Tool "10,000 Days" Sony/Volcano

For fans of: A Perfect Circle, Deftones, Dream Theater

Just when it seemed inconceivable that Tool could tap into another realm of stimulating sophistication, the group returns from five years in some obscure nebula with "10,000 Days." The questions now are how band members got there and how and why they returned. What's even more amazing is how they translated it into a sonically stellar recording.

Like an impassioned machine, Tool has remained uncompromising and sincere in their vision with the ability to be as delicate as they are devastating. Odd time signatures that somehow always feel natural, coupled with mystical and mesmerizing musicianship, creates a powerfully dark presence that breathes light. The group's most experimental effort to date, "10,000 Days" is an epic that packs the usual heavy wallops ("Vicarious," "Jambi") in addition to lengthy yet rewarding soundscapes ("Lost Keys," "Viginti Tres"). It is poetic, smart and progressive yet palatable. Listen to this record with the same attention you would give an involved motion picture. If you are still doubtful, recall the caliber of the few artists who have been able to get away with a seven-minute radio hit.

Further, if there has been any recent incentive for music piraters to actually suck it up and purchase an actual hard copy of a record, Tool's remarkable album packaging is necessary company for the otherworldly experience of the music itself.

- Jon Allegretto

ROCK

AFI "Decemberunderground" Interscope Records

For fans of: Good Charlotte, Evanescence, Linkin Park

Like that of a guitar-thrashing Frankenstein, AFI's sound on "Decemberunderground" is dismembered rock styles stitched together - a femur of old-fashioned metal, an elbow of punk-pop melody, a rib cage ripped from some heartbroken "screamo" cadaver.

This chop shop approach - along with melodramatic goth-like lyrics about death, murder, loneliness and suicide, lots of suicide - could have been designed in a major label laboratory or boardroom.

Somehow, the parts fit together seamlessly. Credit producer Jerry Finn with creating a hybrid that kicks and caresses in all the right places. Guitars sizzle and cut, drums thud and crack pleasantly. And Davey Havok's voice - remarkable in how it turns from mild to maniacal on a dime - rides above it all, telling dark, dreamy tales.

In the end, though, AFI's rock 'n' roll monster isn't all that scary. Despite its oh-so-current patchwork of sounds and morbid moods, the end result feels remarkably light, a contemporary, black lipstick version of Men at Work or Loverboy. Hey, maybe that was the diabolical plan all along.

- Sam McDonald

POP ROCK

Keane "Under the Iron Sea" Interscope Records

For fans of: U2, Radiohead, Coldplay

It would be easy, but ultimately inaccurate, to characterize Keane's sound on its sophomore album, "Under the Iron Sea," as a hybrid of a less esoteric Radiohead or U2 minus the occasionally heavy-handed social messages. While the opening of "Atlantic" sounds like an outtake from Radiohead's "Kid A" and "Is It Any Wonder?" would be right at home on U2's "Achtung Baby," the similarity isn't just a case of shameless pilfering from great bands.

While Keane maintains the piano-driven sound that was a hallmark of their debut, "Hopes and Fears," this time out it is richer and more melodic, especially on "Nothing In My Way" and "A Bad Dream." "Nothing In My Way" is a standout track, a nearly perfect match of melody and lyrics that showcases Keane at its best.