Five years in the making, 10,000 Days is the fourth official album release for Tool, a band who are nothing short of a law unto themselves. The follow up to 2001’s Lateralus was never going to be an easy album to assemble, but this does not seem to have been too much of an issue for a quartet who thrive on the deconstruction of time signatures, preconceptions and musical definitions in the process of creating pioneering progressive rock.
10,000 days is a phenomenal package – not just musically, for the visual contribution comes once again from the mind of esoteric artist Alex Gray whose psychedelic visions are viewable in three dimensions through a pair of supplied stereoscopic lenses.
Vicarious – a song attacking media sensationalism and its fixation on tragedy and disaster as front-page news – sets a defiant standard, illustrating that Tool have drawn even deeper from the well of creativity that birthed their previous efforts.
Starting with a an echo-laden bass riff, supplemented only by sparse but piercing bells, Maynard James Keenan allows his band to build around him for multiple minutes, while the storm gathers and then breaks at his near whispered signal: “We all feed on tragedy / It’s like blood to a vampire.” It then climaxes in a rapidly increasing blizzard of riffage that stops dead for but a brief second to make way for the off-kilter, muted menace of Jambi.
Atop a haunting, swirling soundscape of rumbling thunder and pouring rain Wings For Marie and the subsequent title track see Keenan re-addressing a common lyrical theme: the death of his mother, who was wheelchair bound by disease for almost 27 years, or around the number of days in the album title.
Baring heartfelt pain and grief Keenan is still scathing toward his Southern Baptist roots, but is much less cynical than on previous dealings with the topic: “Set as I am in my ways and my arrogance / Burden of proof tossed upon non-believers / You were my witness, my eyes, my evidence / Judith Marie, unconditional one.”
This is not the venomous attack that took shape in A Perfect Circle‘s early days as Judith, with vocal chords being shredded in fury. Instead, Wings is mellow and brooding, the sound of a man many miles along the path of grief, exorcising his sorrow in a tribute to his mother over a truly progressive wall of textured sound.
If anger over the loss of a loved one is finally dissipating from his veins, Keenan is refashioning a political axe he first began to grind when guesting on Rage Against The Machine‘s debut album almost 15 years ago. His nation’s foreign policy, past Presidential consumption of marijuana and a lament on the state of global warfare all feature in the subsequent slices of exquisitely crafted compositions.
Right in Two is perhaps the most philosophical offering here: “Angels on the sidelines baffled and confused / Father blessed them all with reason and this is what they choose / Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground.” Keenan’s fabled chanting is supplemented by swirling feedback and Danny Carey’s skilled tabla rhythms before the other half of this truly unique outfit – guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor – slam into the mix with all the force of a bullet searing through flesh.
The true genius of Tool is their ability to so precisely construct a sound as to make it inimitable. In addition, on 10,000 Days Keenan has made his lyrics less abstract, more accessible and direct – letting eloquence replace some of the bitter rage of earlier works – while Adam Jones, Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor have ensured that what is lacking in vocal abrasion is hammered home with devastating clarity by the “biggest” sounding three-piece you are likely to hear.