynard sounds deflated but defiant as he opines “A groan of tedium escapes me startling the fearful..” he then asks “Is this a test?..” The song masterfully builds towards an emfatic climax before returning to its hypnotic intro cadence, with Maynard telling us he’s “Gonna wait it out”

The second of four transitional instrumentals “Mantra” follows. Which sets the tone for the album’s first single “Schism”. When “Schism” dropped in the spring of 2001, it became Tool’s biggest song to date. It even cracked the Hot 100, a feat the band would not repeat until “Fear Inoculum” in 2019. In both instances, the chart success was a testament to how hotly anticipated a new Tool record was at the time.

Starting out with a beautiful counter-melody which gives way to a stunning, infectious rolling bass riff from Chancellor. The song is propelled by some truly odd time signatures. Starting out in a 12/8 time signature, then changing to a 5/8 and then to a 7/8. These are very unusual time signatures, but they do make the music and the lyrics coexist in a unique way which enhances the experience.

Interlude three “Parabol” leads us into “Parabola” the second single from the album. A ten minute masterpiece. Its first four minutes of atmosphere building and sinister hush, give way to a galvanising adrenaline rush. The song’s chorus is hauntingly emotive as Maynard sings “This body, this body holding me/ Be my reminder here that I am not alone in/

This body, this body holding me/Feeling eternal, all this pain is an illusion…”

Title track “Lateralus” follows. Famously using the Fibonacci sequence to illustrate the symmetry of life. Tool were never ones to shy away from loftier means of self expression.

Fibonacci numbers are a sequence in which the next number is the sum of the previous two. For example: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8

0 + 1 = 1

1 + 1 = 2

1 + 2 = 3

2 + 3 = 5

3 + 5 = 8

The song begins with the lyrics (numbers denote syllable counts):

1 – “Black”

1 – “Then”

2 – “White are”

3 – “All I see”

5 – “In My Infancy”

8 – “Red and yellow then came to be”

5 – “Reaching out to me”

3 – “Let’s me see”

With its use of syllable count in the lyrics, it follows the sequence, and when it reaches 8, it proceeds to go backwards. The song does eventually break the sequence, but there is a reason behind it. Maynard suggests that we continue to expand our minds; Not to live life in a constant fashion but rather, spiral out and try new things. Break the sequence:

“Over Thinking, Over Analyzing,

separates my body from my mind,

withering my intuition,

missing opportunities and I must

feed my will to feel my moment

drawing way outside the lines.”

It’s Keenan imploring us, the listener, to “embrace the random.” Yet again, musically, it’s a slow build, with an extremely satisfying pay off. The band is tight and dexterous and Maynard is at his haunting, emotive best.

There’s too much going on for the uninitiated listener to comprehend in a single sitting. Listening to Lateralus for the first time in 2001 demanded you pay attention. Those of us who did take the time to let its incredible depths unfold, through repeat listening, are left in no doubt that this is one of the true high watermarks of Tool’s career.

Reviewing the album on its release in 2001, Kerrang’s Dave Everley stated “The crux of it is this: Lateralus isn’t just one of the greatest albums you’ll hear this year, it’s one of the greatest albums you’ll hear this lifetime. Tool have just put rock’s shysters and shitkickers to shame with one wave of their collective hand. But then, that’s exactly what we expected all along…..”