A Perfect Circle Gets Square

Back in 1993, an unknown Los Angeles band called Tool played the main stage at Lollapalooza, the traveling rock festival that gave such bands as Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers a little mainstream recognition. Along with fellow '93 Lollapalooza alumni Rage Against the Machine, Tool gave the modern-rock road trip a much-needed dose of rage rock. This was years before Metallica broke the rolling summer festival's sacred, stringent alt-rock requirements. Hell, this was before Ozzfest.

Seven years later, Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, ex–Nine Inch Nails guitar tech Billy Howerdel and onetime Guns N' Roses drummer Josh Freese have formed a band called A Perfect Circle. Fittingly, their debut album is titled Mer de Noms — French for "sea of names." But instead of sounding like a liquid blend of the aforementioned acts, A Perfect Circle comes off like a brackish, new-age Rush.

Mer de Noms is a collection of creepy, experimental soundscapes, from the crunchy and haunting "Rose" to the industrial-influenced "Thinking of You." In between, Keenan's walloping vocals tell tales of forgiveness and guilt, as if each song is purposefully centered on religious wrongdoing. On the lead single, "Judith" (RealAudio excerpt), Keenan bellows, "It's not like you killed someone/ It's not like you drove a spiteful spike into his side/ Talk to Jesus Christ as if you know the reasons why/ He did it all for you." On "Magdalena" (RealAudio excerpt), Keenan breathes through such lyrics as "Overcome by your moving temple/ Overcome by this holiest of altars/ So pure, so rare to witness such an earthly goddess/ That I've lost my self-control."

Continuing the album's holy war of words, "Thomas" (RealAudio excerpt) explores forgiveness, while "Breña" offers imagery of baptism. So what are A Perfect Circle trying to prove? Unfortunately, with the haughty lyrics and brash sound trips of Mer de Noms, it's hard to tell. Using street-cred to dis Christianity is so 20th century, and even with Keenan at the helm, the record doesn't feel as good as a new Tool album might. Back in the day, A Perfect Circle's brand of progressive space sounds might've been interesting. But Monster Magnet, Tool, the evolution of the Smashing Pumpkins and seven years later, Mer de Noms is another brick in the wall of boredom.