TOOL is Now on Streaming
The rank devotion that prog-metal rockers TOOL inspire defies reason. Not only have they left fans waiting for new music for more than 10 years, they’ve also made it hard for listeners to delve into their old records in the first place. The band was one of the few holdouts to join the streaming game — until now. Starting today (August 2), TOOL’s entire catalogue is available on TIDAL — and a new album is on the way.
For all of the frustrating aspects of TOOL fandom, the music itself remained an undeniable monolith of awe-inspiring sound. The band’s collection of knotty, constantly shifting melodies, intricate drum patterns and searing solos felt like a universe unto itself.
They also constantly addressed big and often controversial topics like sex, death and intellectual freedom with a matter-of-fact gusto that could feel refreshingly honest. It’s for this very reason that, despite all the passive obstacles the band threw up in regards to accessibility, their popularity has hardly waned. The aura of mystery that’s surrounded them certainly hasn’t hurt their appeal, either.
It’s truly a testament to the power of albums like Undertow, Ænima, Lateralus and 10,000 Days, that, to this day, TOOL remain reliable festival headliners who can still pack arenas pretty much anywhere in the country — without the benefit of fresh material to satiate longtime fans.
Soon, though, that state of affairs will change. With the release of their long, long, long-awaited fifth album Fear Inoculum just over the horizon, the band has decided to eliminate at the last roadblock for the uninitiated to join the rabid ranks of the TOOL Army. And now those new fans will be able to do their homework on TIDAL before the new album drops.
Of course, that leaves us with a question: Where do you begin? While there are a multitude of songs that the band created that can stand alone on their own merits — “Sober,” “Ænema,” “Schism” and “Vicarious,” to name a few offhand — TOOL has always been the kind of band whose work is best digested in the long-form album format. With that in mind, let’s take on their catalogue one record at a time.
Largely recorded at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, TOOL’s debut EP Opiate is as uncompromising and brutal an introduction as any rock band has ever offered. The six tracks collected here (seven if you count the hidden selection “The Gaping Lotus Experience”) set the template that TOOL has been trying to blow up across the last quarter-century.
Bouncing, expressive bass lines crafted by Paul D’Amour combine with Danny Carey’s intricate drum fills, creating an elaborate aural patchwork that guitarist Adam Jones attempts eviscerate with his bracing collection of gritty, overdriven chords and frenetic lead lines.
At the center of it all: Maynard James Keenan, a one-time West Point candidate with a lithe, beautiful voice that he attempts to rip to shreds while screaming across cataclysmic numbers like “Hush” and “Cold And Ugly.”
In the years that followed, TOOL became much more sophisticated musicians and arrangers, but, for some, the raw aggression of Opiate remains the high water mark they’ve yet to surpass.
Released at the very height of the grunge explosion in America, Undertow created controversy right from the start when the album was removed from the shelves at Wal-Mart and K-Mart for the array of unsettling images they included in the liner notes. The song “Prison Sex,” which the band released as their second single, was also pulled from MTV for similar reasons.
Despite the very public controversies, Undertow is actually filled with some of the more accessible songs in the band’s catalogue. “Sober” is a prime example with its crunchy opening riff and sing-along chorus. So is the Middle Eastern-accented “4°” and album opener “Intolerance.”
That being said, you also get the first signs of the band’s eye-popping predilection for the grandiose and the weird on songs like “Swamp Song,” “Flood” and “Bottom,” which features a wild spoken-word section from Black Flag’s Henry Rollins.
Ænima remains TOOL’s magnum opus. It’s the album that has sold the most copies — three and a half million and counting — and is also the one most lauded by critics and fans alike. It’s a wild 77-minute ride filled with unsettling cuts with names like “Stinkfist,” “Hooker with a Penis” and “Die Eier Von Satan.” Not for the faint of heart.
But for those who aren’t turned off by some of the darker aspects of the human condition, Ænima’s gifts are plentiful, starting with the title track: a lava-whipped tsunami of a song in which Keenan repeatedly prays for all of Los Angeles to sink into the ocean. They won a Grammy for that one, actually.
Ænima is the kind of album in which quick, seemingly superfluous interludes like “Useful Idiot” and “Cesaro Summability” bleed into towering peaks of carefully curated sonic excellence like “Pushit,” “Eulogy” and “Forty Six & 2.” Everything works in concert to serve a larger vision.
The band saved their best for last however, capping the album with the nearly 14-minute long psychedelic rollercoaster “Third Eye,” which begins with a screed about drugs from the late comedian Bill Hicks before segueing into an epic ride filled with visceral screaming, unsettling silence and some of the most inventive sounds Adam Jones ever conjured from his Les Paul.
If Ænima stands as the consensus pick for best TOOL album, Lateralus is nipping right at its heels. The band largely executed the same blueprint on this record as they did on their previous full-length release, except with an added emphasis on eye-widening sonic spectacle.
Opening with the brutal, amorphous chug of “The Grudge,” Lateralus is packed with songs that consistently keep you on your toes. Why did they break “Parabol” and “Parabola” into two separate tracks? Who the hell knows? Does it sound awesome? Yes, yes it does.
They also give a nod to their incendiary roots on the song “Ticks & Leeches,” which finds Maynard James Keenan delivering some of the most spine-tingling screams of his entire career.
Just like Ænima, Lateralus’s title track probably stands as the high water mark on the album. It’s a precisely constructed musical leviathan that adheres to the mystical powers of the Fibonnaci Spiral all while showcasing Danny Carey’s penchant for off-the-wall time signatures like 9/8, 8/8 and 7/8.
10,000 Days (2006)
For the longest time, 10,000 Days was the last word on TOOL. It arguably stands as the band’s least accessible album to casual fans. There are some conventional sounding exceptions, of course, like the bass-heavy opener “Vicarious” and the guitar talk-box accented “Jambi,” but 10,000 Days is most notable for some of the more off-kilter choices the band made while assembling these songs.
For TOOL, the use of the phrase “off-kilter” is really saying something, but how else are you supposed to describe something like “Rosetta Stoned,” in which Maynard James Keenan recounts his experience of being abducted by aliens at an 1,000 MPH clip?
At the very heart of the album sits the pair of songs “Wings For Marie (Pt. 1) and “10,000 Days (Pt. 2).” Taken together — which they should be — it’s about 17 and a half minutes of music, with the first part serving as the extended tender intro into the more incendiary second track.
The Marie in question is Judith Marie Gridley, Maynard’s James Keenan’s mother, and throughout both songs you can hear him come to grips with her faith and her death just three years prior to the release of this album. Simply put, it’s one of the most affecting and revealing passages of music in the singer’s entire canon: from TOOL to A Perfect Circle, Puscifer and beyond.
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