21 Best Metal Albums of the 21st Century... So Far

#12: TOOL – LATERALUS

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lateralus

We recently polled a wide array of musicians, managers, publicists, label reps, and writers from within the world of metal to find out what they thought the 21 Best Metal Albums of the 21st Century So Far have been. Eligible albums were released between January 1, 2000 and April 1, 2009. Each panelist turned in a ballot, with their #1 album worth 21 points, their #2 album worth 20 points, and so on and so forth. The ballots are now in and we’ll be counting down one album a day until we reach #1. Today we present the #12 album, coming in with a total of 139 points…

Tool, Lateralus (Volcano Records, 2001)

Maynard James Keenan – Vocals

Adam Jones – Guitars

Justin Chancellor – Bass

Danny Carey – Drums

Produced by David Bottrill and Tool

I’m sitting in my living room with my B&W speakers cranked through my Krell stereo, listening attentively in complete darkness. I’m STONED. Half a song in and Tool’s Lateralus is every bit as great as I remember it being; dark, rich, lush, creepy, challenging, accessible; Adam Jones’ buttery smooth yet razor-sharp crunchy guitar of “The Grudge” cuts through my chest. Justin Chancellor’s groovy bass-slapping locks in with Dan Carey’s rhythmic, guttural pounding… they all come together in a furious sonic whirlwhind, and then there’s Maynard’s voice letting out a gut-wrenching, soul-destroying, 15-second long scream. Chaos unfolds by the second, yet it’s completely calculated and organized chaos, wrapping together into a neat, pounding, CRUSHING riff that twists your soul and body with every unexpected turn of the music, then it locks into one final chaotic coda and it ends. Is there one more turnaround? Nope. But there’s more madness around the corner. TOOL, motherfuckers, TOOL!

Intellectual and brute all at once, Lateralus is rewarding in every possible way. Aenima had some fantastic songs, but it didn’t have this level of complexity, this level of musical development, this level of Tool finding themselves and their true style, of having a vision and executing it perfectly. Lateralus is the delicate balance struck between a band in their stride and one that hasn’t yet become too comfortable with themselves. It represents the cross from post-grunge/hard-rock/metal into full on art and prog-rock in the band’s career arc, and as such it’s their best record; aren’t those crossing-over records of self-discovery always a band’s best?

Just as Lateralus is the flagship vessel of Tool’s career, it’s the best production and mixing work of David Bottrill’s otherwise somewhat workingman career (Ultraspank, Mudvayne, Godsmack, Staind, etc). New sounds, noises, instruments, swells, bibs and bobs ooze out of every orifice of this record; layers and layers of aural goodness unfold like an onion. There’s not a moment of silence, yet nothing’s so chaotic that every crevice of every sound isn’t perfectly audible and purposeful. This record is so full of nuance it’s ridiculous; it’s like looking through a microscope at something for the first time and being transfixed and fascinated, then switching to a microscope 10x more powerful and being astonished yet again. Repeat. The attention to detail is immaculate! Everything compliments everything else in a perfect, fragile balance of taste.

Content with just pummeling your soul into submission with pure heaviness? Never. Tool do it with subtlety, mood, intense emotion and feeling. To wit, almost half the tracks on this record are ambient or instrumental, complete with the use of Maynard’s voice as an instrument instead of a vehicle to deliver lyrics. These tracks are the perfect breaks between the torrential downpours of furious riffs that assault the senses with every proper “song” on the record. The pacing is perfect; so perfect that Lateralus takes up all but two seconds of the 79-minute capacity of the compact disc.

When the building instrumental section in the middle of “Schism” comes to the epic peak of its monumental build, GOOSEBUMPS! Though Tool’s music is unabashedly intellectual and heady it’s not alienating to those who might not “get” that element of it. That a near-7-minute long song with a betcha-can’t-count-THIS-one whacky time-signature was and still is a rock radio staple speaks to the visceral nature by which people connect with Tool’s music. By all accounts, Lateralus is way too musically complex to be completely understood by everyone who loves it, so clearly there must be something else happening here too.

The audio candy continues, but it’s audio candy with a greater purpose beyond just the sugary deliciousness of it; on Lateralus, Tool figured out how to mix their arty-prog tendencies with their knack for writing fucking great songs, and it’s done through the players’ strengths as writers, not showmen. Jones’ soaring but simple lead guitar of “Parabola” is as fine an example as any, as is the triumphant riffed chorus of “Ticks and Leaches.” Jim Chancellor delivered a doozy on his first record with the band with his distinct, hooky basslines throughout, whether alone or complementing the rest of the band. Maynard bares his soul into the microphone with his finest, most varied vocal performance to date; wails, barks, shout, sings, and gut-wrenching screams in infinitely variable measures. But Lateralus is in many ways the Dan Carey show; Carey’s astonishing performance, well, pretty much fucking EVERYWHERE on this record is positively mesmerizing throughout. There are more “lead drums” on this record than lead anything else, including vocals. Even when Carey is laying in the background he’s still drawing the attention, from tribal drum patterns to straight up head-bangers. Carey’s performance on Lateralus might well be the drum performance of the Century.

If the album could be summed up in one track, it’d fittingly be the title track, buried at number 9 of 13. With it’s unassuming intro, bubbling, building, then bursting into a monstrous riff that in and of itself is worthy of naming the whole album after — it’s the quintessential Tool song. The tom-tom pattering verses, in their out-of-synch time signature from Maynard’s whispered croon and Jones’ polyryhthmic chugs, it all comes together in a sudden but somehow completely natural turnaround. It’s a modern classic, a 10 minute epic with myriad parts that turn around from one to the next seemlessly, finished off by Chancellor’s slidey bass thing (I know you know what I’m talking about!) juxtaposed with Carey’s straight-forward 1-2 beat… these are the orgasmic moments I live for.

By god this is a fucking ALBUM, start to finish, with a beginning a middle and an end. Wherever it is that Jones, Chancellor, Carey and Keenan were when they penned this dark, chaotic, crazy piece of music, it takes you there. It takes me there, anyway. And hopefully this writeup has done that for you.

-VN

Order Lateralus from Amazon!

THE LIST SO FAR:

#13 – Mastodon, Blood Mountain

#14 – System of a Down, Toxicity

#15 – Nachtmystium, Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1

#16 – Machine Head, The Blackening

#17 – Hatebreed, Perseverance

#18 – Lamb of God, New American Gospel

#19 – Mastodon, Remission

#20 – Shadows Fall, The War Within

#21 – Slipknot, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses

THE PANEL OF VOTERS

Chris Adler, Lamb of God

Dan And, Bison B.C.

Ben Apatoff, Apatoff for Destruction/Metal Injection

Jason Bittner, Shadows Fall

Tim Brennan, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment

Freddy Cai, Painkiller Magazine

Ian Christe, Bazillion Points

Reverend David J. Ciancio, Yeah! Management

Betsey Cichoracki, Relapse Records

Paul Conroy, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment

J. Costa, Thy Will Be Done

Dallas Coyle, ex-God Forbid/Coyle Media

Doc Coyle, God Forbid

CT, Rwake

Anso DF, MetalSucks/Hipsters Out of Metal!

Vince Edwards, Metal Blade Records

Charles Elliott, Abysmal Dawn/Nuclear Blast Records

Brian Fair, Shadows Fall

Leo Ferrante, Warner Music Group

D.X. Ferris, author 33 1/3: Reign in Blood/Freelance Journalist

Mike Gitter, Roadrunner Records

Nick Green, Decibel

Matt Grenier, August Burns Red

Anthony Guzzardo, Earache Records

Kevin Hufnagel, Dysrhythmia

Mark Hunter, Chimaira

Steve Joh, Century Media

EJ Johantgen, Prosthetic Records

Kim Kelly, Metal Injection/Hails & Horns/Freelance Journalist

Josh “The J” Key, Psychostick

Jason Lekberg, Epic Records

Eyal Levi, Daath

Bob Lugowe, Relapse Records

Matt McChesney, The Autumn Offering

Jake McReynolds, Psychostick

Marc Meltzer, The Syndicate

Josh Middleton, Sylosis

Matt Moore, Rumpelstiltskin Grinder

Vince Neilstein, MetalSucks

Sammy O’Hagar, MetalSucks

Anton OyVey, MetalSucks/Bacon Jew

Rob Pasbani, Metal Injection

Alex Preiss, Psychostick

Carlos Ramirez, NoiseCreep/Universal Music Group

Brian Rocha, Fresno Media USA

Jeremy Rosen, Roadrunner Records

Axl Rosenberg, MetalSucks

Satan Rosenbloom, MetalSucks/Cerebral Metalhead

David Bee Roth, MetalSucks

Jason Rudolph, Heavy Hitter, Inc.

Amy Sciarretto, Roadrunner Records/NoiseCreep

Carl Severson, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment

Gary Suarez, MetalSucks/No Yoko No/Brainwashed

Geoff Summers, The End Records/Crustcake

Bram Teitelman, The Syndicate/Metal Insider

Alisha Turull, Heavy Hitter, Inc.

Christopher R. Weingarten, 1000TimesYes/Freelance Journalist

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