I started listening to Tool when I heard “Stinkfist” on the radio about 3 years ago. I remember thinking that this song was unlike any I had ever heard and decided to buy Aemina, not knowing there were other Tool albums out there. Within a few days, I was listening to nothing else. I decided to get educated about Tool and bought their other two albums. All 3 are simply an incredible array of fantastic music, complex lyrics, and outright catharsis. Undertow contains some of their best work such as Crawl Away, Prison Sex, Swamp Song, and 4 Degrees. Maynard James Keenan may well be the most dominating figure in 90’s rock/metal (sorry Ed Vedder, you don’t cut it anymore). Do yourself a huge favor and start listening to this wholly original and powerful band. Everything else sounds pathetic in comparison. Tool is an anomaly that lives up to the hype while inspiring those who listen to free their minds to new perspectives. This, in my view, is what music is supposed to do.
Metal Album Reviews[RSS]
There is no common opinion on what is the best Tool album. Some will say they got better with each release, while some others think their first two releases, Opiate and Undertow, are better and more musical. Without getting into this debate, I’ll kindly suggest, if you’ve never heard Tool before, start right here, with their first full-length release, Undertow (their debut Opiate is an EP).
The songs on Undertow are all significantly more simple and direct than their work on Aenima and Lateralus; it could be argued that the band hadn’t matured fully while they were writing these songs yet, but still, for a 1993 release, Undertow is one of the most innovative discs ever, given how the scene was littered with a million grunge bands at the time. This is not to say Tool has no alternative elements in their music though. The second track of the album actually sees vocalist Maynard Keenan opting for a slightly grunge-styled delivery with great results. However, aside from that, “Prison Sex” is an ultimately adventurous piece and easily transcends the boundaries of grunge. Pairing a gritty bass motif with immensely powerful drum fills, the song also contains a dynamic guitar theme that soars above this combination, climaxing at the final second, suggesting there is not a single overplayed note on it.
Actually, Undertow, as every other Tool album, immediately impacts the listener with its solid rhythmic angle, the amazing Danny Carey on drums and Paul D’Amour on bass (now replaced by Justin Chancellor). Carey’s drumming style is absolutely mind-blowing and his tone is to die for, while D’Amour on bass really defines the character of the album, be it with his fat bass lines on “Intolerance” (with killer guitar effects at the end) or his meticulous grooves on “Bottom”, a song with a phenomenal atmospheric undercurrent that emphasizes tranquil passages filled with whispered spoken words, sporadic bass throbs, and glistening cymbal work. Guitarist Adam Jones is equally important to this album. His minimalistic yet effective guitar expressions are in a league all their own. You won’t hear a million flying solos on this album (or any other for that matter). If that’s what you’re looking for in music, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Tool simply rocks in a different kind of way. Sure, their music is riff-based, marked by plenty of visceral rock nuances, and amidst all these complex passages, it is Jones himself who chooses when and where to insert those riffs, each one having a point and purpose. The guitar work of Tool is simply one of a kind. Adam Jones’ guitar lines bleed atmosphere through and through, in a very unique way. “Sober”, my personal favourite off of this album, is not only a relentless attack on religious hypocrisy, but it also displays what an amazing lyricist and singer Maynard Keenan is. Just listening to this song, I can already hear how all those new bands, such as Dead Soul Tribe, have been influenced by the genius of Tool’s songwriting. The chorus of “Sober” is so well-written and infectious that it won’t let go days after you stop listening to it. And I really, really love Keenan’s haunting lyrics. He conveys his thoughts with zero pretense, which, in my opinion, is a big plus.
I wish I could describe each track in great detail, but it would be impossible to do so without missing vital moments. Though, at face value, Undertow may seem rather simplistic and concise, repeat listens expose great details. You may be as surprised as me when you start enjoying the numbing guitar drills on the bleak “Crawl Away” or effect-laden guitars paired with oppressive instrumental interludes on “Swamp Song”. The title track, besides going back to the band’s grunge-infused themes, is also one of the vocal-based cuts, where you hear so many changing chord progressions your head spins; while the Eastern influence on “4 Degrees” (complete with terrific percussion) make you believe they further explored this on their following releases.
“Flood” is arguably the most brooding number on Undertow. Its slowly-picked bass guitar, Keenan’s vocals echoing distantly in the background, and dense atmospherics build on through its eventless yet languid first half before venturing into a hard-hitting rock number with philosophy-infused lyrics. The last song “Disgustapated”, starting at track 10 and ending at track 69, is a trippy piece of over 15 minutes, littered with odd sound effects, tribal percussion work, spoken lyrics about abuse and intolerance, and a static hammer sound that goes on and on. I’m not even going to go into the pictures in the booklet, which are equally ‘different’ and ‘unusual’, for lack of a better term.
It was incredibly difficult for me to crack Tool’s music. However, once I did, I never looked back. It may take months or even years, but if you’re a music fan with an open mind and enjoy innovation and musical depth as much as I do, give Tool a listen. If you heard them before and thought they were obtuse, maybe you should go back and give their album(s) a new spin. You may be grateful you did.
As a long-time fan of the band, I’ve chosen to spotlight this album in an Amazon review. I’ve seen Tool seven times live, once at Lollapalooza, once at Ozzfest and the rest at their own shows. Undertow is undoubtedly the most powerful, thought-provoking album these guys have assembled, but I would also prescribe any other of their masterpieces. Maynard’s voice is an instrument, a vehicle, that takes the listener to dark places. He is the tragic king of his own world, and he makes you feel like he’s been through something the rest of us only have nightmares about. The lyrics make you dig into yourself, introspect, realize what’s there and what isn’t and should be. Danny Carey’s percussion lines provide powerful punctuation to Adam Jones’ amazing guitar riffs and Paul D’amour’s (now replaced by Justin Chancellor’s) bass beats. The bass, in this album and Aenima particularly, is the engine of the music. The pure genius of Adam Jones, the brain child of this band, is recognizeable in any of their videos or songs. Rarely does one find a band that speaks to listeners like Tool. One of their most powerful messages is that through introspection, you realize your true potential in what you do and who you are– so don’t be a sheep. Don’t follow the crowd, or take things for granted. No one told you to come. This is necessary; life feeds on life. If you can’t get the messages, can’t appreciate the music for what it is, don’t get this album or any of their others. If you are open-minded and you can read between the lines, listen to Tool.
Tool is amazing. They write complex, emotional music, never sound corny, and they can flat-out run a chill down your spine. This particular album is more of a straight rock approach to their brand of music, as opposed to the heavy distortion of Ænima. It’s tough to comapre the two albums because of this difference, but one thing I can pick out is that I like the bass better on Undertow. It is used to great effect; one example of this is on “Intolerence”, where the bass keeps the flow of the song together, allowing the guitar to play more complicated and varied riffs. The vocals by Keenan are simply astounding : he can sing soft and beautifully, and conversely go all out and yell. During all of the yelling, however, he never sounds untalented; he is able to keep the high quality of his voice. That’s very rare to find these days. And last but certainly not least, Danny Carey’s heart-pounding drums are able to pick a song up from a slow melody to all out rage and then slow it back down again. If they continue on the path that Undertow and Ænima have beaten out for them, their new album (which is rumored to have been in production since October ‘99) will be something special indeed.
As a progressive rock fan who entered Tool’s world with Lateralus, I’ve been collecting their albums in reverse order. It’s pretty strange going from Lateralus (their most progressive) to Opiate (their “simplest”). It must have been very interesting for fans who started at the beginning and watched this remarkable band grow into the powerhouses they are now.At face value, Undertow seems simple and heavy, pulled down because of a muddy mix that never seems to raise the guitars above a buzz or Maynard James Keenan’s voice to the heights where it should soar. It’s more song-oriented than the multifaceted epics of Lateralus and even ::whoa!:: catchy at times. I love the rapid, quick-fingered picking of the infectious main riff for “Bottom”. Heavy stuff can have hooks too, right?At face value…Undertow, however, is a pretty rich heavy metal album. Only traces of the alternative/grunge sound hover around Undertow’s edges — mainly the production style and some of the riffs. But in most respects, this is very much a metal record. Intellectually, however, Tool steps well beyond most metal bands with innovative musical intricacies and astute lyrics. Keenan is one of the most powerful vocalists in rock/metal, and his delivery is perfectly dramatic on songs like “Sober” (with its powerful ending) and “Crawl Away”, where he whispers and roars. Adam Jones is a very unique guitarist, not playing conventional solos, and usually basing his playing on just a few chords per song. However, Tool is more about band interplay than individual playing: Danny Carey’s exact and meticulous drumming; Paul d’Amour’s gritty, growling bass; Jones’ scratching guitar sounds, silent nuance, or earsplitting power chords. The title track is the most dynamic musically, with clever riffs and awesome vocals. “4 Degrees” shows the band’s interest in Middle Eastern influences (which would inform parts of Lateralus). I recommend getting the lyrics from Tool’s site and following along as you listen. It really gives the songs more impact.And, of course, we expect a Tool album to have something weird on it. The trippy 16-minute “Disgustipated” finishes off the album, starting on track 10 and ending on track 69. Tracks 10-68 are just blank, 1-second bits. Then, on track 69, things start to happen. There’s some dialogue, some sounds, some singing, and a *bit* of music. Listen closely to the words and think about it…interesting stuff. It’s amusingly weird and cool.Explore one of the best bands out there.