Through the Third Eye; Part 4 (Lateralus)

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So this is part 4 of my series of articles that cover the most awesome set of musicians I’ve ever stumbled upon and while I have been escaping from writing this article just because of the subject this particular article covers, I’ve never been more sure to explore. Keeping that in mind and opening my Third Eye (Ha! title reference of course!) I need to tell you all that this article would be more about lateral thinking, something that is expressed by the title of Tool’s 2001 album ‘Lateralus’ (considered one of the greatest pieces of music released in the 2000s). Though the title does also refer to Vastus lateralis, a human leg muscle (don’t ask why so) we’ll assume it’s more about opening oneself to new possibilities, shedding old skin, forgetting the pain we’ve experienced and moving towards a more enlightened and self-conscious level (something that combines the previous tool albums). Tool has already been called the biggest cult band in the world and it was this album that raised the bar for musicians throughout the world. I believe the entire album can be summarized by saying “It is time to think outside the box, time to push the boundaries”. Let’s begin.

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 (The album art by Alex Grey taken from here)

Okay first things first, the album name is pronounced somewhat like “ladder-Alice”, so, yeah, there you go (have fun showing off your expanded vocabulary). The other thing to resolve is if you own the CD (most won’t, I know), the booklet is indeed different layers (translucent and overlapping) depicting the human body and yes the brain matter has the word “GOD” hidden in it, the artwork was provided by Alex Grey (who happens to be awesome, check out his art here). ‘Lateralus’ explores more progressive rock, art rock and progressive metal territories than alternative metal (which is what the band was earlier defined as).

Keep in mind, this is an art of an album and has a few fan theories associated with it (like with most Tool releases), it’s highly recommended to listen to the entire album in a single stretch (that is 78 minutes and 51 seconds of human time) in either the official track listing or as the listing I will mention later. I also recommend you to listen clearly to each song (while enjoying it to the fullest) and derive your own interpretations using the lyrics. Since most Tool songs are layered with multiple metaphorical meanings, I’d love to have varying opinions in the comments. So, wasting no more time let’s (truly) start this article.

The album opens with ‘The Grudge’ which is about “giving up”. Don’t get me wrong because only after you’ve emptied your cup (hence given up on preconceived notions) will you be able to move on. The song also refers to Saturn a lot, after hours of ‘research’ I found that Saturn, the Greek god wanted to retain his control over the world and wanted to remain the king, in this pursuit he ended up killing all other gods except Zeus, who eventually killed him. So the lines “Saturn ascends, comes round again, Saturn ascends, the one the ten, ignorant to the damage done” make sense to the fact that it was indeed Saturn’s ignorance that led to his demise which is sort of expressed through the bridge line “Defining, Confining, Controlling, and we’re sinking deeper”. ‘The Grudge’ also has one of the most beautiful lyrics I’ve ever come across, like:

“Give away the stone. Let the oceans take and trans-mutate this cold and fated anchor.
Give away the stone. Let the waters kiss and trans-mutate these leaden grudges into gold.”

After “giving up” on past misconceptions one often attains a state of rest, the next song i.e. ‘Eon Blue Apocalypse’ is a rendition of that calm. Wiki states that ‘Eon Blue Apocalypse’ is about guitarist Adam Jones’ Great Dane named Eon, who died from bone cancer. This fact also leads one to believe that Eon Blue Apocalypse = Long Serene End, as in a slow and calm death that Eon experienced. The next song ‘The Patient’ is one which I never really listened to much, since well, because of no reason as such. But since I’d been planning on writing this article for months now, I gathered the nerve and listened to the entire song finally. Okay let me say that this song is loved by Tool fans throughout the world and I now know why. In its basic skeletal form it’s about hanging on to the decisions you’ve made, the paths you’ve chosen in life and (not ignoring but) not paying much attention to criticisms and in the end “Be Patient” and remember that a journey is not about the rewards you receive but the journey itself because quitting is easy, it’s the struggle that requires strength.

Moving on, the next song ‘Mantra’ is the sound of lead singer Maynard James Keenan squeezing his Siamese cat (reasons behind this is still unknown). Okay, the next track ‘Schism’ is the track that won Tool its second Grammy award for Best Metal Performance in 2002. It’s also the prime example of how the band uses complex time signatures (time signatures you ask? Please read about them and if you play a musical instrument it’s gonna bother you a lot if you don’t know what they are), ‘Schism’ alters meter 47 times (that is A LOT, believe me). It features a distinct (read kick-ass) bass line that follows throughout the song. The song focuses on separation and is pretty simple to understand but the fact that most Tool songs are highly layered with metaphors is what intrigues me the most. It’s so simple yet so complicated, so disturbing yet so beautiful (read the lyrics here).

Next on the album is ‘Parabol’ the first part of an epic two-part leviathan. ‘Parabol’ is followed by ‘Parabola’ and in its entirety the songs reach up to 9 minutes (still not the longest Tool songs). This is where according to me the album picks up on the “epiphany” section of the album. Both the songs are about realizing that we are all part of a bigger conscience and that each and every one is unique in their own sense. After all “We are eternal, All this pain is an illusion”. Since the album revolves around themes of reconciliation and lateral thinking ‘Parabol’ is a prelude to a state of ‘Parabola’ (the highest form of reconciliation and understanding one can achieve also it’s the shape resulting from two people touching each other’s toes while lying down). The next track is the drum heavy ‘Ticks & Leeches’ which is more directed towards “blood sucking heretics” (record companies with profit as their only motive). The track has one of the most awesome intros as drummer Danny Carey goes all out on his kit, also the track is pretty rarely performed live because it takes a big toll on Maynard’s angelic voice. The song somewhat implies that after all the ‘blood sucking’ heretics will remain heretics who eventually get the deserved punishment. But it also reminds me of Ang Lee’s Hulk, when towards the end Bruce Banner (as Hulk) yells to his father “You think you can take it? Take it! Take it all!”Passing all his gamma radiation to his father in the process, which eventually kills Banner Sr.

‘Ticks & Leeches’ lead to the title track ‘Lateralus’, a 9 minute epic that is so awesome I can’t really explain, possibly one of the main reasons I never wanted to write this article in the first place fearing it won’t live up to the legacy this song, especially this album has. Well, to begin I’ll write some lyrics first;

Black. Then. White are. All I see. In my infancy. Red and yellow then came to be. Reaching out to me. Lets me see”

Witness something weird? Well those familiar with college mathematics might deduce that the lyrics follow a pattern. Okay, I’ll tell you, the syllables of the lyrics follow the Fibonacci sequence (Find out what it is here) in an ascending and descending order. Well to be honest, the complete track spirals in and out before coming to one of the best ends a song can have. But then, this is no ordinary song. ‘Lateralus’ is about human desire to explore and to expand for more knowledge and a deeper understanding of everything. Though yes one can say the way the colors are mentioned, the song is about an LSD trip which only makes the song (and the album) even more interesting. Also the track shifts time signatures from 9/8 to 8/8 to 7/8 and was initially named 9-8-7, 987 happens to be the 16th number in the Fibonacci sequence (yeah, awesome right?). Not to forget the beautiful harmony between guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor.

After the epic nature of the title track we approach ‘Disposition’ (it’s so awesome that it’s my alarm tune), a track that has only three sentences worth of lyrics but Tool still turns it into an epic considering the fact that drummer Danny Carey leaves his kit and plays tabla on this track. The beautiful track is (most probably) about two friends/companions seeking to reconnect and in that moment one of them is thinking about his friend to “mention something, anything and watch the weather change” implying a change in attitudes once their problems and feelings are expressed. ‘Disposition’ leads (literally) to ‘Reflection’ which one of the best bass on the album along with a very ‘Rajasthan-y’ feel. Bassist Justin Chancellor is also the guy who provides most atmospheric sounds in Tool songs but this is just grand, the level to which the drone-ish humming elevates and lingers throughout is plain awesome. The track may stand for a “true calling” emotion as it mentions the fact the Earth bleeds life into us just like a selfless mother and (of course) we need to save her before it’s late. It may also be about giving up stubbornness that humans harbor inherently and move towards a more enlightened path.

‘Reflection’ leads (again literally) to ‘Triad’ which is an instrumental but almost acts as an explosion of life that is achieved after the realization experienced in ‘Reflection’. Needless to say that the song features the awesome musical abilities the band has. The tracks ‘Disposition’, ‘Reflection’ and ‘Triad’ were initially meant to be released as a single song (reaching a total of 24 minutes and 33 seconds) but were never released as one. Still to treat it as one song is pretty easy, it starts with “opening up” of the self which leads to a realization finally leading to an explosion of emotions and life. The last track on the album is ‘Faaip de Oiad’ (Enochian for “Voice of God”) is a hoax call made to the radio show Coast to Coast AM, it’s pretty funny (listen to it with lyrics).

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Okay, true business time, the album has been covered, now is the time to discuss the fan theories relating to the album. Tool literally rose to cult status with the universal acclaim that ‘Lateralus’ received and hence the theories emerged and Tool fans have come up with various theories relating to other Tool albums as well. Well one of them is that the entire album can be indeed arranged in a different manner to sound like an entirely different album with each song syncing to the next (which is not so rare if you’re aware of Pink Floyd), but what is amazing is that the tracks have to arranged such that the sum of two consequent tracks is 13, hence three different tack listings appear differing from the official track listing (read Audiophile27’s comment here) called “The Fibonacci Sequence”, “The Holy Gift” and “The Lateralus Prophecy”. The album seems to construct different spirals in itself when played in different ways (don’t know how, I tried making a graph but lost all concentration : p) and somehow even achieves the Golden ratio and Golden Spiral.

Well there you have it, ‘Lateralus’ has been finally conquered. It was tough at first to write this but then, it had to be done. This is a life changing album by a life changing artist and I’ve grown into a completely different being by just listening to this entire album everyday and reading between the lines and interpreting the songs. So, moving on, I’ll cover their last album before the current hiatus i.e. 10,000 days in my next article.

Till then, stay curious, think for yourself, and keep that head banging!!!

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