The thinking man's metal band
by Prateek Kansal
It is generally believed that Metal and Progressive Rock bands are made up of a bunch of typical stereotyped 'rock stars.' The heaviness and tempo are generally intolerable by the general public, with only die hard fans able to listen to such music for endless hours. The lyrics are considered satanic and overwhelming and intimidating. But for all these beliefs, there are a few bands who dare to defy these standards. One of them is my personal favourite and arguably the most cult of all progressive rock bands, Tool.
Tool is known as the thinking man's metal band, with the music ranging from heavy polyrhythms to slowed down melodic songs. Its band members are not your average musicians either, delving into a range of other interests besides music. The things they talk about and the message conveyed through the music are at times eye-opening and enlightening.
Tool's comprised of four members- vocalist James Keenan Maynard, bassist Justin Chancellor, drummer Danny Carrey and guitarist Adam Jones. Besides being the lead vocalist, Maynard also runs one of the most successful vineyards in the world and supposedly has the third best wine in the world. Jones is an animator who not only makes all the videos for Tool but has also acted in several TV shows and movies. So to say these guys are metal heads would be wrong. And this percolates into the music that they put out. To do justice to the music they put out in a single article would be unfair to them- one has to listen to them intently to fully grasp their prowess- but this is still worth a shot.
Tool as a band has progressed both musically and lyrically with each album, separated five years apart from each other. The band is very particular about the music they share and often leave us fans frustrated waiting, with their last album having come out years ago. Adam Jones has himself claimed that "we make music for ourselves, and share for you." Such an attitude is very unique in the current cut throat music industry, where people are churning out crap every other week to earn their riches. But here is a band that has handed out CD's for free to their fans in the past, not looking for money or publicity, secure with themselves and the music they make.
Tool is part of a rare breed of bands, part of the upper echelons of music that are active currently, doing thought-provoking progressive-style music that doesn't conform to traditional time signatures and takes inspriation from all forms of Eastern and Western Music: think of Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, Sigur Ros, King Crimson, Animals as Leaders and John McLaughlin among others. They enjoy a die hard following of fans who call themselves 'The Tool Army.' It is said either you love Tool or you don't understand them.
The progression of Tool both as a band in the musical sense and the band members personally is something inspiring. They started with their first two albums Opiate and Undertow more than 20 years ago and the music they gave us back then was a bit raw and the lyrics were full of angst and was a sign that Maynard wanted to use his music and express his feelings. But as the years went on, he became a lot calmer and we could see the difference in his music.
For their next album, Tool got in bassist Justin Chancellor as a replacement midway through their third studio album, Aenima. With the influence of Chancellor, Tool's music suddenly took a turn in the right direction and would show fragments of its future self. With the bass lines improving and becoming more and more rhythmic, all the pieces started to fall into lace for them. This album was also substantial for Maynard on a personal level as it was an album dedicated to his friend, Comedian Bill Hicks, who had passed away after suffering from cancer. The song "Eulogy" was literally an eulogy for him, with Maynard singing 'He had a lot to say, He had a lot of nothing to say'. In this album, Maynard starting displaying his full repertoire of vocals, by using voice boxes, voice modulation techniques as well as a lot of sounds that one could simply not make out. He also started to expand his lyrics, talking about evolution (in the song "46x2"), a third eye, expressing his desire to help the world and show his displeasure at the current state of affairs, a pattern he followed throughout the album and into the next one too. It would remain a feature of their music, wherein they would try and send their message and their views to the audience in the form of music, a practice that brought them the most faithful fans that any band can have.
From Lateralus onwards, it was not just the lyrics, but the music itself that became hypnotizing and mesmerizing. As Justin Chancellor's influence grew, it could be clearly seen that most songs were built around Chancellor and Carrey's backbone. Adam Jones may not be as gifted as these two, but he is still one of the best guitarists out there. This was the album that had the most impact, with "Schism" winning the Grammy for best rock song, and Lateralus and Reflection winning hearts. The album can be arranged into one single song in a particular sequence known as the 'Holy Grail.' Starting with "The Grudge" and followed by "The Patient," Maynard talks about very sensitive issues close to his heart and one can see him literally pleading to himself. "Schism and Lateralus" follow, where he's talking about expanding yourself and spiralling out to unify the world into one. These are followed by "Disposition," "Reflection" and "Triad," songs that talk about crucifixion of the ego and unity.
Their last studio album titled 10,000 Days was very close to Maynard's heart, as it was symbolic of the 27 years that his mom spent suffering from paralysis. Maynard sang two songs called "Wings of Marie," paying tribute to his mother and all that she had been through and given him. He talks about living vicariously and showers praise on the sun. His take on smoking marijuana and the effects of LSD are interesting to say the least, something one has to listen to in order to experience. The album ends with Maynard singing about dividing the world into two pieces and how the gods and angels must be laughing at what has become of the world and the choices made my humanity so far. "Right in Two" also features their most striking polyrhythms so far, and in general, this album is their best so far as it comes to music, both technically and for listening. Justin Chancellor has really taken the band to new height, and his impact is clearly visible. Danny Carrey, one of the best drummers in the world and trained in jazz, has also had to work hard keep up with the Englishman at times.
A live album titles Salival was also released. This album is another must listen as it can show you what a live performance could feel like, with Maynard asking the crowd to shut their eyes and help him and themselves to go to places of vulnerability and open mindedness, something you would not associate with a 'Metal Band.' The song "No Quarter" is a tribute to Led Zeppelin, and in Maynard's words, for people below 25, it's their song now and for those above 25 it was Led Zeppelin's. "Pushit" and "Third Eye" are completely different from their album versions. The song "You Lied" is a cover of Justin Chancellor's previous band's song. It's a fantastic album.
It is said that Chancellor and Carrey come up with the structure of the song and then Jones builds on it with his guitars, before Maynard finally plays around with it to come up with his lyrics. Tool is a band with various influences, ranging from Jazz to Classical and contemporary, and they call themselves just a branch of the tree known as 'King Crimson,' a band fronted by Robert Fripp, but that's a story for a different day. Tool has been one of the pioneers in the past 10-20 years and holds a very high and respectable place in the world of music.
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