In one of the first big release weeks of the year, "Lateralus" the new Volcano effort from hard rock outfit Tool, is establishing itself as the clear front-runner, with a strong chance to top The Bill

In one of the first big release weeks of the year, "Lateralus" the new Volcano effort from hard rock outfit Tool, is establishing itself as the clear front-runner, with a strong chance to top The Billboard 200 next week.

Retailers surveyed by Billboard Bulletin say the album is racking up three-to-four times the sales numbers of this week's other high-profile releases, including new efforts from R.E.M., Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Depeche Mode, Weezer, Buddy Guy, and the Go-Go's.

Tower Records' Atlanta store sold 210 copies of "Lateralus" -- its entire stock of the album -- during a midnight sale Monday night. Weezer's new self-titled Interscope/Geffen effort and R.E.M.'s "Reveal" (Warner Bros.) lagged far behind, moving about 50 copies each at that sale. Tower's Greenwich Village store in New York sold more than 100 copies of "Lateralus" within a few hours of its release. Meanwhile, the store sold 75 copies of "Weezer" and 54 and 36 copies of "Reveal" and Depeche Mode's "Exciter" (Reprise), respectively.

"Both Depeche Mode and R.E.M. are time-tested and should sell well in the long term," said Derick Hogan, the store's rock buyer. "But Tool's new album is phenomenal ... the record is selling intensely." Adds Terry Currier, owner of Music Millennium in Portland, Ore., "Tool fans are just a different breed than R.E.M. and Depeche Mode fans. They are very, very rabid. And they have to have the record right away."

The Tool numbers aren't at all surprising at National Record Mart, where director of purchasing John Artale says he expects the album to be the 150-store chain's best-seller this week. To reach No. 1, "Lateralus" would have to unseat Destiny's Child's "Survivor" (Columbia).

"Schism," the first single from "Lateralus," is No. 5 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks survey and No. 9 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart this week. Tool plays New York's Hammerstein Ballroom on Sunday (May 20).