There’s Maynard’s wildly unorthodox stage presence, where his style drastically changes like a chameleon, but that’s what makes him uniquely unpredictable; that, and his incredible vocal range. Adam Jones’ understated guitar intricacies ricochet between overpowered riffs and complex dynamics that puts the right blemish on each song without being a blatant maestro about it. Justin Chancellor possessed the ability to make the bass lines an imperative part of the song; one minute it could be tucked away, and the next minute it could be under the spotlight. And then there’s Danny Carey and his intergalactic ability to make his percussion the center of attention; it also helps that his complicated time signatures and jazz-influenced approach are what gives Tool their distinguishable sound.
With subject matter that’s an endless plane of brooding rumination ranging in spirituality, existentialism, nihilism, irreligion, anger, and other taboo topics, Tool still continues to confound and delight millions of fans. Plus, their super perfectionists who take long hiatus in between albums, and all of their music videos are creepy claymation, with most of the visual effects ideas done by Adam Jones (he’s also a visual effects artist). All of this adds to the mystique of Tool, and makes them, hands down, one of the coolest bands around. Just a forewarning: some of these songs have a significant amount of profanity in them. Now, time for another one of these classic top ten lists:
10.) Rosetta Stoned
Our top ten list starts out with a song from their latest album, 10,000 Days. It’s a fairly polarized album by Tool standards, but if there’s one standout track, it’s this one. It’s an eleven minute story about a man who is abducted by aliens, and it’s pretty weird; it’s flow is very stream of consciousness. Each arrangement from the respective members collides quite well, and one can practically feel the prog rock mastery massaging their auditory periphery.
9.) Cold and Ugly
Here’s one stellar live performance off of their E.P. Opiate. This was Tool at their most raw and unapologetic, and pretty straightforward Alternative metal. This song, which going by the lyrics, could be about vanity and materialism, equips the right amount of dirty riffin’ and atomic rhythms to put the listener in a spiritual mosh pit.
This is the song that opened their fantastic sophomore album, Undertow. The first twenty seconds starts out quiet with an industrial-like effect, before snatching the spine out with quite the abrupt riff in typical Tool time signature fashion; not the run of the mill 4/4 basics. Everyone’s in top form here, giving the listener a taste of what to expect from the rest of the record. Keenan belts his frustrations out, with unmitigated lyrics about the unholy side of the human condition and how guilty desire takes over; such a headbanger this one is.
7.) Ticks & Leeches
Arguably the most thrashing headache on their well-crafted Lateralus record, which came out in 2001, Ticks & Leeches plays out like two different songs. The first part starts out with screeching triads, wall-to-wall speed drumming with a nice jazz swing thrown in, and blood-curdling screams about parasites who are always looking to suck you dry, metaphorically speaking. Then the mid section gets surprisingly still and melodic before doing a turnaround back into the main key again. It’s traditional and multi-textural Tool that simply doesn’t let up in its ferocity.
This pint-sized protest anthem off of Opiate combated the restrictions of freedom of speech in music and Tipper Gore in particular; everybody knows the history with her and the Parental Advisory stickers on albums that had explicit content. Not only is the song an ambitiously tongue-and-cheek banger, with its funky bass lick and those thrashing drum fills, but it’s a true testament to how Tool’s songwriting chops had evolved since then; they were like young brats mad at the world during this phase.
Everybody knows this song, and most of them probably know about the disturbing music video for it as well; as cool as clay animation is, there’s still a frightening way about it, especially here. That famous bass strumming is too classic, as well as every other inner working of the song, thanks to each of the band members. And the overall structure of it is formulaic Tool, with the lyrics being pretty creepy at times, mainly because of lines like this:
There’s a shadow just behind me,
Shrouding every step I take,
Making every promise empty,
Pointing every finger at me.
This is the song that gets most people into Tool, and understandably so.
4.) Forty-Six & 2
The theme for this song is quite a conundrum, because it’s said that the title of the song is in reference to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory about reaching a state of evolution in which the body would take on two extra chromosomes from the normal forty-six. Another Jungian aspect of the song is its interpretation of the “shadow aspect,” which explains that unconscious cogitations attribute to the conscious ego ceasing to identify with itself, creating hatred and repression in one’s self. Pretty thought-provoking subject matter smeared over some progressive metal music, huh?
3.) Hooker with a …
Excuse the song title. Just to be clear: there are no such references within the song, which makes it an odd name given the true meaning of the song. It’s a big middle finger to those who thought Tool had sold out as a band, and the attitude is there; this is a brutal take-down with so much grit and vexation that’s it’s downright terrifying and oh so brilliant. Hands down the most destructive song on Aenima and one of their most consummate; some think the song is out-of-place on the record, but that’s simply their opinion.
These are two separate songs that are interconnected, so of course it’s befitting to just add them both here. This work of compositional genius is what makes an album like Lateralus such a towering achievement; some might argue that it’s their best, perhaps? Parabol is threaded by a moody B Minor riff devoid of distortion, where Maynard comes in with spoken word-style wordplay pertaining to transcendentalism and out-of-body experiences in the form of a love poem. Once Parabola comes in, all hell breaks loose. The subtlety of Jones’ guitar effects are like fireworks to the ears the way each layer of noise disrupts the poignant atmosphere.
Tool has composed many mammoth suites of complicated quality; they of course adapted this trait from their main influence, King Crimson. But none of them compare to the inimitable complexity of the very song from the very album of the same name. Not only is the song near perfect in the general sense, but it’s also quite mathematically structured. Its time signatures and lyrical motif correspond with the Fibonacci number sequence; the time signature in the chorus switches from 9/8, 8/8, to 7/8, with 987 being the sixteenth number in the Fibonacci Sequence.
Danny Carrey has said in an interview that the original title of the song was going to be “987,” coincidentally. And even in the verses, Maynard’s syllables in the lines, Black, then, white are, all I see, in my infancy. Red and yellow then came to be equate to the same number pattern as well; how cool is that? Each section of the song is incredible, especially the final minute which spirals out of control in a head-banging oblivion. Lateralus rightfully deserves the number slot for not only being an intelligent piece, but for being a great rock song.