Arguably the most eagerly awaited rock album of the year - certainly on American shores - Tool's third album proper arrives, as one would expect, bound in cryptic packaging. Definitely no band shots allowed.
Opening track 'The Grudge' quickly reassures that all is as it ever was Tool's planet, melody deftly mingled with sheer power, bass and almost tribal percussion driving the track along, lyrics oblique and disguised in frontman Maynard James Keenan's almost messianic vocals.
The two instrumentals, 'Eon Blue Apocalypse' and 'Mantra', are far from superfluous, providing an ominous bridge to what might lie ahead, keeping the tension to a maximum.
The jazzy cover 'Schism' attempts to throw up is cast off for a passage of sheer brute force that grips like a vice. Layer upon layer of guitar overwhelms as Keenan repeats over and over, "I know where the pieces fit".
The funereal dirge of 'Parabol', the closest track on the album to Keenan's work with A Perfect Circle, gives way to the explosive 'Parabola', with its almost choral vocal crescendos and the repeated lyrical motif, "This body holding me/Is my reminder here that I am not alone".
Closing track 'Faaip De Oiad' builds up a howling mass of static noises, percussion and a gradually more deranged voice before suddenly, like a taut string snapping, ending. Period.
As an album, 'Lateralus' succeeds because it blends the visceral power of the early Tool with the densely layered taughtness of 1996's 'Aenima'. Just when the sheer brute force has dragged you in, the band let go, like a spring uncoiled, before reapplying the same ferocious stranglehold as before.
Never a band to go for the easy option, Tool stand alone as an example of musicianship triumphing over sheer brute force in this world of the quick-fix nu-metal chorus. It is dense, it is long, it is complicated. It is also a magnificent triumph of artistry over blind anger. "Push the envelope" Keenan cries on the title track. His band do just that time and time again.