[~Two minutes in]
After 47 seconds I had to start again.
The mandala about 50 seconds in, this is exactly right. Never forget who the heart of this band is.
I forgot how much I like Maynard’s sense of dynamics and tone.
A little over two minutes in and you know you’re listening to Tool. This is impressive.
They taunt you at 3:33, where you expect everything to explode. This is no mistake, but a portent.
[~Two days in]
Their ability to constantly build without having to peak is unmatched. On my first two listens I felt like the opening (title!) track concealed more than it revealed about the rest of the album. On my third I began to see how much I was missing. That they are this heavy without the typical climax we’ve come to expect is no accident. Perhaps this is more key than cipher. They are shifting the ground of heaviness.
I still don’t like Adam Jones’s solo guitar work. I’m sure it’s brilliant, but it sounds shallow. His rhythmic work, on the other hand, is sheer genius.
Halfway through Pneuma most bands would have let the song fade out, whereas they simply take a detour over a bridge that could be a song in its own right. Also, when Maynard sings “we are born of one breath” it sends chills, especially how he whispers (pneuma means breath, spirit in Greek) “we are born of”. Jones’s extened bend harmonic more than reinforces the Lateralus-like force of this song. I also appreciate how his lyrics have matured. He’s written a modern-day hymn, this is no small feat.
It’s interesting how much I want Invincible to be a climax, à la Parabol/Parabola. Listening to how it builds is amazing. They are masters of texture and displacement. Time signatures overlap, the earth tilts ever so slightly, then suddenly you’re swept up in a groove again. I especially enjoy the heavy-handed wink at the end at the similar ending of Forty Six and 2. Nevertheless, is it wrong to see this album as a child of Lateralus? Perhaps the echos are intentional, as memory serves to allow for a different kind of emphasis… Around nine minutes in I was reminded of how much Carey cares about the sound of every note he plays, which is what ranks him among the gods more than his speed and complexity. And yet…
…I feel like Maynard is more absent than he usually is, the glory of Culling Voices notwithstanding. Yet even here I’d argue it is true: there is no signature Maynard high note on this album. The most obvious place the listener expects it is on the unspoken “me” of “don’t you dare point that at…”. To then dare to hope for it later on in Tempest makes you realize you’ve been taken for a fool. So far this is my only serious critique–not the absent high note, I actually understand precisely why he cannot do that, lest he become too predictable. But to have the song do it for him is a poor substitute. Rather, he just seems less engaged, as brilliant as everything he does on this album is.
They will always be one of the most important bands in my life, on every level. But it’s hard to be passionate about them anymore, for which I feel guilty, however resolute. At some point, however early on it may have been, they became a supergroup, thus, not really a group in any sense I can relate to. I was tempted to see Maynard’s shift vocally as akin to Opeth’s, but realize this is a weak comparison. Rather it’s a shift in focus, away from him. They’re content to let Carey and Jones bear the weight of both structure and intensity.
[~2 weeks in]
I now understand, he gives it to us precisely where I didn’t see it, 2:38 into the title track. I am not saying I am satisfied with this, merely that I see.
On the other hand, it has taken me this long to realize that Maynard is the key for us as fans. Only the drummers are really focusing on Carey, but everyone, drummers included, connect with Maynard. Without him Tool is a an avant-garde instrumental metal band and nothing more. So it may be that this album is a way for me to learn, to listen to who Maynard is. I’ve found myself paying closer attention to him than I ever have, and that is saying a lot. He is showing us the dark side of the mountain.
(In regards to Carey realize that this is the first time they have have ever had a track be nothing more than a drum solo, however brillaint his take on Max Roach’s The Drum Also Waltzes is.)
How did I not see this? His peak is Descending. This has been reinforced with each subsequent listen. He gives us three iterations, each building upon the former. The first lays the foundation, slowly placing each stone. The second almost falls apart at the strain of the shifting mass, the time-signature bending fault lines between Maynard, Carey and Jones. The third pulls everyting back into complete alignment and release, after which follows some of Jones’s best writing.
I have listened to the album twice a day (more on my days off) since its release. It would be foolish to try to document each insight, so a summary must suffice. Each time I read what I wrote above I find I both understand and increasingly disagree with myself. Nevertheless, I am glad I captured those first two days.
This is the only album besides Lateralus that I feel is a perfect, complete whole. As such I cannot rank them, as much as I think the latter is better. Things that are perfect cannot be ranked.
Fans are fools, myself included. We think Maynard’s signature is his hardness, his power. Yet without his fragility, which has been present from the beginning, his power is empty. He is equally beautiful and powerful when his voice is is insecure–when it falters, whispers and fades.