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Tool
Lateralus
label: bmg / volcano / pavement
released: 05.15.01
our score: 4.0 out of 5.0

Delving Deep Into the Entrails
by: matt halverson

Try listening to Lateralus - the third album from prog-rock boogey men Tool - in the dark. Go on, I dare you. If you make it through the first two songs of its chaotic dementia without running for the lights, you're a stronger person than me. The hordes of recent shock rock wannabes dress in black and paint their faces with blood just to get the Christian Coalition's goat. Tool does it because, well, it just comes naturally.

Of course, there's something to be said for intentionally scaring yourself silly. For the same reason The Exorcist is fun to watch, Lateralus is exciting to listen to. The song names alone ("Ticks and Leeches," "Eon Blue Apocalypse," "Faaip De Oiad") offer a taste of the slightly disturbed thinking that went in to making it, but they can't really prepare you for its disorienting swirl of drums, cult-like chanting and otherworldly guitars.

In even the scariest horror film, there's always at least a couple moments of respite to let you catch your breath. On Lateralus, those breaks come in the form of short tracks filled with somber machine-like wailing. "Parabol" draws you into a comfortable womb of calm, as frontman Maynard James Keenan (fresh off his work with his side project, A Perfect Circle) sings almost lullaby-like. But just as everything begins to feel safe, an extended scream of feedback disturbs the quiet and "Parabol" morphs into the searing "Parabola" without missing a beat.

As one song fades into another, Lateralus begins to feel like one continuous neurotic jam session, with songs evolving, mutating and recreating themselves in slightly different forms. Not unlike flipping the pages of the album's cover art to "dissect" the two-dimensional man, peeling away the layers of Lateralus reveals fascinating, yet disgusting innards we didn't really want to believe were there. And at nearly 80 minutes, the album takes its time delving deep into the entrails. The trilogy of "Disposition," "Reflection" and "Triad" alone clocks in at a whopping 25 minutes of constant guitar fuzz and science fiction sound effects. Listen closely, though, and despite its apparent chaos, each note is exactly where it should be.

Whether the artfully concocted insanity is intentional or not, there is no disputing that Keenan is one messed up son of a bitch. Come to think of it, every member of Tool could use a psyche evaluation. Guitarist Adam Jones was the mastermind behind the band's four stop-action videos of human-cloning experiments gone wrong. But of the four of them, Keenan should be the first in line at the straightjacket tailor. Don't forget, though, that some of the craziest artists in history gave us some of the most memorable art. Van Gogh cut off his own ear and sent it to a lover. It's with that kind of devotion that Keenan throws himself into every syllable of every thing he sings. Even his disarming whispers in "Schism" quiver with tension and warn of the inevitable screams to follow.

The line between scary and ham-handed cheese is precariously thin, as we've been reminded over and over by the countless horror movies that clog cineplexes. By the third installment of Friday the Thirteenth, the fear-factor had long since been diluted. But Lateralus proves that Tool still know how to crawl into your brain and raise the hairs on your neck - whether the lights are on or not.