I came to worship at the altar of Metal in my teenage years, like many a sulky lad, and have been sacrificing goats there ever since. However, while I’ve long since grown out of appreciating heavy metal solely for its admittedly often juvenile take on rebellion and its anthems of grinding hatred, and have abandoned such adolescent antagonisms as throwing the horns of rock at elderly relatives and answering the phone in a satanic growl (“Dark Lord of rAAWk speaking”), I’ve found that good metal offers a musical complexity found otherwise only in classical music or jazz. There's an intricate textural layering process in the best metal comparable to, say, the techniques Monteverdi used in many of his vocal compositions, and it takes place at such blistering speed and with such raw energy that it’s impossible not to appreciate it on a technical level at the very least.
Surprisingly enough, I discovered Tool only relatively recently, just after the release of Lateralus in 2000, but became an instant fan. Tool's brand of artistically nerdy hypno-wailing encapsulates the best metal and hard rock have to offer, managing to kick out the requisite jams without resorting to gimmickry (hello Slipknot), to talk about politics and religion without indulging in right-wing Christian apologetics (hi Nickleback) and to be emotional without coming across as whiney white trash complaining that their mothers never breast fed them (word up, Limp Bizkit). I've therefore been looking forward to their lastest album for a while now, and not least 'cos the fuckers only seem able to put one out every six or seven years. Moreover, each album has been getting steadily better - and they started out pretty damn good. It's fair to say that I was expecting big things.
There's a well-known homily about expectations and, to a certain extent, it applies here. I should have realised that once I held the CD packaging in my hand. The case is not little ridiculous, and incorporates built-in stereoscopic lenses so that you can look at the rather sillly neo-baroque album art in 3D (a brief aside here: is there some sort of war going on between recording labels and the manufacturers of CD racks that I don't know about? Why are 90% of contemporary bands selling their CDs in enlarged, bulky 'arty' cases that won't fit in with the rest of my frikkin' collection?). Sure, it's kinda fun in a goofy sort of way, but it does rather play into the band's reputation for pretension. I've always chosen to dismiss carping of this nature; surely there's a point at which a certain level of talent can automtically get away with any posturing it cares to afford itself. Genius often has a tendency to come with a healthy dose of arrogance.
With that in mind, the window dressing wouldn't even rate a mention here if it weren't indicative of the quality of the actual music. I'm about to be undeservedly harsh, since the CSIRO have proven that making a successful follow-up to Lateralus would be a scientific impossibility; nevertheless, 10,000 Days is somewhat lacking. The style is very much in the same vein as the former album, the tracks highly-polished juggernauts that build up hypnotically to thrashing climaxes and post-coital diminuendos, but there is a lot more experimenting going on, and rather less confidence in the finished product. It's good, solid rock, but there is little of the technical wizardry that sets Tool apart from the crowd, those monumental riffs and catchy melodies coupled with insanely complex time signatures and chord progressions - sure, it was showing off, plain and simple, but it made the music nerd in me giddy with appreciation. 10,000 Days is perhaps a more emotionally honest effort than its predecessors, especially in the first half, during which frontman Maynard Keenan sings about his mother's death (albeit with tongue-in-cheek blasphemy, comparing her to the Holy Ghost; it's not as confrontational as the fictional priest of the EP Opiate screaming about eating/fucking souls, but far more likely to piss off the religious right), but still cries out for the intelligent, righteous anger at human stupidity that marked Ænima, or the stream of pure genius that churned through Lateralus.
10,000 Days is a good album - probably a very good album, in fact - with a lot to like about it, but it's not a great one. Admirers of Keenan's side project A Perfect Circle will probably find more to enjoy than hardcore Tool fans, as, I suspect, will newcomers. That said, I'm going to listen to it again now: I'm getting more out of 10,000 Days each time I play it, and I dare say I'll continue to for some time.