The Transcendence of Tool
Posted: Jun 17 2021
Tool are a difficult band to put into one category, alternative metal, art rock, post-metal, progressive rock and more, the band transcends traditional sounding metal. Their music can be heavy and soft, melodic and brutal, extensive and epic, their sound is complex and experimental and is often called the "thinking person's metal".
This is perhaps why throughout their career they have won four Grammys and two Billboard awards. It’s not just their sound that sets them as a highly respected band but the thought that goes into the music they make, for example, ‘Lateralus’ has the number of syllables per line in the lyrics to correspond to an arrangement of the Fibonacci sequence.
More often than not, their music refers to philosophy and spirituality as well. That, and more, is why the unconventional style of Tool is so popular and known the world over.
You can buy official Tool merchandise from the Twisted Thread website.
The Formation of Tool
In the 80s’, unbeknownst to them at the time, the future members of Tool all relocated to Los Angeles to pursue careers in the entertainment industry.
Introduced through mutual friends Maynard James Keenan, who was working as visual artists for remodelling pet stores, was introduced to Adam Jones, who was working in the film industry. Keenan played Jones a recording of his voice and Jones, a guitarist, was so impressed that they decided to form a band.
They started playing together whilst also looking for a bassist, and on the way found drummer and percussionist, Danny Carey, introduced to them by Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, who went to high school with Jones. It was out of pity that Carey started playing with them as no one else showed up for their sessions.
The final addition was D’Amour, who played bass. The band’s name, they say, came from the idea of lachrymology, the idea of crying as a way of enlightenment but Keenan later on stated that there was another intention behind the name,
“Tool is exactly what it sounds like: It's a big dick. It's a wrench. ... we are ... your tool; use us as a catalyst in your process of finding out whatever it is you need to find out, or whatever it is you're trying to achieve."
After only two years of performing the band was approached by Zoo Entertainment who the signed a deal with. In 1992, the band released their first EP, Opiate. Hailed as heavy and alternative, the band said that it was the hardest, harshest music they had ever made.
Off the EP they released a video for 'Opiate' the single which set the precedent for what was to come from this band. The video was a criticism of the Parents Music Resource Centre and shows the band performing naked with the gentiles covered by Parental Advisory stickers. They toured this first release alongside Fishborne, Rage Against the Machine and White Zombie.
The Height of Heavy, Alternative Rock
The year after, in 1993, the band released their first album, Undertow. Going down another genre route, the songs were not as heavy but much more complex and diverse in sound, the album has some of the band’s best known songs on it, ‘Sober’ and ‘Prison Sex’.
The tour began with a clash at their show in Hollywood against the Church of Scientology who owned the venue. Tool’s ethics didn’t work with the Churches, stating they don’t believe in following any belief system, Keenan spent most of the show baa-ing at the audience.
Two years later, the band began work on their second album and their only ever line up change, D’Amour left the band amicable to pursue other projects, Justin Chancellor replaced him.
A Much Needed Boost
The popularity of the band started to show, with them being moved from the second stage to the main stage during the Lollapalooza festival tour, which is also where Bill Hicks introduced the band. Hicks had befriended them by this point and helped boost their profile.
Following these concerts, Undertow became certified gold and platinum in 1995. Although the album was censored in most major outlets, the song ‘Sober’ became a hit in 1994 winning Billboard's Best Video by a New Artist.
The follow up single, ‘Prison Sex’ didn’t receive as much positive reviews from people. The song was targeted for censorship due to the nature of the lyrics which were about child abuse. The video, made by Adam Jones was a conceptual interpretation of the lyrics which was praised by many music journalists. MuchMusic disagreed and the organisation eventually got the video pulled from MTV.
In 1996 the band released Ænima. Produced by the extremely prominent David Bottrill (Peter Gabriel, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Muse, Silverchair, Staind and Rush) the album was dedicated to the late comedian Bill Hicks whose ideologies, Tool say, align with their own.
The Grammy nominated cover was created by Jones and Cam de Leon. The album contains ‘H’, ‘Hooker With A Penis’ ‘Forty six & 2’ and ‘Stinkfist’ which was renamed by MTV to ‘Track No. 1’ and had its lyrics altered, much to the angst of the band’s fans.
The band commenced the tour for the album two weeks after the release heading to Europe, Australasia and throughout the United States. Upon their return from their tour they headlined Lollapalooza in 1997.
Whilst initially Ænima didn’t do well commercially, eventually people caught on and the album won a Grammy and was named as one of the best of 1996 by a number of media outlets and went triple platinum in 2003.
Still with Zoo Entertainment at the time, the label was bought by Volcano Entertainment who filed a lawsuit against the band. They alleged that the band violated their contract when they looked at offers from other labels. The band filed a countersuit against the label saying that they never used the renewal option in the contract. It was settled out of court and the band agreed to sign on for another three-records.
Not done with legal battles, the band’s long time manager Ted Gardener sued the band over his commission. Also at this time, all the members began other projects as well. Keenan joined A Perfect Circle, Jones joined The Melvins and Carey played with Jello Biafra on side projects. This all of course started a rumour that the band had split which was unfounded and in 2000 the band released the Salival box set.
Following the release of Salival, which didn’t yield much success, the band announced their next album, Systema Encephale and named all the tracks on the album.
At the time, Napster, was hugely popular and the track names and labrum were shared across the platform. A month later, the band revealed that the album was fake and actually was called Lateralus. The album kept them moving into a more art, conceptual direction with lengthy songs and videos. The album cemented their success, reaching number one on the Billboard 200. The band also received a Grammy for ‘Schism’ off the album.
After touring the album for a little under two years the band took a hiatus to work on their other projects.
Cementing of success
Tool, 15 years into their career, had by now gained a real cult following and were preparing to release the next album, 10,000 Days. The lead single ‘Vicarious’ was released to radio and charted internationally as well as the album which sold 564,000 in the first week.
Their tour begun with an appearance at Coachella and then onto a world tour with Isis and Mastodon.
‘Vicarious’ and 10,000 Days were both nominated for Grammys and they ended up winning for Best Recording Package for 10,000 Days.
Touring still, across the world, there was a delay in their next album with members having family commitments and an ongoing lawsuit. Finally in March the same year, the suit was settled in the bands favour and one track was done on the album.
The band commenced another tour in 2016 without the album tracking to their 2015 release date. The touring continued and the album seemed to never be coming until Keenan went on record saying it would be out by 2019. Then in May 2019 the band played two new songs, ‘Descending’ and ‘Invincible’ live at Welcome to Rockville Festival and announced the album, Fear Inoculum, would be released on August 30.
On August 7 the band released their title track of the same name, their first release in 14 years. Much the praise of music fans, the band finally released all their music on digital platforms on August 2. Every release the band had ever made was re-charted and the band broke several Billboard records with the release.
Fear Inoculum charted at number one and gave them another Grammy for their song ‘7empest’.
In 2020 they announced a number of tour dates but a lot were postponed due to COVID and following the postponements, they took a hiatus.
2021 signals a lot of anniversaries for the band, a mystery still what they intend to do with it, but one that will have fans all over the world holding their breaths.
You can buy official Tool merchandise from the Twisted Thread website.