Another flashback review. What are you gonna do?
I have no reservation in describing Lateralus as an indisputable masterpiece. Among people who listen to progressive metal, this statement has been known to elicit a very particular kind of dismissal – as in, it’s so obvious that it’s really not saying a great deal. Yet, I feel it’s important to give this album the credit it’s due.
Where to begin? If you ask me, Lateralus is a concept album, so let’s start with that. What’s the concept, exactly? Well, it’s considerably harder to pin that down in words than it is to just give it a spin. Widely discussed for its song structures supposedly built around mathematical ideas such as the Fibonacci sequence, and a title track name derived from the spatial concept of the lateral, this album is (in my humble opinion) more interesting for its themes of emotional mastery and transpersonal consciousness. These, I believe, contribute most strongly to the album’s conceptual arc, which is concerned with opening to the possibility of new, more effective ways of being.
Singer and lyricist Maynard James Keenan has a unique ability to pierce distorted emotional states such as suppressed rage, stress and disgust by embodying them in a way that sheds light on their reality, lurking beneath the surface of would-be composed types. Importantly, he doesn’t linger in these swampy zones, but rather urges – indeed, forces – the listener out of them by gradually elaborating towards an alternative mindset. The listener, connecting with the songs, is irresistibly pushed to let go of their internal tension, put down their self-distorting grudge, and find inner peace. In short, it promotes lateral thinking around seemingly insurmountable emotional states common to most of humanity.
If you want to clock the vibe quickly, I recommend skipping to the title track, but hearing the album as a whole is an unmissable experience. If you can get a hold of a hard copy with the original album art, featuring a series of transparent, layered inserts featuring the work of visionary painter Alex Grey, all the better.