It's sorta weird to think about Tool, featuring Keenan, Jones, Carey and Chancellor as the ring bearers for modern progressive rock, but after three near decades, it's also sorta impossible not to think of them as being at the top of the heap. Rush no longer exists in a present way, KingCrimson is three decades past their prime, and well that’s where we are right now. Let me know if I missed anyone.
Anyway, When you first heard “Stinkfist,” or at least for me when I did, it felt fresh, and even though I had heard the band before, my fragile teenage mind couldn’t quite make it make sense. Still, I couldn’t turn away from its thumping beats, the whispered, worried vocals, and of course, the weird, coldness of the music video. For many, this album and lead track was the big break that got them into the band.
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 but also have this welcoming quality to them, like a witch luring you into darkness.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.
“Ænima” as a whole has many up-tempo, epic moments, which range from immediate rocking openers, to more gradual builds, especially like the opening of “Eulogy,” Where the strange, almost alien sounds at the beginning, murmured out by Keenan, but soon those same murmurings are replaced by Carey’s drums, and of course, Keenan’s famous howl. At about seven and half minutes, the band was veering more into the longer songs they're mostly known for these days. Just like now, you can rarely tell the length when enraptured by the music. “Eulogy,” like “Hooker with a Penis” and “Ænima” later on go heavy on the frustration, and later the resentment. Those prevalent reactions and emotions are important here when considering where the band was. Which is to say, on the verge of a huge breakout, in the face of those who don’t want you to become some big thing. When this record came out in 1996, heavier music was just becoming larger than the late night hours of MTV or metal bars that I as a then 14 year old couldn’t possibly get into, even in Louisiana.
Getting back to the record, “Eulogy” ends and you’re like “holy crap what did I just listen to?” And then, before you can answer- boom, “H” hits and the album just somehow got more mind boggling and mystical, especially when considering the tones created by Adam Jones on guitar. To me, he’s the glue of the band, and with his imaginative film work and video work, it's clear to see how integral he is in the band's image. Keenan’s vocals are powerful throughout the track, but to me, it's Jones' guitar parts that hypnotize you here more than anything.
From there, another delight, in the shape of longtime fan favorite, “Forty-six and Two.” There are plenty of songs throughout this record that have the capacity to pull in the listener. 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 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 to. 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 it that much more enjoyable and cathartic.
During the 77 minute runtime of this particular Tool record, the band incorporates many interludes between songs. Some of these, like “Message to Harry Manback,” are downright weird, while others, like “Useful Idiot,” “Intermission” and “(-) ions” perfectly accompany the songs they precede. One such interlude, “Die Eier Von Satan,” neither fits in narratively or thematically, but once you know what it actually details and explains, is worth it, and very much a type of joke that the members of the band would think is funny. Google the lyrics, I promise you it’s deliciously fun.
Now, while the first half of the record is an absolute powerhouse, one could argue it’s still not as strong and cathartic as what comes after the explosive finale of “Hooker.” “Jimmy” is an often overlooked track, but good good are the guitar chords full of sludges thickness, while MJK’s voice is clear but foreboding, moving in and out of the mix brilliantly, while the drums ease, and deflate, before rising patiently in the track.
From there, the record is all full blown prof rock, with the last three songs making the record the full masterpiece it was always intended to be. On “Pushit,” a huge fan favorite that has become a lucky sight to see, with it rarely being played these days, is a true triumph of a track.
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.
Again, after the risers and falls that occur thematically, you’d maybe expect the following track to be as a ravine as the one before. That doesn’t happen here, and quite honestly, the next track, the kinda sorta title track, except spelled with an I not an E, is way more of a fuck you than any song on the record.
Instead, on “Ænema,” you get the aggressive vocals, in all their glorious fuck you attitude, as the pour out over the equally abrasive instrumental sections. It’s one of the band's biggest hits, and while it indeed does have brutal sentiments for the coming end, it’s so primal in its frustrations and anger that your typical Tool fan eats it up like pigs to shit.
And now, we get the finale, that is more than worth the wait. “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 lyrics help, 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. Thanks for reading.
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,
Are you looking for the old Wordpress blog posts?