Saturn Ascends: Lateralus Turns 20


Tool – Lateralus

Released May 15th, 2001 on Volcano Records

Produced by David Bottrill and Tool

Peaked at #1 U.S., #16 U.K.


Schism” (#67 U.S.)

Parabola” (#31 U.S. Modern Rock)

Lateralus” (#18 U.S. Modern Rock)

Tool was already a Grammy-winning prog-metal force to be reckoned with by the turn of the 21st Century. Having conquered over grunge rock with two slabs of heaviness that took the language of the alt revolution and made it thrum with weird time signatures, multi-part passages, and theatrical weirdness, the band turned, in the latter years of the 1990s, to having a major fight with their record label. After the fight was over (they were accusing the band of looking at other labels, as I recall), work began on their third album, which would also prove to be their last great album. I’m sure 10,000 Days was good and all, but the time gap left me feeling cold. Lateralus came out in the spring of 2001; I was in Grade 13, in love with someone I thought I’d spend my life with, and looking down the barrel of a future filled with prosperity and stability. When 10,000 Days came out I had graduated into an uncertain world with economic collapse right around the corner, the world was consumed with war and protest, and I was married to a completely different person. Lateralus still reminds me of the days before 9/11, the days before neoliberalism really put the screws to workers in an overt, no-coverup way, before heavy responsibility and worry crowned us all.

It’s prog-metal, sure, but it’s not a cheese-fest like the average Dream Theater album. This is music that rises up out of the mud and still bears all that dirt and those fetid undertones. Maynard’s voice is as hectoring as any of the guitar work and the real redemptive moments of the album are brought about by Adam Jones’ guitar passages. While they anchor a lot of the smoke and turmoil present on the album, they also rise up above it like Great War fighter pilots dogfighting above the stink and death of the cratered no-mans-land. The album contains, in “Ticks and Leeches”, one of Tool’s heaviest moments ever. Potentially the heaviest, but I feel like 10,000 Days took the song and ran with it. It’s been a long while since I listened to that album. Fifteen years or so, I think. It also contains, in “Schism”, one of the unlikeliest Hot 100 singles ever. You have to remember that in the spring of 2001 Clear Channel (sorry, “I Heart Radio” now) was just getting the ball rolling on their obnoxious consolidation of the North American FM market; there were still regional or small-scale chain radio stations that could provide influence over such things, and streaming was far in the future. It was probably the last moment in history that a band like Tool could score such a mainstream hit. Nowadays it wouldn’t be much of an issue for a band like this to make it big through streaming and venues that were fantastical then, but a Billboard hit? Forget about it.


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