Tool
There’s a saying about Grateful Dead fans that goes, “everybody knows a Deadhead.” The same can be said about fans of the band Tool. With a devoted, rabid following, Tool have brought hard rock to new levels of artistry.

Begun nonchalantly in 1990, Tool saw vocalist James Maynard Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey, and bassist Paul D’Amor creating dark, brooding music whose heavy nature teeter-tottered between hard rock and metal. While the early ’90s was a heyday for such sounds—Metallica, Pantera, Nirvana, and Soundgarden were all enjoying success—Tool distinguished themselves through their sophisticated lyrics and lush visual aesthetic.

Though Keenan was raised a Southern Baptist, his views on religion quickly soured by his teens and manifested themselves in his lyrics which see a focused criticism on religion and social conformity (the band’s first EP is entitled Opiate (1992), a nod to the Marx/Engels quote that “religion is the opiate of the masses”). Lines such as Jesus Christ why don’t you come save my life now/ Open my eyes and blind with your light and lies delivered over menacing rock riffs from the successful title track give some indication to the tenor of the band’s music. Their aggressive attitude found a wide, if unexpected, acceptance amongst the youth of the early to mid-’90s who felt disenchanted with the status quo and materialism that had characterized much of the ’80s (the grunge movement would ultimately capitalize on Generation X’s boredom and apathy).

Helping to propel it all are the band’s visuals, an element they take great pride in given that several of the band’s members have studied arts and design. Whereas other metal and hard rock bands have incorporated skulls, bones, and comic book-like horror creatures, Tool takes it in a much more primal direction that looks to a psychedelic aesthetic whose aim often seems to be a 3-D exposure of the human form and psyche from the outside in. While their six album covers showcase this, their ever-evolving live shows do so to an even greater extent. Incorporating original video projections, largely conceptualized by Les Paul Custom-playing guitarist Adam Jones who’s also worked on most of the band’s album art and videos, the distorted and chaotic images of flesh-and-bone figures when combined with the lights, lasers, and music make for a dark but utterly unique experience. For a point of reference: imagine mixing the darkness of Black Sabbath with the trippy-but-rocking experience of an Allman Brothers Band concert.

With the success of their first full-length Undertow (1993), both commercially and critically—it went platinum a year later thanks to songs like the hit “Sober” and landed them a spot on that year’s Lollapalooza tour—the band returned to the studio in 1995 with a new bass player, Justin Chancellor, as D’Amor left amicably to pursue other endeavors. Released just over a year later, Aenima (1994) hears Tool changing its sound, incorporating more prog-rock elements of intricate interplay over extended passages as the lyrical focus expands to include brainy comedian Bill Hicks, evolution, and genetics. The album went platinum and garnered the band its first-ever Grammy for the title track despite early censorship battles with the album’s first single “Stinkfist.” With success can come problems and the band soon found themselves mired in a legal battle.

The band’s original label, Zoo Entertainment, had folded and was rolled up by Volcano Records who argued that the band was obliged to fulfill their contract. During the prolonged suit, Keenan formed a successful side project, A Perfect Circle, with the band’s guitar tech Billy Howerdel while Carey played with the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra and Jones gigged with the Melvins’ Buzz Osbourne. Tool eventually counter sued, an agreement was reached out of court, and a three-record deal was struck finally giving the band the green light to return to the studio five years after it all began.

What with all the lawsuits and side projects, rumors began to spread that Tool were breaking up. To quell those fears, or so it seemed, the band released the album/video box set Salival (2000). Largely comprised of live versions of older songs, save for a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” and the hidden track “Maynard’s Dick,” it was met with a lukewarm response.

Released a year later, Lateralus (2001) again raised the bar for the band in a similar way that people anticipate and hope for from bands like Radiohead. Clocking in at 79 minutes, Lateralus’ songs are longer and more complex, diving deeper into dark sonic journeys that extend longer than anything the band had previously recorded. If one hears elements of King Crimson in it— complex rhythm changes, vicious sonic barrages, or geeked-out song cycles—those instincts were confirmed by their eventual tour with the group. What’s more, Lateralus shot to No. 1 on the charts its first week (eventually going double-platinum, garnering Tool their second Grammy for “Schism” and miraculously got their 10-minute plus video for “Parabola” airing regularly on MTV.

Five years and many countries later, Tool emerged with 10,000 Days, a finely wrought album whose cover featured artwork by renowned psychedelic artist Alex Gray. With a bulk of the songs following a structural and sonic suit where Lateralus left off—most hitting the seven- minute mark with two stretching to near-12—10,000 Days saw a more personal side to Keenan’s lyricism. For instance, the two-part, 17-minute “Wings for Marie/10,000 Days” is a tribute to his mother who passed away after suffering over 25 years of paralysis from a stroke. It seems as if the fury from earlier albums has given way to a more reflective, calmer tone, one that occasionally rings of an existential acceptance of life’s more trying times. While the album didn’t experience the commercial or critical success of its predecessor, it did get a Grammy for its vivid packaging.

Tool’s future is wide open and unknown, similar to the experience of listening to their music for the first time. While all of the band’s members are active outside the band, it seems clear that they will produce at least one more album given that they’ve already revealed that material has been written for it.