It is now over 3 decades since Tool (The band) was formed. But surprisingly, they are still popular and rock lovers still love them. The Tool is one of the few bands that have remained relevant for the longest period. They have stood the taste of time while remaining relevant to all the generations of rock lovers. It is not that easy to remain relevant after over 30 years of being in the industry.
The Tool is among the few bands that have garnered much attention in the world, accolade, and intrigue as an all-time rock band. Perhaps the most intriguing of all is that they have managed to do so on the back of only one EP and four studio albums which stands testament to the depth and quality of the band’s music given their relatively sparse creative output over that time.
Emerging through a vibrant LA rock scene of the early 90s, the band’s initial angst infused music coalesced with the rise of popularity of alternative rock and post-Nirvana grunge. Seeing theme firmly cast the early stage of their career as products of the alternative nation. As the band’s music evolved, Tool showed that they were willing to keep the mainstream at arm’s length, crafting music that was driven more by a desire to experiment and explore than any desire for commercial appeal. In doing so they defied definition by genre and category and cast off a large swarth of their early audience who weren’t prepared to come along the artistic journey with them.
In the process, the band was to find a new audience more open to their experimentation. Over the years filled one of the most diverse and obsessive fan bases in rock music, alternative rock, prog rock, art rock, and progressive metal for all terms that have been throw at the bad in an attempt to describe them. But none seems to encapsulate the totality of what Tool is. This is because in many ways Tools evolved into more of an art project than just a band. A tool through which the diverse creative forces of the band can temporarily align themselves in order to focus their creative energy single-pointedly on the expression and manifestation of new sonic visual and performance-based forms.
Over the years, this alignment has taken longer to occur to the diverging interests and creative pursuit of the individual band members. Which has seen their orbits increasingly widen from each other. Not to mention the legal and contractual disputes which have further hindered the process. In fact, it has been 13 years since tool’s last studio album, that’s over 10,000 days. With new music finally on the horizon, it’s a good time to take a moment to look back and reflect on the history of this truly remarkable band.
By the start of the 90s, the creative elements that would come together to form Tool had all gravitated to LA and although they did not know each other directly at the time, they were nonetheless in close proximity to each other. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan who had abandoned a career as an interior designer for pets stores and drummer Danny Carey had both participated in the comedy metal band Green Jelly. They did the background vocals for the comedy.
Whilst guitarists and upcoming Hollywood VFX artist Adam Jones would work on films such as Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park had a mutual friend with Maynard in the form of Rage against the machine guitarist Tom Morello. The pair, having played together in a high school garage band called Electric sheep, Tom and Maynard had bonded together in LA as a result of their common interest in music and thoughts about its place in the world.
The two were critical of much of the LA rock scene at the time, which they felt it lacked real substance and purpose. And whilst Tom was active as a musician, Maynard, Other than a casual involvement in Cream Jelly, was not. It was Tom who encouraged Maynard to execute some of his ideas and to form or join a band. Whereas Maynard later described it as to either Piss or get off the pot. In fact, for some time, there was a chance for Maynard to become the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine and whilst this never eventuated, the bands were inevitably to remain close throughout their career often touring and playing together.
Maynard later provided the background vocals for the rage Against the Machine track “Know your enemy”. It was thus Tom Morello who was in many ways the catalyst for the formation of Tool. Introducing Maynard to Adam Jones who suggested the idea of forming a band after hearing Maynard’s lyrics.
Maynard who possessed a strong sense of self-discipline born from success of high school track and field athlete and brief stint at the military, was initially against the idea of forming a band. Sensing Jone’s slow and meticulous approach to the process would cause tension if they work together. Maynard eventually agreed however, and together, the two started jamming. Interestingly, the tension in many ways has characterized tool’s career, something that Maynard spoke about in-depth in Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2017.
Meanwhile, Danny Carey who lived in the same apartment as Maynard, filled in as drummer for the fledgling band when other musicians failed to turn up. Finally, he committed to the band full time – out of sympathy. With the original bassist Paul D’amour soon added to the mix, the band quickly set about playing locally and after almost two years of practicing and performing the LA area, the band was approached by record companies and eventually signed a record deal with Zoo Entertainment which later became Volcano Ent.
In March 1992, Zoo released the band’s first ever Opiate, which was described as the band’s slam and bang heavy music and the hardest sounding six songs they had written, the EP was recorded in only 4 days and included the singles Hush and Opiate.
The band’s first music video Hush promoted their dissenting views about the then prominent Parents Music Resources Center and the advocacy of the censorship of the music. The video featured the band members naked with their genetalia covered with parental advisory stickers and their mouth covered with duct tapes. The EP did not sell so many copies at first but as Tool toured on the back of it, the EP picked up its sales laying the foundation for an audience on what would become their debut album.
Following the Opiate EP tour, Tool return to the studio to record what would be the band’s Debut album “Undertow”. Spending over 3 weeks in the studio, the album reflected the bands evolution musically and growing confidence as artists whilst opiate had seen two labeled as just another metal band. Undetow was much more layered and multi-textural showing that they were determined to push the genre into new directions. The hits Prison Sex and Sober were unafraid to confront difficult topics like child abuse.
Aiding the band’ reputation were a series of stop-motion videos overseen by Adam Jones that captured the tension within the songs and were visually unique compared to other commercial music videos appearing on TV at the time. They also signaleld the band’s desire to step back from promoting the music directrly by the use of their own personal image. Never gain appearing in their own music videso and only occasionaly dodging any promoitional photoshoot; an approach which cultivated a mysterious and elusive public image which if anything ironically invited futher intriguing curiosity.
Tool’s Innovative approaches to promote the band.
To promote the album, Tool went to tour with other bands like Rage Against the Machine and the Rollins band, winning over audience and securing a spot playing Lollapalooza. This rocketed the band from playing at clubs to an audience of 20,000. Interestingly, during this time, and as part of the press material for the promotion of the ablum, Tool referred to the concept of Lachrymology and the science and art of crying as being both an influence and description of their music.
The only problem with this is that, despite the extensive search by fans of the band, no book or information about the author has ever surfaced and any of reference to Lachrymology has only been used by the band itself. Because of this, many think that Lachrymology was just a prank conjured by the band in order to deflect tedious questions about themselves, the band name and the music lost in typical tool fashion simultaneously containing within it some kernel of truth on the back of the exposure gained through Lollapalooza, MTV was to pick the video for Sober. This rocketed the Album to no. 50 on the Billboard 200 chart and stayed there for two years.
Despite the fact that their follow-up single Prison Sext was banned after being dimmed too graphic and defensive and was removed from MTV’s rotation after only a few airings. Looking back, Undertow was considered to the band’s musically accomplished album but some considered it to be the most powerful emotionally particularly given the direction Tool was to take.
End of Tour: Parting ways
By the time Tool had finished touring for Undertow, the band had been on the road for nearly 3 years. Dan Carey once indicated that the time they spent touring and playing consistently matured the band functionally as musicians allowing their playing to become more intuitive. This enabled greater freedom to experiment with and express ideas more fully than they had done in the past.
In fact, they had to pay dividends with their second studio album Aenima. One stumbling block was bassist Paul d’amour who expressed a desire to play more guitar and was growing uneasy with the direction of the band. This culminated with Paul and the band parting ways not long after they entered the studio to begin recording sessions for the new album. The sessions were placed on hold for some weeks whilst an audition was held for his replacement.
Eventually, Justin Chancellor who had played with the English metal band Peach and supporting Tool on prior tours was chosen and the recording of Aenima resumed. The writing and recording of Aenima was influenced by the band’s use of psychedelics, interesting and spiritual research. In interviews regarding this, Maynard is often referred in alchemic terms to the desire to transmute the angst that defined the music up to that point, finding different paths to disintegrate that negativity and turn it into something else. Something more positive and outward-facing. Added to this was the fact that Maynard has also become a father which he admitted changed his perspective of the world and his place in it.
With the recording of Aenima, Tool took the first step towards becoming a true progressive rock band. As song lengths topped the eight-minute mark and scope of their sonic experiment defied all easily classified genre boundaries as the consequence, the album marks the point where some people feel Tool dived off the deep end polarizing some of their audience attracted to the band’s music through opiate and undertow. But if they had a problem and they only needed to be directed to track No. 7 on the album “Hooker with a Penis”. A hard-hitting and blistering response to fans that had accused the band of selling out.
Back to the Censors, Again!
Photo Courtesy: Loudwire
Upon the release of the album and its debut single “Stink Fist,” the Tool was to once again cross paths with the censors. MTV took issue with the title and lyrics agreeing to air the video but changing the title to Song #1. The album was also dedicated to comedian Bill Hicks, a friend of the band who died two years earlier. The band intended to raise awareness about Hick's material and ideas. Hicks and the band were resonating similar concepts. In particular Aenima’s final track “Third Eye” is preceded by a clip of Hicks performances and the lenticular casing of the Aenima album packaging as well as the chorus of the title track Aenima made reference to the sketch from Hicks in which he contemplates the idea of an earthquake struck Los Angels falling into the Pacific Ocean leaving what he referred to as Arizona Bay.
The album’s artwork which was to become a feature of Tool releases moving forward was nominated for the Grammy award for best packaging while the title song went on to receive the Grammy Award for best metal performance in 1998.
Following the release of the album, the band toured extensively often in the US and internationally. With the success of the band, Maynard delves further into the costume and characters for stage shows in order to create an alter ego separated from his personality which was considered more introverted and reserved naturally.
Eventually, Tool returned to the United States headlining Lollapalooza 97, overall Aenima became and remained Tool’s most successful album selling over a 3.5million copies and counting firmly establishing their place as a trailblazing rock group; a reputation that they were set to further consolidate with the next album.
Cracks begin to form in the Band.
Despite the success of Aenima, the long-time spent touring had taken its toll and cracks had begun to form in relationships within the group. To further complicate matters, the band had become embroiled in frustrating legal battles with their record company Volcano and manager.
A Perfect Circle, however, was to take on a life of its own when its debut album “Mer de Noms” released in May of 2000 became an instant hit on the back of the lead single from the album Judith. The song is a highly personal and blistering question of faith-based on Keenan’s mother who suffered a stroke and was restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. He still believed in Christianity, a topic that he would later return to with Tool.
Despite the success of “A Perfect Circle” and the uncertainty surrounding Tool’s future, Maynard was to eventually return to the studio with Tool to finish writing and laying down vocals. Some of the lyrics documenting the turbulence that had occurred within the band.
All things considered, Lateralus probably should have been a train wreck but somehow it wasn’t and many consider it to be their finest album to date like Fleetwood Mac’s rumors or the Beetles White album. The Crucible of internal tensions within the studio not filed to damage the musical chemistry but eventually seem to strengthen the songs.
Lateralus was an even more complicated and engrossing record than Aenima with seven of the album’s 13 tracks were around seven minutes or longer. In this Album, the esoteric and spiritual interests that had informed the band’s earlier writing were further explored. Nowhere was it more evident than with Danny Carey whose strong interest in the occult, as well as eastern tribal drumming, informed his technique and style. From the application of sacred geometric principles in his drum setups to the incorporation of Tablas and other exotic percussion instruments. As well as the incorporation of strange exotic and at times eerie sound samples.
Danny would go on to develop this technology into a proprietary system known as Mandala drums. The band’s interest in esoteric is best described in the title of the track Lateralus. The song incorporated a time signature based on sections of the Fibonacci sequence. A mathematical sequence related to the sacred geometric principle of the golden spiral or ration whose recurring pattern can be found repeated throughout the natural world from sunflowers and seashells to spiral galaxy. The song had its fortune in a riff that Justin Chancellor had been experimenting with that had a time signature of 987.
Danny Carey recognized this as part of the Fibonacci sequence, so they created the song around a continuation of this theme with Maynard structuring some of his lyrics on the sequence using words with syllables that match the mathematic progression.
The theme of laterals is the desire of humans to explore and to expand or spiral out their knowledge to gain a deeper understanding of everything. For the album artwork, the band enlisted the talents of an American visionary artist Alex Grey. The insert was a translucent dye sectional artwork and flips open to reveal different layers of the human body disguised in the brain matter. On the final layer is the word, GOD.
Lateralus quickly became a worldwide success following its release in May 2001 reaching Number One on the US Billboard 200 albums chart in its debut week and giving Tool the second Grammy award for the best metal performance for 2002 for the song Schism.
Another Five years long Hiatus: 10,000 days.
Once again, the band embarked on an extensive worldwide tour winning over audiences with their incredible live performances and stage shows. Although the end of the tour in November 2002 signals the start of another hiatus for the band. It did not become completely inactive. While Keenan recorded and toured with A Perfect Circle, Tool did release a DVD and several collectors' edition of the album as well as some exclusive material available only to their fan club.
It would be five years before Tool would release the next studio album called 10,000 days. Although some of the tension that had plagued during Lateralus lingered, the band admitted that they had matured by this time and were better equipped to deal with their differences.
10,000 Days: Most successful Album.
This did not necessarily make the recording of 10,000 any easier though, as the complexity of the songs and arrangements of the album meant that the band had to work harder than ever to bring it all together.
Whilst 10,000 Days did not necessarily break new ground in terms of the band’s fundamental sound, it did expand upon the formula of Lateralus with a lot of the material evolving from James and outtakes that they had done for that album. As a result, the band was to journey further down the rabbit hole of progressive rock exploring further bizarre time signatures samples and unconventional riff structures.
The result was an album that in places resembled the structure and movement of classical music rather than a conventional rock album with songs that begin in one place and then take you on a journey that ended up somewhere else altogether. This is best exemplified in the two-part epic “Wings of Murry Part 1” and the title track 10,000 days part 2. In these songs, Maynard once again returns to the subject of his mother and candidly addresses their relationship homing in on her strong Christian faith and the pain of watching her suffer. The track and the album title reflect the amount of time Keenan’s mother suffered from stroke-related paralysis before she died.
The highly personal and emotive nature of the song was to take a toll on Maynard who later admitted that having to perform this song over and over was too much. And that he doubted that he will ever write something so directly personal again. Despite the complexity of these tracks, the album 10,000 days showed the Tool could still rock out with the best of them with the straightforward heaviness of the opening tracks Curious the Pot and Jambi.
As was the nature of Tool’s releases, the meticulous details were not just paid to music alone, but on the overall art direction of the album as a whole, encompassing the visual design of the album and packaging. On this front, Tool once again collaborated with Alex Gray whose design and concept “The net of being” he described as being a blazing vision o the infinite grid of godheads during an Ayahuasca journey form the basis of the album cover and band’s live show visuals. The album packaging consisted of a thick cardboard bound booklet partly covered by a flap holding a pair of stereoscopic eyeglasses which could be used to view a series of images inside.
Viewed with the glasses, the artwork produces an illusion of depth and three-dimensionality. Evidently, the images are supposed to form a puzzle with clues hidden in each of them that may or may not be related to the cabalistic tree of life of “So good luck with that”.
Upon its release in April 2006, the album debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chard and by the end of 2007 had sold 2.5 million copies worldwide achieving platinum status. The album also received a Grammy award in 2006 for best recording package. As with all Tool releases, the band embarked on an extensive promotional tour through both the US and globally winding up in 2008.
Although the tool continued to tour and play select concerts from 2009 to 2015, another lawsuit, health problems, competing interests meant that the recording of the 5th studio album remains elusive. Maynard in particular kept himself incredibly busy devoting time to the development of his winery ‘Caduceus Cellars’, a pioneer in Arizona winemaking as well as working in touring with another band project called Puscifer.
All up it was over 13 years since the release of 10,000 days with the long-awaited follow-up release teased and pushed back for some time. So much so that the release of the elusive album has become somewhat of an internet meme.
However, on May 5th 2019, much to the excitement of fans, the band debuted two new songs live at the welcome to Rockville festival in Jacksonville Florida called Descending and invincible. Three days later, it was finally confirmed that the band’s new album was scheduled to be released on August 30th, 2019.
Final ThoughtsWhat the future holds for Tool and whether the next studio album proves to be the last is anyone’s guess. The release will close out the three-album deal they signed with their recording label Volcano records way back in 1995. And there is no denying that the music industry and people’s listening habits have changed dramatically since the last album.
So it will be interesting to see how the fans respond. In many ways, are and remain one of the last great analog bands but inevitably this time around they will have to offer some form of digital release.
The Tool remains one of the best rock bands of the 90s. I still can sing along to most of the songs. For a band so devoted to the album as an art form, however, physical CD and Vinyl will still be the go-to medium of any true fans wishing to experience the album in its totality.
One thing Tool has proven is that they are a band that has often defied expectation in order to follow their own will and wind. So, we just have to wait and see what if anything comes next. For those, like me, that have chosen to follow on that journey, however, one thing is certain, it’s a journey that is well worth it.
I can go on and on talking about tools because they were one of my personal favorite back then.
Did you listen to the Tool Band back in the 90s?
If yes, which was your favorite song or album from Tool?