n the way to the Indianapolis Verizon Music Center in the summer of 2001, my excitement was palpable but reserved. My buddy Sander played Ænima while we gabbed on about how I discovered Tool through A Perfect Circle and he the other way. Meshuggah was opening, but we had no interest. Instead, fifteen minutes before Tool were to come onstage, we queued up, and after a lax security check, we were in. My heart pounded. Ten minutes passed until the lights faded and a sinister chanting came through the speakers. “The Grudge” began my concert experience and I remained untouchable to the world.
Except for the beer.
This drunk, fat fuck of a redneck thought a Tool concert would be the best time for a Michelob baptism, dousing himself and about three others in it. He ended up being a slight inconvenience the rest of the evening, but there was a good two minutes where I wanted to walk over, shake him, and say: “You buffoon, don’t you know what this song is? This is ‘Reflection,’ it’s talking about getting rid of the ego by using the myth of Narcissus. Don’t you get it? Echo and Narcissus are one! You’re watching yourself pine away!” I didn’t because I thought he was a blip, an aberration among fans. Most of us understood the otherworldly genius of Keenan, Carey, Jones, and Chancellor. Most of us stood resolute and, more importantly, serious in our fidelity.
For the Tool fan, absence doesn’t just make the heart grow fonder—it refreshes their raison d’être. It’s been five years since people realigned their chakras and took a crash course in Greek mythology on Lateralus, and a whopping ten since they discovered Bill Hicks and railed against Jesus on Ænima. Being a Tool fan is as much about the fandom itself as it is the music, for they consider themselves a serious army with a serious credo. Even when the generals don’t bother to innovate, the army is faithful. Even when the generals’ ideas are bullshit, the army will fully consider their merits. How does the band marshal such sycophancy in their fans? Simple: By making them think those years away were spent actually improving the band’s craft.
It’s not true, of course. “Vicarious” is nothing more than “Stinkfist” revisited: on both cuts, Keenan essentially sings about schadenfreude and desensitization. The only difference is that “Vicarious” does so with juvenile imagination:
Stare like a junkieDeep. Carey, Jones, and Chancellor still use the same instrumental leitmotif where they syncopate according to Carey’s drum pattern for a while, Jones breaks off to do a solo, then they reform for another syncopation of a different pattern. Throw in some breaks here and there and you have a seven-minute metal glut causing multiple Mall Gawth hard-ons across the country. Age that song with five years of teases, false leaks, and Internet rumors, though? Those lines are damn near religious.
Into the TV
Stare like a zombie
While the mother holds her child
Watches him die
Hands in the sky
Why oh why
Because I need to watch things die
From a distance
Such an aging process can even make songs that are literally empty into multitextual and complex creations. “Viginti Tres” (apparently just naming it “Twenty Three” doesn’t have the same ring to it) is the requisite touch of ambient wank one comes to expect from the band—it’s nothing but white noise distorted and amplified. Fans will tell you that you just don’t “get it,” just as in the 70s, King Crimson fans would have said the same about a five-minute recording of Robert Fripp pissing in a cup. Today they call it “Progressive,” which means they’re focusing on the artistic goal (“enlightenment,” “spirituality,” “smoking out”), not necessarily the means. But just because they tell you it’ll grow flowers doesn’t mean they’re not selling you shit.
Besides, “Progressive” doesn’t mean clocking in at over seven minutes no matter what. It doesn’t mean hitting every goddamn skin, tom-tom, and cowbell on your drum set. Being “Progressive” doesn’t justify an album cover that looks like a stoner stumbled upon a documentary on Mayan civilization. I’m not sure, but I think “Progressive” is about growth and change. I think it’s about not being trapped in your own little universe where Everything You Say Matters.
Keenan gave an interview when Lateralus was released in which he admitted the great pressure of a third album, saying that it was sink-or-swim for musicians like T. Rex and The Smashing Pumpkins. But if you take a look at Tool’s closest ilk—Godsmack, Staind, Disturbed—the need for change, for innovation, the argument of pressure pretty much falls flat. This album will once again be dissected and discussed by fans, chewed like cud until the next serving comes five years down the line. Fans will attend the tour enraptured by the band’s “high art” and Carey’s use of tabla, standing like I did as members of some mighty battalion. I can only hope some sauced-up redneck shows up to point out the absurdity of it all.
Reviewed by: Ayo Jegede
Reviewed on: 2006-05-02