Few bands have a collegiality that matches that of Tool. With the exception of drummer Danny Carey, this is not a band of virtuoso musicians. What separates them from the rest is their united, progressive artistic vision and originality. Danny Carey's drumming is octopus-like, modulating every passage with rhythms I can't begin to understand. Put together with rest of the crew, the opaque instrumentation creates music of endless shades and layers, with time signature changes a supercomputer couldn't crack. There is magic here. Powerful, crunching riffs are foiled often by placid, narcotic passages, generating an album that only rarely "rocks." Instead, it's heavily cerebral, dark, beautiful...and ultimately indefinable. For a band that's selling millions of albums and getting mainstream recognition, they still carry an uncompromising progressive aesthetic.
Ignore those who make the asinine comment that "Tool sold out." All other factors being equal, this is Tool's _least_ commercially viable album. Frankly, I think it's fairly remarkable that they passed off a 7-minute music video ("Schism") onto MTV. (Credit the amusingly surreal video, I guess.) I guess when a band like this becomes popular, the so-called fans dismiss quality for the sake of remaining "hardcore." With lots of 8-minute songs, numerous melody shifts, texturally complex movements, world influences, enigmatic lyrics, this is not an album that can be easily digested. Aenima was complex in its own right, but is was nothing like _this_. I've had Lateralus for almost a year (at the time of this writing), and it remains as arresting as ever. It's so deep, I'm not sure I'll ever see the bottom; it's so high, I might never reach it. (Yes, I like that book.)
And yet in telling you all of this, I've told you nothing. I think the best music is the hardest to describe. Lateralus comfortably lands in that category.
We often hear, in a denigrating tone, "Yeah, that Lateralus is so self-indulgent." Quite. Tool made the album they wanted to make, with commercial considerations thrown out the window. Of course it's self-indulgent -- this isn't commercial pabulum. Clearly, Tool's objective wasn't to make _you_ happy, it was to make _themselves_ happy. This is what separates art from products.
Tool, strangely, managed to produce high art that remains a viable product. We expect mainstream rock to be dominated by bands like Creed, Nickelback, and Staind...not Tool. None of this matters, though. Whether it sells 10 million copies or 10 thousand, great music is great music. We don't need Rolling Stone or MTV to tell us that.
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Lateralus and the corresponding tours would take Tool a step further toward art-rock and progressive rock territory. Rolling Stone wrote in an attempt to summarize the album that "Drums, bass and guitars move in jarring cycles of hyperhowl and ...