Category Image Restructuring Lateralus: Tool's Holy Gift 


Fans of the alternative metal band Tool have to be some of the most curious and creative in rock. They are incredibly active interpreters of Tool's music and lyrics and are proud of their sense of intelligence as fans. Tool's aesthetic lends itself very well to wide ranging interpretation, dealing as it does with "alternative" views of inner consciousness, vaguely Buddhist spirituality, and other interesting philosophical inquiries such as the mutation of DNA and the concept of a Third Eye. In other words, these are not songs about your best girl and movies on a Saturday night. The band's music can best be described as drawing on the aggression and ensemble virtuosity of metal combined with the kind of tortured interiority that characterizes Radiohead's post-O.K. Computer music. Such a combination certainly sets them apart from many metal bands, and the centrality of their unusual lyrics only adds to the mystique of the band.

However, any previous interpretative theories by fans have been outdone by the recent focus on the notion that the entirety of Tool's most recent album, Lateralus, actually needs to be reordered in order to reveal a secret message dealing with moving through consciousness as a movement of along spirals: "Spiral out, keep going, spiral out" sings Maynard James Keenan toward the end of "Lateralus," the album's title track. Added to this is the tantalizing prospect that the album and its message are also influenced by the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. When plotted on a graph Fibonacci numbers form a spiral-like image. Moreover, the main riff in "Lateralus" is comprised of three different meters: 9/8, 8/8, 7/8, or: 987, which happens to be the sixteenth step in the Fibonacci sequence (as observed by Keenan himself during the writing of the song). Moreover, moreover (!), Keenan's halting vocal rhythms during the first verse of "Lateralus" correspond to Fibonacci numbers in their syllable counts:

1 (Black)
1 (then)
2 (white are)
3 (all I see)
5 (in my infancy)
8 (red and yellow then came to be)
5 (reaching out to me)
3 (lets me see)

Freaky, eh? Anyway, all this got one unknown fan to write up a big long post somewhere and to speculate that the actual order of the songs on Lateralus needed to be rearranged so as to reveal the "true" message of the album. Basically, the idea is this: Lateralus has 13 tracks (a Fibonacci number, BTW) so you place that track at the center of your new track order. The surrounding tracks are all grouped into pairs that sum the number 13 and spiraling in toward 13, then outward from it. Here's the suggested track arrangement with the two "spirals" in bold:

6, 7, 5, 8, 4, 9, 13, 1, 12, 2, 11, 3, 10

The unknown fan calls this arrangement The Holy Gift.

There are of course some "issues" with this arrangement. First, there's no explanation given for why we start with track 6. To be sure, track 6 and 7 on the album are very much a pair ("Parabol" and "Parabola," the second emerging from the first without a pause), so they should probably stick together, but why they start off things isn't really explained by the unknown fan. Also, if tracks 6 and 7 must stay together then why separate tracks 10, 11, and 12, three tracks originally conceived of by Tool as one very long song (the album artwork links these three songs visually as well)? The new arrangement also places the very strange "Faaip de Oiad" in the center of the collection. Not so much a song as a four-minute sound collage built around a supposedly real recording of an escaped Area 51 employee calling into a radio talkshow, "Faaip de Oiad" seems rather unusual at the apex of such a interpretively rich arrangement. But that's what makes this whole thing so intriguing: the entire Holy Gift arrangement is one giant interpretation, so it's not hard to continue the interpretation (as some fans already have) to be able to explain the prominent place of "Faaip de Oiad."

Is this whole thing just interpretation run amok? I think not.

After learning of the Holy Gift phenomenon, I re-ripped my copy of Lateralus, edited out the silences at the beginning and ending of each track (as advised by the unknown fan), and burned a copy of The Holy Gift. I have to say that I immediately liked the album more than before, and it's certainly entertaining to think about the alternate meaning as you listen. My enjoyment of the album increased though because the best songs (in my opinion) have fortuitously been grouped in the front half instead of being scattered across the album. The Holy Gift is in many ways a heavier album than Lateralus and the transition from one song to the next is interesting when there are no significant silences to "clear the palette." Of course, the new arrangement does make some of the shorter interludes stick out awkwardly (Tool is fond of these little soundscape interludes -- there are usually three or four of them on each album, designed, I assume, to provide a sense of large-scale contrast amidst the aggressive heavier songs that make up the bulk of the albums), but these interludes mostly occur in the second half of the new arrangement, as the original track numbers are spiraling outward, so perhaps there's something cosmic going on. Or perhaps not.

Finally, I have to say that the combination of the Holy Gift phenomenon, aided significantly as it is by digital audio technology, and the Dream Theater songwriting contest (also aided by digital technology, but in different ways) have me looking for conferences at which to present some ideas about these things. Indeed, both of these situations are very interesting think-pieces involving so many issues in popular music culture. If nothing else, I hope to feature them in my heavy metal class the next time I'm asked to teach it.

Here's Google's search result for "tool lateralus fibonacci". Just in case you wanted to explore the interpretative process yourself. 

Posted: Wednesday - November 19, 3 at 03:10 PM