Opiate (EP) (Zoo, 1992)
Undertow (Zoo, 1993)
Aenima (Zoo, 1996)
Salival (Volcano/Zomba, 2000)
Lateralus (Volcano/Zomba, 2001)
10,000 Days (Volcano/Zomba, 2007)
Tool bridged the gap between the heavier end of grunge and the art-metal fringe, staking out territory where fans of Smashing Pumpkins, King Crimson, and Metallica might all find something worth savoring. Their blend of brooding theatricality, eye-popping visuals, and progressive-rock chops cultivated an aura of genuine mystique and unlikely mainstream staying power. On Opiate, the quartet doesn't do much to differentiate themselves from the pack of hard-edged alternative bands stirring up mosh pits in the Lollapalooza era; the violence and concision of the performances are thrilling, but there are only hints of the discomfiting darkness to come.
Undertow spirals out from the hammering riffs of "Prison Sex" and "Sober" into progressively more complex terrain. Adam Jones' guitar playing discards traditional solos in favor of texture, the stranger the better, while drummer Danny Carey steers the band through a maze of tempo shifts with dazzling agility.
With Aenima, the band's ambitions nearly get the best of them. The increasing density of their relentlessly downcast music, augmented by occasional electronic noises, begins to feel ponderous. "I've been wallowing in my own chaotic insecure delusions," Maynard James Keenan mutters, and the music indulges him. The claustrophobic production doesn't help. Salival packages a handful of live performances and two new songs with some of Tool's deeply disturbing cutting-edge videos, which serve as a nightmarish backdrop for its concerts.
Brains and brawn meld on Lateralus, one of the more accomplished hard-rock albums of its time. "Reflection" is an unfortunate holdover from the droning Aenima era, but otherwise Carey and bassist Justin Chancellor explore the rhythmic possibilities from every angle, while Jones makes dramatic entrances in "The Patient" and "Schism." In "Parabol" and "Parabola," the hymnlike chants are disquieting, the cries of "This body, this body holding me" disconcertingly ecstatic. 10,000 Days found the band's twisting, turning grooves as dizzying as ever, though the album also worked in eerie atmospherics ("Lost Keys") as well as some uncharacteristically touching lyrics from Keenan, who addressed the loss of his mother on "10000 Days (Wings Pt 2)."
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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