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  • Writer's pictureThe Eagle

Artist Review: Tool's Sharp Edge Never Grows Dull

Undertow was Tool's debut album and is home to some of the band's biggest hits. (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

By Riley Cockram--Eagle Staff Writer

Growing up, my dad often showed me music videos to introduce me to his music tastes. He would play songs on his bass, too. One band that became a staple for me growing up because of these experiences was Tool.

Tool is a progressive metal band. What makes it progressive is that it emphasizes experimentation and trying new things. Tool has been making music since 1992, releasing 9 albums including one of my favorites, Undertow.

Released April 6, 1993, Undertow helped heavy metal music remain a prominent music style and allowed other metal bands to break through into the mainstream music scene. Undertow was released at the height of the grunge movement, and since the 90s, it has sold over 3 million copies and is certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Tool is one of those bands that transcends a lot of musical boundaries for me. Undertow is dark and heavy with a more modern sound for its time. The record doesn't sound like It's thirty years old, but instead something released in the early 2000s. Undertow is Tool's first full-length album, and the band wasted no time setting themselves apart from every other band on the planet.

"Intolerance" opens the album by recalling lead singer Maynard James Keenan's experiences at West Point. The repeated lyrics in this song, "Lie, cheat, and steal," come from West Point Academy honor code "I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."

Maynard James Keenan is the lead singer of Tool. (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

"Sober" is probably Tool's most recognizable song. It's heavy and has an amazing stop motion music video that I adore from my childhood. It's by far my favorite song in the album.

"Bottom" features renaissance punk Henry Rollins. “Bottom” is about somebody who's hit rock bottom from somebody or something that devastated them. This song goes by quick and has fast instrumentals and vocals.

"Crawl Away" is an emotional song that stands out in the crowd. It isn't sentimentally monotone like the rest the album.

"Swamp Song" is incredibly heavy, and the title track deals with addiction. This song is the opposite of "Bottom". It goes by slower and has slow instrumentals and vocals.

"Flood" is the most progressive piece on the album, but the album is mainly alt metal. After this, Tool included a massive number of long tracks of near-silence, up until "Disgustipated" ends the album with an attack on organized religion.

Tool is every bit as socially aware as Rage Against the Machine, but Tool brings an extra level of experimentation to their mix, which isn’t surprising because it’s normal for bands to experiment on their first albums. However, this willingness to venture outside the box flowed into Tool's second album, Aenima.

Aenima was released on Sept. 17, 1996. (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

Aenima was recorded and cut at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood and Hook Sound Studios in North Hollywood from 1995-1996. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart upon its release, selling 148,000 copies in its first week. It was certified triple platinum by the RIAA on March 4, 2003. The track "Aenema" won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1998.

In my opinion, Aenima is much more accessible than Undertow. It's more relatable to a broader audience, based on the fact that it has proven more popular than Undertow. The record has excellent production and it's clear Tool's guitar skills made a huge improvement. This can be seen in "Stinkfist," which begins the album beautifully. Keenan's vocals are the key to understanding this progression. He has an amazing vocal range that echoes through his music.

"Eulogy" is quite a long track and can be hard to get into, as it takes a while to build up, but the lyrics are well written and this song reveals Tool is more than a band of angst; they have a vulnerable side full of emotion.

"Forty Six & 2" is similarly lengthy, and also continues to build up amazingly as the song progresses. To me, it's one of the band's best songs to date.

"Message To Harry Manback" is one of the short filler tracks to help link the two songs. These tracks are ok but can get annoying. Some of the tracks are super long and some are super short and feel unnecessary.

"Intermission" is a silly piece that is used to build up into the explosive "Jimmy" which has heavy droning guitars and brilliant vocals.

The two greatest songs of this album were saved for last. "Pushit" is another lengthy piece but is one of the best songs on the album. Aenima has angry guitar riffs that weave in and out of mellow singing and angry screams. This description also applies to "Pushit".

"Third Eye" is what makes this album a masterpiece. Excelling over all the other tracks, this 13 minute epic sums up the whole legendary album with its ever changing musical progress, and serves as an emblem that Aenima is one of the best progressive rock albums of the 90s.

Aenima and Undertow were created over thirty years ago, but their grit and power still feel youthful as before. I believe that's why Tool resonated with me so much as a kid. Listening to this band has inspired me to explore more vintage bands and albums, and I've found it to be a really awesome experience that I'd recommend to anyone, especially fans of Korn, Deftones, Slipknot, or Pantera.

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