Mer De Noms

A Perfect Circle

Virgin, 2000

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


If Lateralus was Maynard Keenan's full descent into progressive metal, Mer De Noms was his tentative first step, albeit one year prior and with a different band.

Now perhaps I'm missing something here, since most serious music fans are convinced Tool is the greatest modern metal band since Metallica went the way of the commercial. By extension, Keenan's side project A Perfect Circle should be just as good, since it's like Tool but with shorter songs.

But I can't really tell the difference. Keenan sings the same. The songs are all dark and edgy and deal with religious themes, disappointment, etc. The usual Tool sludge, and I'm convinced anything from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Aenima could have gone on here without the casual fan noticing. A side project is supposed to be a departure, right? Maynard has two copies of the same band.

Upon its release, this record was hailed as one of the best of the new millenium's rock movement, and I guess I can see that. Given where rock was at the time -- somewhere between "Nookie" and "How You Remind Me" a dark and progressive band that could still write catchy music was necessary. Though they lack the sense of humor, musically Tool picks up where Soundgarden left off and throws in a bit of the early Metallica progressive feel.

But I prefer this record to Lateralus, because it is more approachable and not as pretentious. Sure, the song titles are elite -- "Brena"? "Orestes"? "3 Libras"? "Renholder"? "Mer de Noms"? -- but the music is foreboding, 12 blasts of noise at around four minutes apiece, with Keenan singing his heart out about something or another.

"Judith" tackles religious hypocrisy against some guitar pyrotechnics and perhaps Keenan's best vocal performance of his career, while "Magdalena" has an early grunge feel with a sense of darkness. The best track is "3 Libras," with a gorgeous acoustic opening, some light strings and a restrained vocal, at least until the end explodes with Keenan wailing "You don't see me!" over and over.

But that's about it for the highlights. The rest of this is dark sludge that is hard to tell apart, and only the occasional flashes of brilliance -- the eerie "Renholder," some good bass work in "Thinking of You" and "The Hollow" -- make this interesting to the casual fan.

If dark Gothic rock is your thing, and/or you like Tool, then you'll probably enjoy this. And certainly Keenan and his second band are just as talented as his first, but where Tool has a sense of majesty to back up its pretension, A Perfect Circle is all darkness and little redemption, not only for his soul but for the listener, who may need some Prozac to get through this.

Rating: C-

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