So I got the album in the post today, its earliness feeling like a reward for those weeks I spent not downloading it. I wanted to hear it first time on the Death Deck, so it could sound good, and with the packaging in my hands. Call me old-fashioned, but some musical events are still special to me.
I got through breakfast and a cup of tea (had to watch the episode of Green Wing I had taped last night), and then to matters at hand. I’m not sure where I stand on the packaging. It’s certainly very nice, and very smart. I dunno though. It’s like, while Tool had always been a really geeky, sorta-Prog band, they had hidden it under that veneer of aesthetic cool. With the stereoscopic lenses attached to the case, any pretence it out of the window.
Anyway, I stuck the CD on. Much like Frances The Mute, this is an album whose opening track sends a message – a message of ‘remember us! Well we’re back. And on steroids!’ The general sound was one of Tool-but-a-bit-different. The elastic basslines and odd rhythms were there, and it had me at once pumped up at its quality and slightly disappointed that so little had changed – much like last album’s ‘The Grudge’.
Déjà vu struck in a very hardcore way throughout listening to this album. I was disappointed back in 2001 when half a decade of development resulted in an album that didn’t really take any leaps forward. I was philosophical when another half-decade yielded similar results.
I had been caught up in the event of the album, rather than just relaxing and listening to the music itself. Much like the Mars Volta albums and Tool’s Lateralus, I know that it will take time to really get the most from the album. So I quit worrying.
And I think Tool quit worrying, too. While the sound as a whole seems to have remained (and let’s be honest, Radiohead has been rocking a consistent sound since 1997. Aphex Twin since at least 1996), there are obviously differences.
First of all, this is most definitely Prog. The last album had a pretty clear Prog implication, but this is all out Krautmetal (yeah, I’ve just created that term). Odd time signatures abound, but in addition to that (it’s not like Dillinger Escape Plan and Coalesce are Prog or anything), the ideas and images are very LSD-inspired. The vocal melodies are also very far removed from traditional Metal.
Combine this with blooming thunderstorm sound effects, a track consisting of a riff backing medical dialogue (I swear I thought I was listening to Queensrÿche it was so concept-y) and a throwaway minute-long song which sounds like Maynard’s trying to go all Sigur Rós – which I wish they had thrown away – and yeah, dorkness abounds.
Much was made in the years prior to release of how the band was influenced by one-time touring partners Meshuggah. I was dreading a clinical trudge through off-kilter monotone riffs and death growls, but my fears proved unfounded.
The only discernable Meshuggah influence to the sound (other than the fact that Tool have always played off-kilter riffs) was that, for long passages, melody was dropped in favour of rhythm. That’s riffs as rhythm, vocals as rhythm – even when a part is as melodic as an up-tempo arpeggio the effect was still a rhythmic one as there was no real melodic development there.
Still, the sound of guitar solos (that are oddly reminiscent of Metallica’s 1996 ‘2×4’) and a looser, jam(ish), overall feel suggest that Tool would rather be a really good rock band than the Saviours of Metal or anything like that.
And once I had relaxed about the whole thing, I was happy with it too. I like the fact that they are developing sounds and atmospheres rather than trying to fill every second with a wall of absolute perfection. I like the fact that while it’s not as modern as Kayo Dot or sunnO))), it doesn’t have to be.
I mainly like the fact that while I do enjoy it, I know I am going to enjoy it more in the months and years to come.