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Undertow

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★★★★½
(371 Reviews)

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  • 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.

    Posted on February 6, 2010