Parts 2-4 can be read on the website.
(The TL:DR crowd can just skip this, thank-you.)
The negative sign in ‘(-) Ions’ may be much more than many Tool fans bargained for. The set of metaphors at work in this track suggest that it is instead a hyphenation.
As we approach this idea, it is important to link a few aspects of the band's message so as to begin to comprehend on a surface level the imagery of their different art pieces (songs, lyrics, segues, videos, packaging, Etc.) and how they are interconnected.
Years ago, when I received my vinyl copy of Lateralus, the first thing that struck me was the increased emphasis of the "saw blade made of eyes" design that only occurred twice on the CD version of that album (once in the sleeve, and once on the disc). On the vinyl edition, there are four on the cover and they are interlocked. The background of the sleeve is black, so as these blades wrap around the black square we get the image of a "shadow embraced by blades".
There are eleven of these blades on the inside cover, ten and four on either side of the disc sleeves, and one more on one of the picture discs. That's forty five. Physically, the vinyl discs themselves resemble saw blades, and are given that association by the cd version... which implies two more. Then the record begins with the sound of a power saw, almost as if the listener will now be dissected by the act of listening to the album. That's forty eight total (or 46+2), which is a number that is associated with the previous record, Ænima.
All of these numbers are of course significant to the occult, but I am not the one to discuss those associations in detail. What I will discuss is how some of these numbers are significant to the visual/lyrical presentation of the band.
Eleven of the eye-blades on this version of Lateralus can be seen in their entirety (meaning that there is no part of the blade that runs off the edge of the surface of the sleeve). However, I found that none of the eleven blades that are visible on the inside cover were complete. Each of them runs off the edge of the cover, which is printed full bleed. So on the "inside" nothing is "whole". That there are eleven of them indicates "two ones", two primary factions contending within, or at least two people in one body. The lyrics of 'Parabol/Parabola' state exactly that:
"Be my reminder here that I am not alone in/This body"
So the visual symbol of the number eleven isn't just key to understanding 'jimmy'. The possibility exists that it can be applied to other songs on other albums.
An eleven, as written or typed, is two ones (or capital I's... or lower case L's). Two symbols that together comprise a single, more complex symbol. They are inseparable in their signification for that number and they are identical like twins, but they always remain separate within the symbol. This is spelled out in 'jimmy':
"Eleven. Lead me through each gentle step by step/By inch by loaded memory/'till one and one
are one, eleven"
Now that we have eleven in mind, perhaps it is not too difficult to see the symbol "H" as the "ones" of the eleven connected by a hyphenation. If that's true, then it might be possible that the "-" in '(-) Ions' is not simply a negative sign, but the very line that completes the hyphenation of an "H".
The first instance of the "H" is the eyes of the priest on the cover of Opiate. For the 21st Anniversary re-issue (2013), they maintained this element of the eyes of the priests splitting in two, but not yet separated. By the time we get to Ænima, these eyes have split into two separate irises on the same eyeball.
The "11" is also present on the cover of Opiate, depicted by the two mirror image title bars that frame the priest statue on the original CD/LP. This is reiterated on the new cover in the form of one of the mini-priest's arms, which are held up in vertical, parallel fashion.
The next time we run into this idea visually is in the 'Prison Sex' video, wherein the protagonist's legs (separated from the body) are hung on the wall from a bent nail. This leg motif proves to be an important one that is built upon in subsequent releases, as I will discuss later.
The medical lip retractor worn by Keenan in his Undertow photo frames his mouth with another example of an "11", albeit one of the metal bars ends up being left out of view by the photo's crop. This makes sense because the "other" speaker of the lyrics is somewhat hidden, and this in turn returns us to the photograph of the four couples at a dance in the upper right quadrant of the collage in the Opiate artwork, where one of the women is conspicuously covered (this hidden woman and the woman discussed in 'Cold and Ugly' are likely the first hints at the Jungian idea of an "anima" in Tool's catalog).
Despite the fact that one of the metal bars is hidden, the use of the retractor is brilliant for a few reasons. First, because the "11" it infers carries with it the associations of intimate violence that come to mind when thinking about medical/dental work on the mouth. Second, the bars are not perfectly parallel
(\ /). This quality becomes much more interesting when you realize that it is the same shape as the metal rods of the Jacobs ladders used in the 'Stinkfist' video.
If the ones/eyes in question are representative of two people within the same psyche, then the minus sign of '(-)Ions' works as a "tool" that unlocks all the connective/disjunctive, sexual/violent metaphors the speaker uses to express the nature of this connection (or lack thereof) between his inner selves.
I will list some lyrical examples (three from each album) where this concept puts this inner relationship/dialogue on display. Think of each one as representing the dynamic that exists between the "H" and the "11":
"I know you well./you are a part of me./I know you better than I know myself."
"Wide awake and/keeping distance from my soul."
"I should play GOD/and shoot you myself."
"I want to believe you,/and I want to trust/and I want to have faith to put away the dagger."
"Released in this sodomy. For one sweet moment I am whole."
"Don't pull it out. It brings us closer than dying and cancer and crying."
"Till you will not have me any other way."
"I will choke until I swallow.../Choke this infant here before me./What is this but my reflection?"
"So good to see you once again./I thought that you were hiding./And you thought that I had run
"Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down."
"No fault, none to blame it doesn't mean I don't desire to/Point the finger, blame the other"
"We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been."
"Shine down upon the broken/Shine until the two become one"
"Difficult to dance 'round this one/'til you pull it out. boy"
"Forge a blade to slay the stranger/Take whatever we desire"
"My own mitosis, growing through division from mania."
"We are Spirit bound to this flesh"
"Age old battle, mine. Weapon out and belly in."
The gun, dagger, weapon, blade, phallus, finger, cornerstone, stranglehold, Etc., all create a hyphenation between two people, albeit in in terrible, violent ways. Now that we have arrived at the new album Fear Inoculum, the threat that exists between these two factions is still there as Keenan commands in 'Culling Voices', "Don't you dare point that at me."
So now that we have some examples from each record, we return back to the actual sounds we hear in '(-) Ions': The first thing we are greeted with a slow building storm which sounds like it was produced using a piece of sheet metal. That element is important for reasons I will explain in another essay, but the "storm" sound is eventually mingled with the sound of some expression of electricity.
After about a few hundred listens, I finally realized some years ago that this electricity sounds just like the aforementioned Jacob's Ladder. This is an important link to make because if the two rods of the ladder represent an eleven, then the arc of electricity that gradually climbs up the two rods hyphenates the 11, visually transforming it into an "H". So Tool's use of the sound of this device serves to illuminate all three symbols simultaneously.