Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.
This is my entry for February 2017.
My previous entry saw me take a look at Danish heavy metallers Volbeat.
This time around I’ve gone for revered Californian alt-metallers Tool.
Background: I have known of them for a quite a while, but never previously made much of an effort to get into them. I do recall seeing a random video on the music channels back in the day (for Schism I think), but little past that.
Interesting and somewhat otherworldy sounding drums gives way to a heavyish riff and angry vocals on the opener Intolerance. The mix seems a little off (the vocals are too low), but this is otherwise decent enough. Prison Sex is a step up, sounding like a mix of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and maybe a hint of Down. This gives way to the best trilogy of tracks on the album. Sober, Bottom and Crawl Away are all pretty great! Swamp Song isn’t far behind with it’s sort of sexier, dirtier riff that’s reminiscent of Danzig. The title track is more of the same, with an outro that wouldn’t be amiss in a Mastodon tune. The final three tracks aren’t bad, but definitely are a step down on that which has come before. Flood is probably the better of the three. Disugstipated comes across as something that’s artificially long – there’s no need for the ‘crickets’ section to be so drawn out.
A good debut album, featuring a backbrone of cracking tracks. It seems to lose it’s way a little towards the end, though none of the tracks were outright poor.
Best tracks: Sober, Bottom, Cast Away
Stinkfist is a catchy opener that would have sat squarely in the middle – quality wise – on the first album. This is followed by the much stronger, patient Eulogy. H failed to hold my interest, though it’s far from a bad track. Forty Six & 2 is better, with some nice punchy guitars mixing well with another meandering riff. Message to Manback is a weird softly spoken yet angry voicemail juxataposed with a haunting piano backdrop. Hooker With a Penis is fine, though nothing special. Intermission is a short organ track that serves more as an intro to the next track. jimmy (sic) follows straight on/continues the tunes, except transposed to heavier guitars. The track is a grower, with it taking on a sort of haunting aspect by its conclusion. Die Eier von Satan sort of sticks out a bit – a relatively quiet, somewhat industrial sounding track that Google translate tells me is a recipe for The Eggs of Satan. Hmmm… Pushit is the second longest track on the album and one that flowers into a pretty epic beast. Cesaro Summability is another of the filler / instrumental / intro tracks. This time we start with the cry of a baby, followed by some distortion. It goes a bit dark electro for the remainder. Ænema is next, and is an absolutely cracking tune! Opening riff almost sounds like it should be in a sleaze rock tune. This gives way to the standard Tool sound (quiet guitars, interesting drums). By it’s conclusion, I think it’s one of the best tracks they’ve done, let alone the best on this album. (-) Ions is a combination of cound effects that mimic a rising storm – battering winds mostly – with a pulsating electrostatic loop running over the top of it. Third Eye is quite interesting for the most poart, and certainly easier on the ear than Undertow‘s closer. Not a bad track.
I think the quality varies a little more on this one. I really dig three or four tracks from it, but I think there’s more filler here than on Undertow. Also, some of the intermissive tracks seem to be there for the sake of it. On the balance of things, probably a step behind their debut.
Best Tracks: Eulogy, Pushit, Ænema
We kick things off with The Grudge. Brooding, meandering riffs that hint at malevolence (something I now realise is sort of Tool’s signature) greet the listener. If we’re comparing openers, it is of a similar quality to Stinkfist, if a bit grungier and a bit proggier. Good opener. Eon Blue Apocalypse is a pleasant little interludeintro to the next track. The Patient is a great example of one of things Tool seem to do really well – build suspense/expectation and create a generally dark vibe. After a few fakeouts, things kick in proper around the two and a half minute mark and they don’t look back. The back third or so is something else. After the chilled instrumental Mantra, we get one of their big singles in Schism. I don’t know what really to say about this – it’s just so inherently listenable and one of their best. Parabol is a quiet, mournful tune that sounds more like a three minute intro than a stand alone effort. Parabola has a tasty opening riff, dropping us straight into the action. This is another track that I really dig, but struggle to describe exactly why over some of the others. Ticks and Leeches has a nice drum intro, before jumping around a bit across pace and style for the next eight plus minutes. I enjoyed it without being blown away, though the heavy-ish outro is really good. The title track continues the vibe of the album, but it is probably the most ‘filler’ of all the ‘proper’ songs. Disposition is another musical interlude that gives way to the astounding Reflection. The addition of the John Cerpentar-esque synth helps to generator another dark, mysterious musical landscape that wouldn’t be out of place on a sountrack for something like Blade Runner. One of my favourites. Triad is a decent-lengthed instrumental piece with some interesting callbacks to previous track. I’m not too sure what to make of the closing track Faaip de Oiad – it’s a sort of short more experimental piece that mostly involves spoken word and static. It is what it is.
Sound wise, Lateralus is definitely closer to Ænima than Undertow. However, the writing and performing is both tighter and there’s less filler here. There’s also some of the best tracks they’ve written to date on here.
Best tracks: Reflection, Schism, Parabola
– 10,000 Days
First track Vicarious sounds tighter than the previous openers. Jambi is more of the same. Both tracks are good without flooring me. Wings For Marie (Pt. 1) is a six minute, dark, moving piece. We immediately go into 10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2) which is something else entirely. It has a monstrously patient build, and almost feels saga like in it’s story telling structure. The two parts form a sort of eulogy to Keenan’s mother, whose mother tragically spent the last 27 years of her life paralysed after an aneurysm. The mood is reflective, a dark and thick with emotion. Equally beautiful and bleak, this is a masterpiece of a track. The Pot has the unveniable task of following that. Thankfully, it’s a very catchy tune and the change of pace/mood works well after the emotional drain that was what came before. Lipan Conjuring is a pleasant, short track consisting of what appears to be native american chanting. Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann), is really a sort of minimalist prologue for Rosetta Stoned. Rosetta… is an excellent sprawling track, with some nice experimentation in places. On another album, it would likely be the best track. Intension has a sort of etheral, otherworldy feel. Good without being amazing, but fits the vibe of the album. Right in Two was sort of like a better take on the opening two tracks – a little ‘Tool-by-numbers’ – but still good. The closing track is Viginti Tres, a five minute track comprising of sound effects that wouldn’t be amiss on a sci fi or scene, setting the mood. Given the feel of the album as a whole, it feels somewhat apt.
I wasn’t sure how this was gonna hold up compared to Lateralus, especially after the first couple of tracks (good, without being brilliant). However, from Wings for Marie onwards this thing really kicks into another gear. If the album had ended at Rosetta Stoned, this would have gotten the best score.
Best tracks: 10,000 Days, Rosetta Stoned, The Pot
That was my whistle stop tour of Tool’s albums. Overall, I’ve got to admit I’ve really enjoyed the whole run. I think Ænima suffers a little more from filler, as well as some of the proggier bits not quite working out. That being said, there are no bad albums here and I can’t choose between the other three.