For July, I intend to focus on the American progressive metal titans known as “Tool”. Luckily enough, I came across them in my adolescence mainly because of having people around with an exquisite taste in music and also because one of my favorite local bands’ front-man regarded Maynard James Keenan as his true idol so I just had to acquaint myself with this new shiny thing properly. Later, having experienced some of the most intense progressive rock that ventured clairvoyant themes and soul-searching melodies syncopated with alternative and psychedelic influences in the early teenage years of my life was nearly earth-shattering for me. The bizarre lyrical content, oscillating drum beats by Danny Carey, a vague bassline and intricate riffs with a hint of psychedelia stirred to life by Adam Jones instantly set them apart giving them their trademark groove. Keenan’s multi-octave vocal range is essentially articulate and dynamic varying between the angelic, mellow quality to fierce screaming as per the contemplative mood of the song which makes this sonic journey even more worthwhile. You can clearly decipher their eccentric yet ambitious sound with only a handful of albums they’ve put forth over the years.
Charting out my favorite albums in a particular order without wasting anytime. So here goes..
3, 10, 000 Days
Released in 2006, “10, 000 Days” is their third studio album and it certainly dishes out that raw “Tool-esque” energy which permeates nearly every musical technique they incorporate. I love how the album kicks off with a dramatic note to evolve into a total banger “Vicarious” with cacophonous riffs and hard-hitting crescendos. As the album unfolds, you begin to interpret the mathematics of progressive rock and the propulsive drive of metal on songs like “Jambi”, “Rosetta Stoned” and “The Pot”. The unconventional elements like the tribal beats, complex song structures axial to their creative domain and deep lyrical themes explore the various whims of human nature and the universe with all of its demented humor. “10, 000 Days” might have not as many mesmerizing numbers but on the whole, the album cleverly infuses just the right instrumentation to justify the intended play on existentialism and psychological axioms.
Released in 1996, their second full-length album “Ænima” is pessimistic and satirical beyond measure but still transpires profound meaningfulness. The album title with a conjoined “Æ” represents two polar opposites. “Anima” which is often associated with a psych & soul, and your subconscious while the other “Enema'” refers to a medical technique mainly to examine and restore bowel movements. The dark humor is almost comical. Songs like “Stinkfist”, “Eulogy”, “Ænima” and “Third Eye” exude blatant cynicism and intends on highlighting the hypocrisy of human race. The track “H.” is a conundrum of chaotic thoughts and unrestrained paranoia. The song is thought to have a great personal significance for Keenan as it’s more or less of an ambiguous manifestation of the effect fatherhood and the birth of his son (with a middle name “H.”) had on him as stated by himself once. That detail aside, it is undeniably one of their most powerful and expressive songs. The innovation in “Die Eeir von Satan” is mainly in the industrial vein and those sermons delivered in German remind you of some sort of voodoo magic or black magic rituals which funnily enough, is actually a recipe for cookies. Well? I can’t help but point out the tad bit pretentiousness they portray with every album albeit taken way too seriously by Tool fans. I can’t really get round that fact, to be honest. The album has its fair share of flaws. Some songs are unnecessarily prolonged and are plain fillers. It gets a little out of focus in that regard. Nonetheless, it’s an authentic slab of progressive and alternative aspects of heavy music.
Lateralus. Now finally, there’s your foolproof remedy for emotional and philosophical devastation. My first Tool album, for a fact. It came out in 2001. The overflowing aggression, dissonant guitars and polyrythmic drumming on the opening track “The Grudge” successfully reveals what you’re in for. The progressive escalation into the emotionally purging interludes textured with erratic riffs and throbbing drums alongside cryptic lyrics heard on songs like “The Patient”, “Parabol”, “Parabola”, “Ticks & Leeches” and “Triad” give the album a pulse. “Schism” is unarguably a beauty and my favorite Tool song of all time! Its simple and minimalistic song structure grows on you. The majestic bassline is akin to a sedative. The guitar solo instills a meditative spell into the song and gives it a proper breathing space. “Finding beauty in the dissonance.” epitomizes the integrity of Tool in a single verse. “Lateralus” is another breathtaking gem that lasts for about 9 minutes. It intends on digressing from the fabric of reality which worked out splendidly. The innate energy and obscure lyrics like “We’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been.” give the song a certain mystical value. It concludes with looming guitars and bouts of frenzy which panned out perfectly. There’s liberal amount of Tool-oriented experimentation on “Lateralus” as well. Quite possibly, it is by far their most profound offering which exploits all the tricky elements of progressive rock to procreate something that stems from the unique individuality of the band and falls nothing short of a quintessential masterpiece.
Tool achieved a great deal of virtuosity with only a number of full-length albums that usually takes an artist years and years to accomplish. The complex album concepts, unusual time signatures, tongue-in-cheek humor which is oblivious to most and maneuvering with modern and primitive tactics of music in their compositions is an art they’ve mastered quite well. Often criticized for being overwrought and pretentious which might be their conscious intention more than usual (so it’s a given) and producing questionable music videos, they redefined the grotesque disposition of humanity and the innate sense of spirituality. You can easily pick out some impulsive takes on nihilism, religious symbolism, collective psychological archetypes and the deeper realms of higher cognition. What they’ve created over the years is something that feeds on your negative energies to transform into a unique mystical experience. They don’t even really force a link to any other artist in terms of their sonic diversity. You ought to have a proper frame of mind to listen to Tool, at times. Either ways, you’ll be a mess.
“I embrace my desire to feel the rhythm, to feel connected enough to step aside and weep like a widow to feel inspired, to fathom the power to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain to swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human.”
“Lateralus” by Tool