I clearly remember back in 2010, when I first heard Tool. I listened to ‘The Pot’ off of their 2006 album ‘10,000 Days’. It was the most bizarre, amazing, and disgusting yet the most beautiful song I had ever heard. Clearly, I never heard Tool again. But then, one day in 2011, this urge rose inside of me to listen to them. It was almost as if I did not want to listen to anything besides that song. I returned from school and listened to ‘The Pot’ at full volume (almost) for the rest of the day. I felt as if I had the key to every single question ever put in front of me. I realized the world was bigger than I had ever known.
Now, the second time I heard Tool, there was a little hint at the back of my mind that I might just have stumbled upon one of the greatest musical acts ever. So I got into research mode and the more I heard Tool the more my left and right brains expanded, a newly evolved temporal lobe had been presented in front of me. I looked at everything through a different viewing glass, my third eye.
So I got their discography. It’s amazing that having heard every single song of theirs more than a hundred times, each time I listen to Tool, I’m blown away by their work. It’s like each and every song is an introspection, deep into the inner self and by the time I finish, I’ve entered a new level of nirvana. That is the power of Tool. They’ve been called the biggest cult band in the world and without a shadow of a doubt, Tool is way bigger to contain in just one article.
So I pen my love for Tool in this first of four articles that I’ll post and cover their timeline. I’ll cover their origins, their EP Opiate and their debut full-length album, Undertow.
(The original line-up; from left to right: Paul D’Amour, Maynard James Keenan, Danny Carey and Adam Jones)
Tool came into being right around 1990, when grunge was about to explode into mainstream recognition and bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, etc would become household names. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan and guitarist Adam Jones met through a mutual friend and soon started jamming together. Danny Carey used to live above Keenan and was introduced to Jones by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. Jones later introduced bassist Paul D’Amour to the band and they started practicing and performing live, and two years later they were approached by record labels and eventually got signed to Zoo Entertainment.
Tool released their Opiate EP in 1992. Named after Karl Marx’s quote “Religion […] is the opium of the masses”, the EP was very different from traditional EPs as it contained two live tracks (‘Cold and Ugly’ and ‘Jerk-Off’) and four studio tracks & a hidden track (‘The Gaping Lotus Experience’). The two songs that stood out and became highly popular were ‘Hush’ and ‘Opiate’. ‘Hush’ is particularly amazing because it promotes their dissenting view about the then-prominent PMRC and its advocacy of censorship of music. Opiate has some of the best, dark and hypnotic lyrics Tool has ever written, evident from the lyrics of the title track:
“If you want to get your soul to heaven, trust in me.
Now don’t judge or question.
You are broken now, but faith can heal you.
Just do everything I tell you to do.
Deaf and blind and dumb and born to follow.
What you need is someone strong to guide you.
Deaf and blind and dumb and born to follow.
Let me lay my holy hand upon you.”
After the success of Opiate, Tool went on to record their first full-length album Undertow, which released in 1993. Produced by former Green Jelly producer Sylvia Massey, Undertow was heavier and darker than
At a time when alternative rock and grunge were at its peak, the success of Undertow helped heavy metal remain prominent. A big share of its success is often given to the dark, haunting and visually stalking themes present in the album. The album contains some of Tool’s most metaphorically ground breaking lyrics that are accompanied by Danny Carey’s amazing drumming; Adam Jones’ spot-on guitar licks; Paul D’Amour’s haunting bass and Maynard James Keenan’s fragile yet strong, soft (not always) yet angry vocals that elevate the songs to another level of consciousness.
The first song to turn heads was ‘Sober’, a great song about guilt and past mistakes and of course being sober, accompanied by a stop-motion video made by Adam Jones (who’s done makeup and set design in many movies like Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Ghostbusters 2,etc. and directed a lot of Tool’s videos). The single became a big hit and won the band Billboard’s “Best Video by a New Artist” in 1994. The next single was the amazing ‘Prison Sex’, another song that became a target of censorship as its lyrics “It took so long to remember just what happened. I was so young and vestal then, you know it hurt me, but I’m breathing so I guess I’m still alive … I’ve got my hands bound and my head down and my eyes closed and my throat wide open” and video dealt with child abuse. Though the lyrics and video (directed by Jones, who saw it as his “surrealistic interpretation” of the subject matter) were highly praised by many journalists, it was deemed too graphic and obscene for television and was stopped from airing further.
Before a live performance of Prison Sex on November 29, 1996 in Montreal, QC, Keenan had this to say:
“This song is about recognizing, identifying, the cycle of abuse within yourself. That’s the first step of the process: realization; identifying. The next step is to work through it. But this song is about the first step in the process, which is recognizing.”
Also the photos in the liner notes of a nude obese woman, a nude man of normal weight, and the band members with pins in the sides of their heads generated controversy, resulting in the album being removed from stores such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart. These censored albums featured the following note by the band:
The album contains mind bending songs like ‘Bottom’, ‘Swamp Song’, ‘4°’, ‘Undertow’ and ‘Disgustipated’ all showcasing the four musicians’ amazing talent. A song that really stands out is ‘Disgustipated’. Clocking at 15 minutes and 47 seconds, the song opens with sheep baaing (this continues in the background), and a reverend (referred Reverend Maynard) serving a sermon about his encounter with the angel of the lord trying to tell that harvest day is holocaust for the carrots and then starts the beautiful musicianship of Tool which results in two pianos being hammered and shot at (let me tell you this is still music).
This was done in the indoor parking lot of Grand Master Studio and putting the resulting sounds to tape. Since the incident, Tool has been approached by other bands claiming to have seen the shotgun holes left by them in the car park wall. The best part, Disgustipated” is track 69 on most pressings (tracks 10–68 are silent; tracks 10-67 are 1 second each in length, and track 68 is 2 seconds). So the song is actually six minutes long, the rest is silence (ah the brilliance of Tool).
But the song has a way, way deeper meaning mostly evident are the following haunting lines that continue for a long time:
“Life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on life…”
With that said, I come to the end of the first part of this series.
So go ahead, listen to Opiate and Undertow and fall in love with Tool (it might not happen at once, as it did with me but keep the songs with you just in case). I leave you with a passage (made from the lyrics of each song) from the album booklet.
Till the next time,
Stay curious and keep that head bangin’!!!