Since the early 90’s prog metal purveyors Tool have been pushing the limit of what could be considered mainstream rock. Over the course of five studio albums they’ve more than made a name for themselves, bri ging in fans of metal, prog rock, and even some more jam band friendly listeners. The stage shows are nothing short of legendary and epic, and its left all maybe Toolheads craving for more, even though the band takes their time. I hope you enjoy this list of the best Tool songs. As always i welcome discussion, thanks for reading.
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10 FORTY SIX & 2: ÆNIMA
There are plenty of songs throughout this record that have the capacity to pull in the listener. This one however has become a fan favorite over the years, and when you listen to it, especially with headphones, it takes you on a ride so heavy and thought provoking that it's hard to resist. The guitar work by Adam Jones has this whirling, surreal, almost trace like element to it. The drums, much like the early guitar part, start slow and build as Keenan’s voice provides his signature meandering vocal patterns, going full tilt only to draw himself back with restraint. It’s that kind of restraint that makes Keenan, and Tool as a unit so interesting to watch or listen too. They know exactly when to add tension, and when to ease back. They’ve performed this virtually every time i’ve seen them live, and even if you aren’t a fan of the album version, seeing it live makes its that much more enjoyable and cathartic.
9. PARABOL/ PARABOLA: LATERALUS
Many songs on Lateralus are considered classics by fans of the band, but for my money it rarely gets better than seeing the overflow of energy as the tracks transition from slow and brooding to explosive and brimming with life. “Parabol” shimmers in the darkness like a fire starting to ignite, while it’s counterpart “Parabola” acts like the fire fully grown. It’s a song about life and it’s existence, and how we continue to try to elevate our lives with positivity. It’s a heavy song yes, but the lyrics and vocal work by Keenan make it all the more special for its eye opening interpretation of life’s challenging moments. The guitar work is also second to know , evoking this kind of Egyptian undertone that really works well within the parameters of the song.
8. LOST KEYS/ ROSETTA STONED: 10,000 DAYS.
Let me just say quickly, that while most believe, and I guess rightfully so, that this song is about a hippie on DMT who is hallucinating horrible things, I personally like to believe that not only is this song about a man who has seen unbelievable things, but also that the meaning of what he’s trying to tell everyone is of vast importance. Stumbling, murmuring nonsense he seeks help in the only place he thinks might be able to help him, a hospital. He may be dying, but the listener can’t be sure. This is what is great about the band. Tool recognize the importance of using the art of others and drawing your own conclusions. Now, like I said, While the DMT drug story holds up, and much can be explained away because of that, for me it’s just more fun to imagine the limitless potential of the gift these Aliens have bestowed upon this high school dropout. In that respect it's also a very sad, depressing song. Towards the end of the song though, Kerman’s voice erupts over the ambient Egyptian style grooves with the line “Overwhelmed as one would be placed in my position, such a heavy burden now to be the one. Born to bear and read to all the details of our ending, write it for the whole wide world to see. But I forget my pen, Shit the bed again, typical.” It’s so beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time that it moves you in a way most heavier bands aren’t capable of.
7. 7EMPEST: FEAR INOCULUM
At nearly 16 minutes, this track off the bands most recent is easily the longest in their career. It’s also one of the best instrumentally driven songs in their quartets arsenal. The guitar riff from Adam Jones is tremendous and winding, but also heavy and heavy in tone. The drums by Carey and bass by Chancellor only enhance the track as well, giving Keenan in vocals more than enough leg roof to build a song that’s as clearly about the parasites of society as anything is in their entire discography. Now while there’s no definitive proof that this might be about an recent dismissed orange haired sexual assault and traitor, the lyrics speak for themselves. Either way, the song is a landmark of the bands signature style, and as the record draws to an end, “7empest” remains a transcendent song in the world of Tool.
6. PUSHIT: ÆNIMA
This was one of those first tracks that properly made me comprehend the journey of long songs. While Tool doesn’t even have the longest songs in general ( Sunn O))), Godspeed You Black Emperor, Motion Sickness of Time Travel come to mind), their songs truly are journeys of interstellar proportions. The band has said many times how they meticulously go about searching every rabbit hole, and exploring the boundaries before they decide that’s where this road is taking them. Many bands rush to record, and you can tell because the end product suffers. Tool simply refuse to do this. As one of the lengthier, but equally stand out songs of their entire career, Pushitt serves as not only an excellent leap forward into more trippy landscapes, but also as a clear indicator as to where the band was heading next. In my opinion, the journey of this song is the tipping point for brilliance. From where I’m standing you can clearly see that not only were they pleased with the road this took them on, but that they could dive even deeper with subsequent releases.
5. THE GRUDGE: LATERALUS
I still remember the day I picked up this record. Long before streaming was commonplace, you had to wait to hear shit before it was “released.” I mention this because as soon as that now familiar sound at the start of the sign, you can feel like you’re preparing for something big to open up. That opening, filled with resentments, and punishingly steady drum beats sets the course for the entire rest of the album. It’s nearly nine minutes long, and while not quite as long as some of the signs that came before, it still does more than enough to get the blood flowing. The vocals are nestled in sections, quietly at first, but as the song and it’s shared intensity with the vocals join together, you get the full scope the band was going for. At number five, I urge you to “Wear the Grudge like a Crown” as you try to overcome your feelings of anger and resentment.
For many, this album and lead track was the big break that got them into the band. I had heard the previous records of course, but when this came out, it lit up my imagination and showed me tons of new sounds I had never knew possible before. This track, the one that begins the record, is as drudge filled and intense as anything else you hear on the remainder of Ænima, but it’s also just a phenomenal way to begin this landmark album. The lyrics are dark and twisted, and while I imagine horrible things happening in the shadows, I can’t turn away to shield myself from the ugliness of the track. It’s quite simply an intense ride that sets us on an off road, difficult course. Seeing this performed live is even more spectacular. The energy Keenan expels makes you melt into tranquility, and the raw emotion of the instrumentation makes you want to move your body. Some heavy bands are capable of this, but Tool is one of the ones who have perfected the art.
3. DESCENDING: FEAR INOCULUM
As the track opens, listeners are treated to a slowly building atmospheric section, almost like a tide coming in. Within a few minutes we hear the ominous tone of guitar work as Jones and his instrument serenade the listener gently, even though we know the song is likely to not end as solemnly as it began. Keenan really does an excellent job of matching lyrics to the cavalcade of atmospheric bass drums and guitar surrounding his huddling vocals. By the five minute mark the drums start thumping outfly in classic Tool fashion, but the lyrics are the most important during these moments. They convey an apprehension that sounds like the end of the road, but the song draws in all types of emotions as it whirls towards its finale in glorious prof rock fashion.
2. THIRD EYE: ÆNIMA
“Think for yourself, question authority,” might as well be the motto of the band. While this song hasn’t been played a lot at the shows I’ve attended, I’ve heard that phrase quite a few times. The opening of the “Salival” version, provided by Tim Leary, basically sets the stage for the most epic, mind melting pieces in their catalog. This song has more loops and turns than an episode of “LOST.” It also happens to have a persistence that doesn’t quit for the entire 14:05 minutes of the song. Seeing this song live, and especially as the show opener is just insane. Most bands don’t have the nerve to open a two hour show with the longest song they plan to play that night, but Tool do it without missing a beat. Speaking on the topic of mixing, and making sure that every part is integral is something no one except maybe Radiohead does better than Tool. They understand the lyrics are not the overwhelming plot point of the song. Everything you hear is meant to induce emotions. Sure the lyric helps, but all parts are equally valuable. With more than five minutes left, the song takes yet another turn. It goes from ominous foreshadowing to the welcoming of a love thought lost perhaps. Then another turn down a spiraling rabbit hole. Imploring us to open our eyes may or may not have something to do with the opening dialogue on the track. Humans aren’t meant to be conditioned by rules. We are too great of a people. Life without boundaries is the most ultimate gift anyone can achieve, yet at times it’s those very rules of society that help us to stay safe. Then another, even uglier turn, this time with the intense drums of Carey while Keenan proclaims “ Prying open my third eye,” as the song comes to a final, full circle resting place.
1. LATERALUS: LATERALUS
This is easily the best Tool song ever made, and a perfect representation of the album. It has every awesome aspect of the album in one perfect, thought out space of time. The lyrics describe the opening of a world to a baby, or perhaps, a rebirth of an older soul. This is where the “ Saturn Return” comes into place again. But also, it’s described as the opening of a LSD trip, where bright colors slowly make themselves known. Now, we talked about the importance of Justin Chancellor earlier, but this is the song where he easily shines the most. Now, one of the most interesting things about this song is the time signatures. I’m no musician, but I think most hardcore music fans can recognize the brilliance. The weirdest thing about this song however, is how the signatures, and the lyrics were both thought of separately and without mutual knowledge from the two key participants. In an interview Keenan goes on to explain while he was writing the theme of spiral’s turning in on themselves stuck out and brought a clear focus not only to the song, but the band’s feelings at the time. Here’s where it gets really intriguing though. The original name of the song was 9-8-7, for the weird time signatures, but then the band realized that 987 was the 16th number in the Fibonacci sequence, which also shares interests with the “ Golden Spiral.” I hope that doesn’t confuse you. In other words, there are lyrical and musical reasons why this is the most important, and strongest Tool Song. The positivity of the song is worth noting. It’s imploring us to live every day to the fullest, and maybe, to always try to expand your knowledge, one way or another. Ride the spiral, to the end.
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Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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