Artist Spotlight: Tool – Musical Bête Noire Makes Good (A Reflection in Six Parts)

Artist Spotlight courtesy of Pucky

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions in not only the human experience but in virtually all animals. Fear can paralyze and fear can drive you insane. One of the most general fears in the world is that of the unknown; we as children hate the darkness because we can’t be sure of what lurks within. It’s even scarier when the unknown is masked to deliberately obfuscate its humanity. This is what makes some art so intentionally disturbing, when the human element is stripped away. You could imagine it having burbled up from the putrid depths of Hell itself, the work of pure evil. But then you’ll end up like a terrified villager in a Scooby-Doo episode, made a fool of by a goofball in a rubber monster costume. You just might even discover that that goofball is lovable, has feelings, and can become a great new friend.

Lost? Let me tell a story about a scared, sometimes angry boy.

Pt. 1: Prologue
In 2008, early in eighth grade *gets off lawns*, I was obsessed with learning about music through the then-hot Guitar Hero franchise. Sure, the series leaned more towards mainstream white male guitar music, but that has shaped my tastes since then for better and worse. I decided to take the plunge and ask my parents to buy me Guitar Hero: World Tour, the fourth main installment of the series, in fall of 2008, for our relatively new Wii console. The game was cool in that it had the full band ensemble, like Rock Band, only not quite as good.

The game had the biggest set list of any GH game thus far, a diverse group of artists including Smashing Pumpkins, Jimi Hendrix, Ozzy Osbourne, and Blink-182, and that’s just from bands that had in-game characters. There were even some artists in there that I wouldn’t really get into until long after I gave away the game, like At the Drive-In, the Mars Volta, and Modest Mouse. One artist caught my attention in the pre-release materials, however, due to their unique place in the game: a band called Tool would have a record three songs on the soundtrack, with an accompanying stage inspired by the band’s art style. This intrigued me though I had no idea what the fvck it was.

So, one snowy November evening while my brother and I were home alone, I decided to blow 8000 in-game credits on the Tool stage. I did not expect the freakish cavalcade of disturbing imagery that followed, nor did I take a shine to the haunting, ultra-heavy metal that accompanied it. That single eyeball gazing out of my TV screen cemented itself in my psyche. After about ninety seconds of gamely strumming my way through “Parabola” on Easy, I dropped out and shut the game off. A lot of kids have mild traumatic memories from watching horror movies alone at night; this was that moment for my brother and me. It didn’t help that our parents were two hours late in coming back from seeing Pineapple Express, leaving us up late, unaccompanied, and disturbed by sights of demented faces and creepy anatomical diagrams.

So long story short, Tool messed me the fvck up for several years, almost eight to be exact. Any time I spotted a person in a Tool shirt at school, I’d do my best to beeline out of there; I even requested a seating change so I wouldn’t have to sit next to a perfectly nice kid who owned one of their shirts. I was superstitious; I avoided saying any words that had to do with that frightening Guitar Hero experience, including the song titles (“Parabola,” “Schism,” and “Vicarious”), the name Maynard James Keenan, and even eventually “Perfect Circle” when I learned the name of his side project. For all of high school, I adored looking into music and discovering new artists, but I would go into full mental meltdown when I accidentally encountered anything about Tool.

Jump cut to late 2015. By this point, I had somewhat softened in my irrational phobia, mostly due to reading the band’s name frequently in AV Club shuffle threads. Then, I spotted an 11 Questions interview with Maynard James Keenan, who was pimping his new Puscifer record Money Shot and was open for an interview. As it turned out, this mysterious man whom I had always thought of as some sort of devil or evil wizard, was actually just a lovably goofy, snarky, wine-loving artist with friends, feelings, and family. It definitely softened my perception of Keenan, but I wasn’t sold on the music yet.

Then, a couple weeks later, on an early AVCAD thread, I was convinced by one of the forum’s resident MJK fans, A Winged Potato, to give the music a chance. Both due to streaming availability and wanting to ease into the more accessible end first, I started with a few A Perfect Circle singles on Spotify. This spotlight isn’t on APC, so I will suffice to say that it was striking enough for me to at least get into their music. Then, I took the plunge in April 2016 and checked out Ænima from the library. I have not looked back.

So, this protracted intro is basically my way of explaining my very recent conversion to this cryptic yet incredibly popular band. I’ll do my best to give an overview of the story behind Tool and look into their four studio full-length records. Reading their history really helped me overcome my phobia once and for all, learning that behind the meat puppets and aliens, it’s basically just four talented guys from L.A.

Pt 2: Origins

Tool initially formed in 1991 in Los Angeles, California, initially comprised of Maynard James Keenan (vox), Danny Carey (drums), Adam Jones (guitar), and Paul D’Amour (bass). After releasing a demo tape (72826, the numbers one would use to spell “Satan” on a phone) in 1992, the band released their debut EP Opiate, the only one of their records I have not listened to yet. I plan to remedy that ASAP. Regardless, it caught the ears of music critics around the nation, who trained their gaze upon this unique metal quartet. Their blend of angst, sludge, and instrumental chops made them too out-there for traditional metal (mostly ‘80s remnants at that point) and too heavy for most of the grunge scene, one of the earliest members of the “alternative metal” genre.

In 1993, Tool released their first full-length record, Undertow. A lot of hullaballoo surrounded the album’s packaging: its cover art was a creepy yet innocuous ribcage sculpture designed by Adam Jones, but the inside packaging contained bizarre nude human figures and a cow licking its genitals. Major retailers refused to stock this bizarre imagery, so some versions of the album have the distinction of its front cover being merely the UPC barcode, with the minimalist track listing on the rear.

The content of the record didn’t really help the band’s case for not being freakish. The second track, and second single, was entitled “Prison Sex,” for starters. Profanity was dropped relentlessly, and the lyrics often focused on decrying organized religion and calling out idiocy and hypocrisy with blunt fury. Tool’s aesthetic of combining crude humor with overly-serious spook tactics is epitomized by the hidden track “Disgustipated,” an unsettling industrial song with copious spoken word samples and stretches of silence, is placed at track 69 on the record, after about a minute of silence stretched across dozens of tracks.

Musically, Undertow set out to develop a unique voice in metal, emphasizing instrumental chops across the board but not relying on wankish solos. Their sound is dominated by the low-end rhythm section, with nimble-fingered bass and hyper-precise drums pushed to the fore, often burying the hyper-distorted, solo-averse guitar. Sonically, the album is adequate for 1993, heavy and creeping, though the drums sound a little flat in retrospect. Maynard Keenan’s voice has a bit more of a guttural twang to it, for lack of a better descriptor, than the later records; the man can still go toe to toe with any and all of his peers for sheer passion and lungpower. By going from a whisper to a scream on a dime, he took the “quiet-loud-quiet” dynamic of grunge to its logical conclusion.

Undertow was the third record of Tool’s that I heard, and it suffers by not being as complex or artsy as its follow-ups, but the passion and sheer rock force are still there. The opening three tracks mix solid songwriting with crushing grooves. Breakthrough single “Sober” still has to answer for all the crappy imitators (Staind et al) that it spawned, but it puts the power in power ballad. Not even a rambling Henry Rollins monologue can derail the sheer force of “Bottom.” Hell, even a few weird art-rock touches get smuggle in, like the snippet at the start of “Crawl Away” and the sitars on “4⁰”. All in all, it’s an above-average metal album, setting the stage for great things to come.

Pt. 3: Evolution

After their debut sold massively and broke the concept of alternative metal to a larger audience, the band went through some changes. Paul D’Amour was replaced on bass by Justin Chancellor, whose even greater talents on the instrument corresponded to an increase in arrangements that brought bass to the front. The alternative-rock era was in full swing, and the only “edgy” artist even more popular than Tool was Nine Inch Nails, who popularized electro-industrial rock for the masses with The Downward Spiral in 1994. Perhaps inspired by that classic record’s massive levels of studio work, Tool decided to add some more flourishes of studio trickery to their sound. But it was more than just a gimmick; Keenan and company wanted to push further into progressive rock territory by expanding their sonic palette…and their MINDS, man. Enter Ænima in 1996.

The band’s secret weapon, I believe, has been studio engineer David Bottrill, who co-produced their two finest records. Ænima has a dark, electrified haze to it and a more layered sound than its predecessor, including much crisper drums, heavier bass, and even more distorted vocals. Atmospherics are important for art-rock bands, so developing an enveloping, overarching sonic approach was essential in cementing the new record’s classic status.

What of the efforts of the four musicians? The songwriting significantly improves on Ænima, blending memorable melodies with escalating levels of intensity. Most of the songs unfurl at a leisurely pace, with the exception of the pummeling highlight “Hooker with a Penis,” and that may have confounded a few of their more aggressive fans, while winning over a few new fans with their artier streak.

The “art” also tends to lose people, and on Ænima the band began their oft-considered to be tedious habit of bulking up the run time of their albums with weird interludes. There are a whopping five interlude tracks, six if you count the shock-industrial detour “Die Eier von Satan.” They include the sound of a crying infant breaking down into electronic warbles (“Cesaro Summability”), an electric thunderstorm (“(-) Ions”), a record needle skipping (“Useful Idiot”) and even a hostile voicemail accompanied by new-age piano (“Message to Harry Manback”). They do give a bit of breathing room in between these often marathon-like songs, but the only one I find essential is “Intermission,” a jaunty yet spooky tune that previews the main riff to the following track, “Jimmy,” on organ.

The “real” songs are where the meat of the record can be found. “Stinkfist” sets the tone of the record with one of the more accessible tracks; ironically, the most radio-friendly tune is the one about anal fisting, though it’s lyrically subtle. The rest of the record expands upon the musical stylings outlined here: a seething pulse conveyed through searing guitar riffs, thick bass, impeccably thunderous drums, and yearning/fiery vocals. The entire record is pretty much winners from front to back, depending on how much time you spend with it. The Grammy-winning title track, which outlines a watery apocalypse for Los Angeles, is the most immediately satisfying, with its lurching 6/8 riff and damning chorus, while the hypnotic “Forty Six & 2” improves upon the whisper-to-a-scream ballad style of “Sober.” “Pushit” is a masterstroke, ebbing and flowing through a myriad of riffs and sections, making use of all ten of its minutes. The epic closer “Third Eye” is unique in Tool’s catalog in its scope, meandering through a vicious yet heartrending 14-minute closing statement that pushes the band’s dynamics to new extremes. Even the deep cuts, such as “Eulogy” (a screed against L. Ron Hubbard), “Jimmy” (a sequel of sorts to “Prison Sex”), and “H.” (don’t know what this one’s about) get themselves stuck in my head with high frequency. My personal standout is the aforementioned “Hooker with a Penis,” which is an anomaly on two counts. It has a manic tempo in sharp contrast to the sludgy album, and its lyrics, telling off a pretentious fan who told Keenan that the band sold out. The directness and urgency of the track are refreshing to hear from a band that usually deals in riddles, both lyrical and musical.

Tool’s second LP, despite its cryptic strangeness, sold big numbers again. They even managed to make their way to “music’s biggest night” when they took home two Grammy awards, one for Best Metal Performance for “Ænema” and another for Best Packaging, due to their eye-catching lenticular optics and an album booklet paying tribute to the late Bill Hicks (an early supporter of the band whose standup is sampled on “Third Eye”).
But the band’s impact reached beyond trophies and sales numbers. Alongside Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire and Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar in that same year, Ænima helped launch a heavier strain of alternative rock toward the mainstream. Yes, Tool are partially to blame for nu-metal, and they were sometimes lumped in with that crowd because of their seething rage and brooding balladry. (One listen to “Third Eye” would clue in anybody that they were on a different level altogether.) The alt-rock landscape changed drastically in the late ‘90s due partially to their influence, as aggression and heaviness became the norm. Staind owe virtually their entire career to attempting to replicate the scarred anguish of Tool’s “Sober” and falling short. The hardest part of explaining Tool to alternative rock fans who never gave them a chance is convincing them that they’re nothing like Korn.

Pt. 4: Apotheosis

So, what happened in the years following Ænima? Mostly, protracted legal battles sidelined the band as they fought for their royalties in lieu of creating a follow-up record. 2000 wrought the live DVD Salival to whet the appetites of millions of fans hungry for new music. That year also saw the formation of A Perfect Circle. While Tool were struggling to regain their rights, Maynard James Keenan teamed up with the band’s guitar tech Billy Howerdel for a new side project, which evolved into a full band, even a supergroup of sorts. One could fill a whole other spotlight on APC alone, so I’ll suffice to say that their debut Mer de Noms is a spacious, beautiful, and heavy alt-rock album that would be both of interest to most Tool fans but also very different. It also yielded Keenan’s highest-charting single to date on the Modern Rock Billboard Chart, with “Judith,” a wounded anti-God screed dedicated to Keenan’s mother (more on that later). The rock landscape was full of Keenan’s acolytes, so it was only fitting that he was finding a much larger audience than ever before.

Then, in the winter of 2000-01, Tool orchestrated their biggest audience appeal yet. Re-teaming up with studio wizard David Bottrill, the group spent time devising a concept record of sorts inspired by the heavy progressive rock of King Crimson and others in the ‘70s. It was originally titled Systeme Encephale, but saw release as Lateralus on May 15, 2001.

Lateralus is one of those records that causes divisiveness without even considering the music. First and foremost, it’s nearly 80 minutes long, as full as a single CD can safely hold. Second, it was described as a loose concept record about the Fibonacci sequence and its connection to the human body. The album art is a series of overlaid transparencies detailing human anatomy, painted by the band’s longtime artistic partner Alex Grey; at one point, one can make out the word “GOD” hidden in the brain matter. The whole thing reeks of prog excess.

Excessive, yes, but it’s an album that embraces the term and counters it with an intense dose of discipline, the destructive force of a hurricane funneled into a doomsday device of impeccable precision. With this magnum opus, Tool ensured that nobody would ever mistake them for a mere aggro-metal mook act ever again.

The band’s lyrics have never been their strong suit, but some of Keenan’s words on Lateralus describe the listening experience perfectly. “Clutch it like a cornerstone / otherwise it all comes down” he croons on opening maelstrom “The Grudge.” You have to commit to the full experience of Lateralus if you want it to work – the 50-second screams, the sextuple-time double-bass drums, the percussive artillery, the spacious synth whirs, the whiplash time-signature shifts. To quote Keenan once again, “I know the pieces fit.” Believe in all the components, and every song in the right order, and you will come to understand its majesty.

Pardon my extreme pretension, but I like to think of Lateralus as nothing less than an attempt at dissecting the human experience and expressing it in musical form. You’ve got emotions covered right off the bat (“The Grudge” and “The Patient”), how we interact with those around us that we love (“Schism”), how we comprehend our own consciousness (“Parabola”), expanding that consciousness beyond our own selves (“Lateralus”) but being interrupted by unwanted parasitism (“Ticks and Leeches”), and finally absorbing it all and accepting our place in the world (“Reflection”). Along the way, there are a couple of tributes to our furry friends (“Eon Blue Apocalypse” is an instrumental tribute to Adam Jones’ deceased dog, and “Mantra” is the digitally slowed sound of Keenan hugging his cat), and even a closing nod to extraterrestrial powers beyond our comprehension (the terrifying hidden track “Faaip de Oiad”).

Every track is genius, even on an album meant to be enjoyed as a full piece. “Schism” was released as the lead single, and with good cause – it’s essentially the power ballad of the record. Its relentless bass line pushes the song forward, careening along like a demented ballet. The song has no words to its chorus, instead cleverly inserting another tricky beat into the song’s oddball rhythm (alternating 5/8 and 7/8 time, basically a weird division of 12/8; the chorus is an even trickier 13/8 time). Sultry percussion and fierce melodic vocals join in for a passionate and even seductive number, along with a gorgeous synth-brushed bridge. The song went to #2 on the Modern Rock Charts (staved off from the top slot by none other than Staind), and won Tool their second Best Metal Performance Grammy.

Let’s backtrack to the start, with those first couple of masterful if less immediate tracks. “The Grudge” opens with the sound of machinery whirring to life, followed shortly by the main riff crashing down like a rolling thunder, ever squirming angrily in a manic 5/8 time. Keenan recites the chorus like a possessed litany, before the drums pull one of their coolest tricks by ramping up gradually in speed (2-4-6-8-12) as the band crashes down around them. There’s a lot going on here, between the heartrending melody, the skittering drum solos, the intricate riffage, and that throat-rending scream. It never grabbed me the first time around, but soon became an all-time favorite.

“The Patient” is even less immediate – its cleanly strummed guitar line and relaxed drumwork hardly feel like metal at all compared to what preceded it. It gradually ramps up to a heavier crunch, but the spotlight belongs to Keenan once again, whose yearning vocal take on the tune is astonishing.

My personal highlight of the record is the 9-minute “Parabol/Parabola” sequence in the middle. The former part is a none-more-pensive dirge featuring a haunting guitar line and the most ghostly voice Keenan has ever employed, which erupts into a scorched-earth rocker in one of the most energizing moments in rock album history. “Parabola” was the song that scared me away from Tool, and it was the one that also drew me in for good. It moves from the wounded dying breath of its predecessor to a fiery dance of death, celebrating both the astounding reality of corporeal existence and the burdens that we shed upon leaving it. The whole band moves like a single organism, guitar, vocals, and rhythm section pirouetting together so organically it’s hard to believe that four different humans wrote and rehearsed it. Also, it kicks fvcking ass.

If it’s ass-kicking you desire, look no further than “Ticks and Leeches,” in which Tool outdo themselves in the intensity department. Having just expressed how amazing it is to have a body, imagine the rage one would then have at anything impinging upon your inner space, sapping your vital essence. That rage would most certainly be aurally manifested by this proto-Mars-Volta explosion, in which Danny Carey melts his arms and your brain with an undeniably jaw-dropping drum performance (seriously, even if you hate technique-freak metalheads, you can’t deny how hard it would actually be to play most of this song). In a typically zag-when-you-should-zig move, the whole midsection of the song is ponderous and defeated-sounding guitar, lightly brushed with muffled screaming and mournful strings, before exploding back to life with a larynx-ripping climax that redefines catharsis.

If we’ve seen the wounded heart and felt the muscle of Lateralus, the title track brings the brains. In a move I can only imagine dozens of prog rockers were kicking themselves for never trying, the song bases its syllabic verse around the Fibonacci sequence (1,1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13), and boggles the mind with an expansive bridge operating in three different time signatures simultaneously, and yet it all feels so organically constructed that any thoughts of over-technical try-hard attitude are swept aside. The vocals begin cool and calculated, eventually giving way to emotionally-overcome. The syncopated polyrhythms are intoxicating to a former percussionist and music theorist such as myself.

The band goes full prog-rock with a three-part, 22-minute suite to close out the record. “Disposition” is almost New Age music in its serene simplicity, bringing in acoustic guitars (!) and tabla drums (the percussive symbol of musical “awakening”), repeating little more than a mere two lines (“Mention this to me / watch the weather change”), slowly working up a gentle midtempo Eastern groove. “Reflection” requires the most dedication and patience to appreciate, as it unfurls slowly across 11 carefully-crafted minutes. It opens with an exotic percussion array before employing laser-age synths and wistful strings. Maynard doesn’t even make a sound until almost 4 minutes in, where he croons behind a vocal filter straight out of Poltergeist. It comes to a stunning conclusion in the “Before I pine away” hook, but the journey there can admittedly be tedious if you’re not in the right mindset (I imagine that, like many prog rock records, some dank weed helps). “Triad” rages the record to a close with a satisfying instrumental jam in eerie “exotic” tonality, nodding slightly to the band’s occasional industrial-rock streak. Two minutes of silence follow, and the hidden track “Faaip de Oiad” proceeds to scare the living shit out of you; a drum solo accompanied by random electronic noise bursts backs a disturbed man calling into a late night radio show to describe Area 51 and the aliens that have supposedly infiltrated our society. Alternative science and conspiracy theories are some of Tool’s favorite subjects to cover, and this spooky little epilogue sums up their interests well.

Is it really possible to separate the body from the mind? The heart drives the brain and vice versa. It’s these “deep” thoughts that the album makes you feel, and the music is so good you don’t even care how ridiculous you sound saying that aloud. Pre-release hype, critical hosannas, and a musical climate that was more welcoming to heavy metal led Lateralus to reach #1 on the Billboard Album Chart, quite possibly one of the strangest ever reords to hold that distinction.

Pt. 5: Recession

How does one follow up a surprise chart-topping smash hit album that’s also one of the most complex metal albums to reach a mainstream audience? Tool decided to take their sweet time, waiting five years to deliver their next full length. In the meantime, two significant things occurred. First, A Perfect Circle recorded two more albums, the excellent Thirteenth Step and the divisive anti-war mostly-covers eMOTIVE. Although Billy Howerdel was the sonic vision behind APC, Keenan likely took a lot of inspiration from this more spacious brand of art-metal, a slightly softer side to prog-rock. Second, Keenan’s mother, Judith Marie, passed away after living paralyzed from a stroke for 27 years. As it turns out, this period of time has been considered significant in astrology, since it is the approximate period of Saturn’s orbit around the Sun. Informally, it’s considered to be 10,000 days. The emotional consequences of losing a parent, especially one whose tale is as tragic as Judith’s, can make for great art.

10,000 Days is not, however, as grandiose of a record as its two predecessors, despite the emotional catalyst of the latter event, possibly due to the inspiration of the former event. For their long-anticipated fourth record, Tool dialed back the potent aggression in place of a more expansive, varied musical palate. To my ears, it feels as if the “rock” and the “prog” are never in the same place at the same time. However, as much as it is a flawed record, 10,000 Days is still a good record.

Let us first highlight the positives. Lead-off track “Vicarious” establishes the group’s signature sound right off the bat, with its hypnotic guitar riff, replete with bass pushed up into the mix. Keenan’s voice combines a croon with a hiss as he sardonically describes the thrill of reality-TV drama in some of his most straightforward lyrics ever. The band grooves perfectly for all seven minutes, including a perfectly calculated freakout in the last few seconds. “Vicarious” lacks a true hook, though, so its capability as a successful single was low (despite debuting at #2 on the Modern Rock chart, it never got any higher than that).

On the contrary, “The Pot” pushes far into the “ideal single” territory, a funky bass-driven rocker that shows the band cutting loose for maybe the first time since Undertow. It was nominated for a Grammy (they lost to fellow prog-metallurgists The Mars Volta) and remains their only US chart-topping single, spending four weeks at the top of the Mainstream Rock chart.

Chief among the achievements of the album is its epic two-part title track, a grand prog-rock masterpiece befitting the occasion of mourning one’s mother. Keenan sings in a low, breathy tone, ruminating on religion and the great thereafter, insisting that his mother’s life of innocence and faith is deserving of “wings” – powerful stuff, and the roiling-come-explosive music behind it suits it well. The album’s other epic tune is less spiritual and more heavy: “Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)” combines atmospheric guitar with cinematic voiceover work painting the image of a coma patient awakening in a busy hospital, segueing into the kickass “Rosetta Stoned.” An 11-minute jam-friendly metal tune in multiple time signatures featuring distorted profane stream-of-consciousness lyrics recounting an alien abduction, it is both on paper and on record the quintessential Tool song.

The flaws of the album, however, sink it in the eyes of many diehards. The sequencing is an issue: not only does it not cohere as a singular piece of art like Lateralus did, the track ordering is odd, with the exhaustingly emotional “10,000 Days/Wings for Marie” sequence placed early in the album, only to follow it up with the more casual, tonally opposite “The Pot.” “Jambi” sounds too much like an inferior version of “Vicarious” to comfortably sit right after it. “Lipan Conjuring” is the latest in the band’s mandatory series of pointless interludes. “Intension” might be Tool’s most boring song ever, and “Right In Two” is decent but does little to distinguish itself and cement into the listener’s brain after the hour of music that preceded it.

Less easy to alleviate is the production, courtesy of Joe Barresi. It’s got a generic multimillion-dollar studio polish to it that drains the doom-and-gloom atmosphere out of the proceedings – it’s the least spooky of the band’s records because the dread is no longer palpable. Lastly, I would have been more impressed by the uber-proggy album packaging if I could figure out how to use the stereoscopic eyeglasses that came with it. Make the instructions more clear, guys!

Pt. 6: Conclusion

As of the time of writing, Tool have not released a single note of new music for over TEN YEARS. In the meantime, they continue to tour, whilst Maynard Keenan has continued to pursue new and different passions: his winemaking business Caduceus Cellars and his third major musical project, Puscifer. I honestly have yet to engage much with Puscifer, because it’s drastically different from either of his previous bands, mostly an industrial/electronic art collective that makes music much prettier than that descriptor would lead you to believe. (Side note: The band name was originally used as a moniker for the fictional band that Keenan performed in for a Mr. Show sketch in the mid-‘90s, one of his best pop-culture connections) One cannot fault a man for pursuing his dreams regardless of caring about commercial success; for that, I applaud Keenan. Plus, the musical landscape has shifted so far away from rock and metal that I’m really intrigued/apprehensive to hear how Tool would try to evolve their sound for today’s listeners. Furthermore, the band’s enigmatic image and release strategies would prove difficult in the social media era. Rumors float around every so often that the follow-up to 10,000 Days is in the works, but no concrete evidence has popped up. Even if we never hear another song from Tool, I would still be satisfied for the greatness we already have.

I probably haven’t helped counter the idea of Tool as being a band whose fans are insufferable and prone to flights of overblown praise. At the very least, they’re a talented heavy metal band with a unique sound that has defied all odds to massive mainstream success. They’ve got a passionate melodic streak countered by unmatched heaviness, inspiring dozens of imitators who can’t even achieve a fraction of their majesty. Very few of their contemporaries can outdo them from both a commercial and aesthetic standpoint (System of a Down and Deftones continue to be commonly referenced contenders to their throne). Most importantly, they have played a bizarre role in my life, changing from the Devil incarnate to eventually a Top-Ten favorite artist. Lateralus and Ænima have both entered heavy rotation in my playlists. I know many of you have been familiar with Maynard, Danny, Adam, and Justin for years, whereas this entire spotlight is the result of about four months of exposure. They’re still fresh and fascinating in my book, but I feel that most of their output will endure for years to come, not just as a soundtrack for youthful rage, but for deeper understanding of self. My suggestion to new prospective listeners? Put on Ænima, learn to swim, and see you down in Arizona Bay.

Top 7 Tracks (subject to change):
7. “Sober”
6. “The Pot”

5. “Schism”
4. “Pushit”

3. “Ticks and Leeches”

2. “Hooker with a Penis”

1. “Parabol/Parabola”