"By that time, we knew our limits. We knew what stuff we could push. We were a well-oiled machine. And we knew each other. And there were things we learned about each other on that record that are pivotal to this day."
That's TOOL guitarist Adam Jones contextualizing their ambitious third album, Lateralus, which arrived in 2001 after a five-year gap filled with lawsuits, side projects and inner-band tension. To some, it's the proggy alt-metal band's greatest achievement — an even more meticulously thoughtful, mathematical and musically adventurous epic that packs a career's worth of ideas into a transcendent 76 minutes.
So, TOOL fans have plenty of gold to wade through when trying to select the single best song of the bunch. But we challenged our readers to pick their favorite Lateralus cut, and they answered the call. The top five vote-getters are ranked accordingly below.
This longtime live staple has its own intro track leading up to it ("Parabol") and wastes no time exploding into a slightly Eastern-influenced groove with a lashing lead lick. Chock full of riffs and shreddy guitar heroics, as well as bang-up drumming by Danny Carey, "Parabola" is one of the most immediately gratifying pockets on the discursive Lateralus.
4. "The Grudge"
Everyone loves "The Grudge" — even Justin Bieber. But that doesn't take away the majesty of Lateralus' groovy, grungy, catchy and combustible opening cut. Musically, it'll have you on the edge of your seat, but Maynard James Keenan's lightning-striking vocal performance will inevitably knock you off onto your ass.
3. "The Patient"
A genuinely-felt instance of piercing emotion, "The Patient" addresses the recurring topic of Keenan's mother Judith, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage when he was 11 and remained paralyzed until her death in 2003. Remarkably, the song is written from her perspective, as she internally struggles with her condition, its impact on her loved ones ("the fearful") and what it means for God's plan. "Be patient," he sings over instrumentation that squirms with conflicted unease.
Arguably TOOL's most popular song, "Schism" was the first single from Lateralus — arriving half a decade since their last LP, and therefore holding a particularly cathartic place in many fans' hearts. It's also a killer jam that's concise by TOOL's standards, hooky by all rock standards, but still needly, hypnotic, psychedelic and unsettling. Plus, the disturbing music video is absolutely iconic. Sometimes the pieces just fit.
It had to be this one. "Lateralus" is one of TOOL's signature songs, a nine-minute side-winder that's directly influenced by the mystical Fibonacci sequence, a peculiar numerical series that turns up all throughout nature. Even to listeners who couldn't pull above a D- in math class and don't fully grasp the band's lab-coat-adorned intentions, "Lateralus" sounds like a head trip and is nothing short of epic by the time it reaches its monstrous climax.