Tool: Undertow (1993)

There’s a a shroud of mystery around Tool. They’re not available on any streaming platforms so the only way one can really listen to their music is by popping their CD or cassette into the stereo. In spite of (or maybe even due to) the limited syndication, Tool has developed a pretty dedicated fanbase so that few upcoming albums (which have been years in the making) are more highly anticipated than Tool’s.

Tool - Undertow.jpeg
Tool: Undertow (1993)

It’s tough to categorize the band as they don’t easily fit the different musical distinctions within the rock genre. Although their debut album was released in 1993, the peak of “grunge” era madness, it wouldn’t be fair to characterize them within the alternative hard rock mood of the early ’90s. Tool’s sound is an amalgamation of metal and progressive rock elements which are enveloped in a wistful, dark mood further highlighted by Maynard James Keenan’s quiet and haunting vocals.

My introduction to Tool began with the music video to “Sober”, a track off their debut album. The track begins eerily enough with the stop-motion animation centering around a monstrous human-looking creature. The main bass line and Keenan’s soft-spoken delivery initially pulled me in. “Why can’t we not be sober?” is the repeated refrain and after a few listenings, I almost agree. It’s that longing for something so that the world isn’t seen so clearly and harshly in its reality and so that the true, flawed self doesn’t hurt as much.

This album is bleak, harrowing, and emotional. Although less musically complex than later albums, this one is intelligent and complex in its emotions and the way in which it expresses them. There is a coldness that Tool embraces and one can hear it in the space the songs have – there isn’t always an instrument or vocal that needs to be there every second for them to have that same significance. However, this also isn’t an easy band to get into – Keenan’s vocal delivery doesn’t change between tracks and the dark, emotional lyrics can seem overwrought at times.

My favorites on this album are “Bottom”, the aforementioned “Sober”, and “4 Degrees”.  Tool especially suits those days when you’re feeling disillusioned with the world, frustrated with ignorance, or just want to wallow in the emotional darkness for a while. Who knows – you might just learn something about yourself and the world while you’re at it.

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