Tool's current commercial success was anything but inevitable. In 1993, the band appeared on the second stage at Lollapalooza, playing its peculiar brand of prog-rock-influenced metal between forgettable alternative rock bands and performance artists. It spent the subsequent years caught in a record label squabble that led to speculation about a breakup. Tool certainly wasn't in any position to become the above-ground darling that it is now, earning regular airplay from mainstream media outlets and moving over a half-million units of its latest album, Lateralus, during the first week of its May release. Aside from the fact that the album lacks obvious modern-rock radio hits such as "Sober" (from 1993's Undertow) and "Stinkfist" (from 1996's Aenema), Lateralus is, of course, hardly different from the Tool records that came before it. Like Lollapalooza '93 alums Rage Against the Machine, Tool has made a career of applying the same sturdy sonic concepts over and over again. But somehow it's managed to use this approach to become metal's answer to Radiohead, a band whose longing for high concept seems to nullify all criticism. Some credit for this goes to vocalist Maynard James Keenan's more melodic side project, a Perfect Circle, which not only helped Tool attract a wider audience, but also seemed to salvage the otherwise bleak, boy-band-dominated year of 2000. Indeed, Tool's popularity is very much a matter of timing: It looks as smart as it does partly because almost everyone else making records at its level right now is so simple-minded. Even when he spouts quasiphilosophy and juvenile references to painful sex, Keenan is still a hell of a lot more intelligent than the guys in the Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync.