Tool is among the rarest breed of bands there is. Only they can have huge gaps between albums, reaching 4, 5, and even 6 years between releases, and come back with an amazing album, sell out shows the world over, and keep their fans loyal. It seems absolutely absurd that any metal fan with half-decent taste would NOT like Tool, as they are the creators of music that holds the same musical power as it does emotional power. Yet before I really discovered Tool, before I even had the chance to let them in my lives and embrace the beautiful music that they make, I passed them by.
It was sixth grade and I was slowly getting into metal, starting with alternative metal acts like System Of A Down and Deftones. I wasn’t really into anything too complex yet. Most of the music I listened to I could count in my head without really thinking about, since almost all of it was in 4/4. I went to visit family and my cousin Tre and I began to discuss metal. His wife Tracy asked, “Have you heard the new Tool?”, and me, being the naïve kid I was, said “No, what’s it called?” The kicker? I thought it was a literal tool; something you used to help you do work around the house. So I was shocked when he brought me a copy of 10,000 Days so I could listen to it, and was confused. Then I realized the band was called Tool, and that I was an idiot.
I listened to ‘Vicarious’ and ‘Jambi’, and I didn’t like what I heard. The rhythms contained in this song were not normal, seemingly out of time with one another. The instruments all seemed to be doing different things, which made it even more difficult to decipher. During the middle section of ‘Jambi’, I had to press the pause button and wonder: what are these guys doing? I had never been introduced to something so outer-worldy before, since most of my friends listened to terrible pop music, and even the heavy metal kids didn’t go really heavy into stuff like, say, The Faceless or Nile. After those first two songs, and listening to the beginning of ‘Wings For Marie’, I I had to stop. I went back to my System Of A Down and didn’t revisit Tool for a good year and a half, at the least.
The turning point for me came around the middle of 8th grade. I was talking with my friend, who had just come back from a Tool concert in Miami, telling me how amazing the show was, using words like “laser light show, amazing imagery,” etc. He asked if I had ever heard of Tool, and I replied with a, “Yeah, they’re not good.” He was appalled. He asked, “Why do you say that?” I described my situation to him, and then he said what I still thank him for saying today: “You know, you like Dream Theater and Rush, and THEY have odd-meter songs. Try Tool again. Every band deserves two listens; one to introduce themselves to the listener, and one to make the listener remember them.” I couldn’t refute that, so I asked which album he recommended. His response was Lateralus. So that night I bought their CD, imported it onto iTunes, and listened, after Google-searching the lyrics. It remains one of the best things I have ever done in my entire life.
To this day every time I put on ‘The Grudge’ and hear the sound of an elevator ascending to a higher level, I feel as if it were taking me along, to the musical heights that Tool have reached in their extensive career. This album is THE album for me. It got me into so much music that I would have never experienced by myself. Danny, Maynard, Adam and Justin helped me bridge the gap between alternative metal and progressive music, showing me that I could listen to someone with a voice suited for alternative music and still be challenged with song structure. Lateralus is also the album that planted my seed for music theory. After this album, I dove deep into the various theories of polyrhythms, odd-time signatures, playing against the beat instead of with it. Mostly, as a musician, it helped me think outside of the box, challenge myself, and make time something that can be shifted and isn’t so absolute. It made my playing a lot less linear, which I think helped me gain some chops on the kit.
This album also has two of my top five favorite songs the band has ever written. ‘Ticks & Leeches’ is still a song that gives me a sense of nostalgia every time I hear it. The drum beat that comes in is also a personal favorite of Danny Carey, almost as sort of an ostinato pattern on the toms. But the song that really shines to me is ‘Disposition’. From the eerie, atmospheric bass line that opens the song to the slight, soft picking of Adam on his guitar, this song is perfect from start to finish. And when Danny comes in on the tablas, followed shortly by Maynard singing “Watch the weather change…”, goosebumps develop on my skin. It’s amazing what four guys could do with such a simple song.
Naturally, while writing this piece, I am listening to Lateralus from start to finish. It is a beautiful piece of art. I can listen to this album a million times and never get tired of hearing the same buildups, the same guitar breaks, the same vocal lines over and over. It is the definition of a timeless album. I want you, reading this, to do yourself two favors. First, if you were ever in my position, where you gave up on an album because you couldn’t get into it or it “wasn’t your thing”, stop. Go revisit it. What you find may surprise you, especially after a few months or years. Hopefully, that album you revisit will have the same effect on you as it did me. And second, go pick this album up ASAP. It is one album every metal fan must own before they slip into the unknown, irons raised and ashes spread.