(Herald rating: * * * )

Arguably life is much too short for the likes of Tool.

Five years between albums because of legal troubles, the Los Angeles avant-metallers deliver their third studio effort, a 77-minute opus that is darkly impenetrable on early listens - a fact not helped by many of the tracks taking eight minutes-plus to say what they've got to say ... er, scream.


And the overall mood - care of vocalist Maynard James Keenan, returning from his relatively user-friendly side project A Perfect Circle - is generally one of perpetual turmoil.

Now, while Tool might make the overcrowded nu-metal mob they helped spawn look like artless whiners by comparison, Lateralus still doesn't quite have the impact of their previous albums Undertow (1993) and the Grammy-winning Aenima (1996).

Much of it just sounds caught up in its own Tool-ness - the high drama created by Keenan's voice playing hide and seek with the towering rock noise created by guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey and bassist Justin Chancellor.

Lateralus sure exhibits a masterful sense of hard-rock tension and release, whether it's the hydraulic power of the opener The Grudge, the finicky bassline-driven Schism or the eight-minute nightmare that is Ticks and Leeches.

But it still sounds like an album built from the riffery up, and lacking the emotional clout and whiplash dynamics of its predecessors because of it. So it seems like the band has merely made another Tool record.

Their fans - and they have a sizeable local following - will undoubtedly thank them for that. But after five years, they might have expected more.

Label: Volcano