Tool are a band from Los Angeles, California. Forming in 1990, the bands original line-up included Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Danny Carey and Paul D’Amour. 1995 saw the bands one and only line-up change when D’Amour was replaced by Justin Chancellor. Tool have released a mere 5 albums throughout their history!
It was June 1997, and I was somewhat indifferently watching MTV, when this video started that led to Tool becoming 1 of my top 3 favourite bands. The song was ‘Stinkfist’ and I remember being absolutely blown away by both the song and the video. I have been fortunate to see them live on just 2 occasions. First time was in 2001 at London’s Brixton Academy and then again in 2006 at London’s Wembley Arena. You will note the 2 venues are in London and fortunately, I lived in the South of England for 20 years. Currently on tour in Europe in 2022, it is with a high degree of extreme disappointment that this tour does not include a date or 2 in Scotland.
The fact that I have only ever seen them live on 2 occasions is disgraceful, considering the extremely high regard I hold them in. That said, at least we have the albums.
Please welcome Retrospective #9, Tool.
Album Retrospective – Tool
Following the success of 1992’s debut EP, ‘Opiate’, Tool made the decision to lean away from the EP’s heavy sound, potentially as an anti-thesis to the burgeoning Grunge scene, but more than likely to create more atmosphere to Keenan’s dark and twisted lyrical content. Released in 1993, the album was called Undertow and it identified Tool as an incredible, technically proficient, band with deep and insightful lyrics, albeit with the dark undertones mentioned. ‘Prison Sex’, probably the best song on the album, is about child abuse. Nobody in 1992 was writing lyrics like this, we had not long emerged from the horrific Hair Metal scene, with bands like Motley Crue singing about girls or smoking in the boy’s room – you know, real intelligent stuff! Meanwhile, Tool were getting videos withdrawn from MTV due to their lyrical content.
This was the only album to feature Paul D’Amour, and it is something he should be incredibly proud of being part of. In listening to the album as part of the retrospective, I totally lost my shit during ‘Bottom’, another stunning track.
Undertow is an album that demands your attention. With incredible videos featuring Adam Jones designed Stop-Motion techniques, Tool merely hint at that artistic future of the bands vision and sound. 8/10
September 1996 saw the release of their 2nd album, Ænima. If I were to concoct a list of my top 5 favourite albums of all time, this one would be near the top. There are very few albums I would deem as perfect, but Ænima is, to my mind, perfect. Be it through the cleverly placed interludes, the moments of extreme heaviness, sitting alongside superbly executed time signatures, there is absolutely no criticism that should be made about this album. When I heard ‘Stinkfist’ for the first time, I immediately went out to buy the CD. I was absolutely obsessed with the album from day 1.
Needless to say, the band still courted controversy with their lyrical content – again by MTV who refused to use the songs name when playing ‘Stinkfist’. ‘Die Eier von Satan’ is another controversial track. Designed to sound like a 1930’s Nazi rally, the industrial track is essentially a recipe for a Hash cake.
But it isn’t the controversies that make this album, it is the sheer quality of the tracks on offer, it is the way the album makes you lose your mind, makes you sing along to every single song and ultimately gives you goosebumps. Perfection 10/10
It was then nearly 5 full years before we would hear a new Tool album. Yes, we had the Salival box set (which I only mention as I own it), but legal battles created by the folding of their record lable would apparently hinder the growth of the band. Well, it should have, but for the fact that Tool decided to write another absolute classic! Lateralus was released in May 2001 and eager fans, including myself, immediately gobbled it up. I remember buying it on the day of release, playing it constantly as I strived to learn all the lyrics. This was especially helpful when they band got 2 of the albums best tracks, ‘Parabola’ and ‘Schism’ onto the Guitar Hero game.
I loved the transition Tool were making into their sound, a more progressive form of metal and I was overjoyed when I got to see them live for the first time on this tour, especially at an iconic venue that is famed for its excellent acoustics, Brixton Academy. I remember watching in absolute awe, just staring at the stage as the band exceeded the sky high expectations I had of seeing them live. 2001 was a good year! 9/10
Another 5 years and Tool were ready to release the 4th album. Called 10,000 Days, we were able to buy it in the UK at the beginning of May. I have the copy with the ‘eye glasses’, a gimmick that I don’t actually think benefits the album, but that is irrelevant. The songs themselves went even deeper into progressive territory and, again, many of them were absolute bangers, in particular the opening track, ‘Vicarious’. Yet again, the song made it on to a Guitar Hero game, demonstrating the popularity.
My life, around this time, was in a bit of a state, but I still managed to grab the chance to see the band at Wembley Arena in London, a far bigger, and far less awesome a venue than Brixton Academy. This time, I was in a seat with my friend, Simon, as we eagerly watched Mastodon open for the band. When Tool arrived, Maynard was situated on a riser in the back left of the stage, beside Danny and the drums, with Justin and Adam taking prominence at the front. Essentially a silhouette throughout the set, I again watched the band, awestruck at how cool it looked and how Tool were a proper band and that I was so happy that they were back! 9/10
Alas, my optimism that Tool were back was misplaced. As months became years and rumour replaced rumour, and as with so many of the bands I listened to in my 20s and early 30s, I grew apart from their music, listening to the albums less and less. Like many Tool fans, I didn’t think we would ever see the new album. Hope was just about extinguished, with potential release dates being mooted and then changed.
Then, in 2019, news broke of 2 new songs being played at a festival in the USA. 2 new songs…. I was beside myself. Then, in August 2019, Fear Inoculum was released and…. I didn’t buy it! Yes, I listened it on Spotify, as Tool had recently put their catalogue on streaming platforms, but they did not provide a ‘normal’ CD for anybody to buy. Instead, we had to buy a special edition at an exorbitant price, something I was, and am still not, willing to do. I love Tool and this is the only album I don’t own. I go by the mantra buy, don’t Spotify, but I cannot do it on this occasion.
It is a shame, as Fear Inoculum is a fine album, albeit one that doesn’t really match up to the predecessors. Perhaps this is because of the excellent side projects the guys have had over the years, or more than likely it is because my musical taste changed drastically in the intervening 13 years between albums. That said, I hope we get a new album fairly rapidly, with ‘normal’ version for us to purchase. 8/10
Listening to each of the albums during this retrospective, it is immediately obvious that the standard of each album is impeccable. The timelines between the releases has also not blunted the affection that I, and many others have for Tool. I now just hope for a Scottish date in the upcoming months so that I can see them live once again, as I don’t want to wait another 10+ years for this to happen.
- 10,000 Days
- Fear Inoculum
- Find out more – Check out the excellent www.fourtheye.net fansite
Off the beaten track – Check out the numerous Danny Carey Drum Cam videos on Youtube, although with nearly 24m views of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FssULNGSZIA We can assume most readers of this blog will have seen them.