Tag Archives: tool

Tool’s ‘Ænima’ at 20

Tool‘s Ænima is turning 20. It was released on vinyl on September 17, 1996 and on CD on October 1, 1996.

tool aenima

Ænima completes my personal holy trinity of top albums that were released in ~1996. It wasn’t the first hard rock/metal album I owned, but it was the one that struck deepest. With it, vocalist Maynard James Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey, and then-new bassist Justin Chancellor cemented Tool as one of the most formidable bands in rock.  Like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Crash, Ænima is a twofold touchstone for me:
1. The album itself is great, and one that I’m just as excited to listen to twenty years later.
2. It served as my entryway into a new musical world.

Because of this album and the near fanatical devotion it inspired in me, Tool was my favorite band throughout high school and much of college. (Tool is still in my Top 5, of course, but at that time the band was without peer.) It spoke to me in various ways. I read an interview with saxophonist Jeff Coffin once in which he said that the most moving music affects you in multiple ways simultaneously: your head, heart, and body. In this respect, Ænima was one of the first album to move me on all three levels. It’s musically interesting on a technical level; the music and message are equal parts profound and humorous; and everything comes together to simply rock and groove hard.

Ænima is multi-faceted, to say the least. The lyrics are wide-ranging — alternately existential, darkly comical, angst-ridden, and mystical. Such a description of the lyrical content could also be applied to the ouvre of comedian Bill Hicks, to whom the album is dedicated. Hicks, a friend of Keenan’s and one of the more biting and cynical satirists of the last few decades, died in 1994, and is described as “another dead hero” in the liner notes. To drive the point home further, beyond Hicksian attitude, the album’s crown jewel and final track “Third Eye” opens with several Hicks clips above a growing psychedelic maelstrom of sound before giving way to the song proper. (Live renditions, though rare, substitute Hicks for a recording of Dr. Timothy Leary.) Also, the album’s title track is a take on a regular Hicks trope: an earthquake causing LA (and the countless superfluous cultural ills it houses) to plunge into the ocean, leaving only “Arizona Bay.” Hence the refrain, “Learn to swim.”

The album’s humor extends beyond Hicks. This is particularly evident in “Message to Harry Manback” (a recording of a violent, expletive-laden voicemail atop soft piano), “Intermission” (a kitschy jazz organ arrangement of “Jimmy”), and “Die Eier von Satan” (aka “The Eggs (Balls) of Satan,” a recipe for hash sugar cookies aggressively recited in German over a screaming, responsorial crowd, reminiscent of Nazi rallies).

The music is heavy overall with sparse, nuanced moments throughout. Keenan’s intense vocal stylings convey urgency at all times, be it a whisper, more brassy full-throated fare, or all-out screaming. It’s a nice sonic counterpoint to the dark, relentless rhythm section. Aside from the occasional guitar solo, the drums, bass, and guitar blend seamlessly into one rhythmelodic juggernaut. And even though “rhythmelodic” is arguably a silly term I’m making up as I write this, the melodies and rhythms are so symbiotically linked that it’s hard to consider one without the other. Structurally, the music is intricately rhythmic — mixed- and odd-meters and hemiolas abound. (Carey’s percussion abilities and training have included tabla study with Aloke Dutta.) Not many rock songs maintain a deep groove when alternating between 6/8 and 5/4 and 16/8 (3+3+3+3+2+2), as in “Third Eye,” but Tool succeeds where others fail. To many, Ænima is Tool’s best album, as it’s a step further in the progressive and psychedelic rock direction from 1993’s Undertow (and 1992’s EP Opiate), but it was more radio-friendly overall than 2001’s Lateralus (the title track of which features a melody built upon the Fibonacci sequence and a chorus in revolving cycles of 9/8, 8/8, and 7/8) and 2006’s 10,000 Days. (Lateralus is this blogger’s favorite of the discography.)

For being such an iconic nineties rock album to many, Ænima has a surprising number of throwaway or secondary tracks. “Useful Idiot,” “Message to Harry Manback,” “Intermission,” “Die Eier von Satan,” “Cesaro Summability,” and “(-) Ions” are all either transitional sound pieces, jokes, or both. (And they work within the context of the album as a whole — one of the reasons it’s best listened to in its entirety.) The remaining nine songs more than make up for any lost ground. They range from four-and-a-half to nearly fourteen minutes in length, with the average being around six to eight minutes. Consequently it’s that much more impressive that the album included four radio singles: “Stinkfist,” “Forty-Six & 2,” “Ænema,” and “H.”

The songs are pretty well balanced between straight-ahead rockers and more exploratory pieces. It’s no mistake that “Stinkfist,” “Forty-Six & 2,” and “Ænema” were hit singles – they’re radio-ready stunners. “Hooker With A Penis” — a comment upon claims that the band had become too popular and sold out — is arguably the heaviest straight-ahead number on the album. Stylistically that’s no accident. How better to comment upon commercial success than pairing the caustic lyrics with a catchy hook? And when “Eulogy” — supposedly an “ode” to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard — kicks in after its two-minute percussive introduction, it’s not hard to picture thousands of fans dancing and moshing to those anthemic choruses.

Then as well as now, I tended to spend most of my time with the more exploratory numbers. These four songs — “H.,” “Jimmy,” “Pushit,” and “Third Eye” — take up most of the album’s real estate given their lengths. “H.” is technically straightforward, but this contemplative medium-tempo dirge is cut from a different cloth than the other singles. In this respect, you could easily pair it with “Jimmy.” “Pushit” and “Third Eye,” however, go farther and deeper both sonically and rhetorically, and they’re the two songs with the most extreme dynamic juxtapositions. At over thirteen-and-a-half minutes, “Third Eye” was unlike anything I’d ever heard the first time I listened to it. Aside from its length, its various peaks and valleys feature noise, instrumental soloing, moving melodies, intricate rhythms, a meaningful message, and more.

(For the record and what it’s worth, though it’s hard to pick, “Pushit,” “Third Eye,” and “H.” are probably my favorites on the album.)

Unlike with MCIS and Crash, I saw the band live around the time they were supporting this album. Even though Tool’s set lists are rather static within each tour, there’s no denying that they’re a great live band, particularly in the sense of flawlessly executing their material. (Though, to be fair, Maynard phoned in his performance at the last show I attended — Toledo, OH in 2012 — but I bet the brief tour was a cash grab for him to support his myriad other endeavors. Adam, Danny, and Justin gave it their all, however.) I first saw Tool on July 26, 1997 as part of Lollapalooza 1997 at Val-du Lakes in West Michigan. It was the first of fourteen shows for me, and I still think of it every July 26 (as well as throughout the year). It was the first real heavy mosh pit (of many) I’d been a part of, and staying near the stage was nothing short of an adventure, even when I moved away from the core melee.

In addition to seeing the band live at the time, I also became a member of the online community. That’s a ubiquitous element to most things now because of social media, but in the mid-to-late nineties it was relegated to message boards on the recently-retired toolshed.down.net. I must take a moment to state for the record just how much I’ve enjoyed toolshed over the years. Director and editor Kabir Akhtar began the site as a labor or love over two decades ago, and it was long the go-to source for band news, discussion of the lyrics’ meanings, fan reviews of shows (a few of which were written by a much younger me), and much more. Tool’s own website now includes actual news when appropriate, something it never did way back when. Though it did feature endlessly engaging tomes on all sorts of goodies… Even though I haven’t posted on toolshed in years, I’ve continued to regularly visit. It’s both a great repository of Tool info and a fascinating pre-Social Media time capsule. I may have mixed feelings about another fan site (to put it mildly) but I have nothing but fondness for toolshed. Thank you, Kabir.

Ænima‘s release and aftermath was game-changing for the band, and likewise for me as a fan of Tool and music — and a participant in fandom — generally. It’s wild to think it’s been twenty years. Hopefully it won’t be that long until the band’s next album

MTH-V: Kids Cover TOOL’s “Forty Six & 2”

This is entirely too good to not share…

A buddy of mine alerted me to this video a couple months ago, knowing my deep love of TOOL. (Previous MTH-V on the band here.) While I was deeply skeptical upon seeing the performers, I was quickly impressed and the video has since stuck with me.

The performers in this video are students of musician, teacher, and entrepreneur Aaron O’Keefe. If only I had been able to participate in something like this when I was young. Although, if that were the case, I’d probably have stuck with the guitar and never touched a saxophone. An interesting thought experiment…

“Forty Six & 2” comes from TOOL’s second full-length album Ænima. That album launched the band into the mainstream and got the undivided attention of yours truly in the late summer of 1996, right before its release. While there are some metrical intricacies here, this is one of the band’s more metrically straightforward songs.

Not only have these kids put in the time and have the talent to pull this off so well, but they rock hard. Very impressive, especially considering the material and their ages. I’m not sure whose idea it was to have a female singer, but kudos to him/her. (Female vocals are a good substitute for singer Maynard James Keenan, given his style and range.) Finally, a special shoutout to the drummer, as attempting to fill Danny’s Carey‘s mammoth shoes is a great undertaking.

Enjoy…

And, for reference, a live version by TOOL from 1996:

MTH-V: Rage Against the Machine

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE! Twenty years later, the band is still just as rocking and relevant.

I know I have my Top 5 that I reference quite regularly. But if I were to limit that to rock alone, RATM would definitely make that list. (Note: RATM and TOOL both emerged from the same LA scene and knew each other quite well – in fact, the two bands’ guitarists were high school classmates in Chicago.) RATM’s second album Evil Empire came out in 1996, a year I all but obsess over and praise at length without prompting, and I listened to it non-stop. (Some of my still-favorite albums were released that year, and a number of the releases from late 1995 to early 1997 made a big impact on me.) The band’s inventive and assaulting mix of rap and heavy metal are absolutely infectious, and Tom Morello‘s virtuosity gives the only-guitar-bass-drums-vocals combo near-endless sonic possibilities.

Controversy regularly followed the band – and continues to through today – because of 1) their uncompromising socio-political focus and 2) misunderstanding and overreaction by the mainstream media. For example, their music was banned from the airwaves by Clear Channel during the months following 9/11. Much of their profits have gone to support charitable and political causes over the last two decades, and they are regularly participating in demonstrations and rallies, especially Morello and singer Zack de la Rocha. And when I say socio-political focus, I mean exclusively so. Without getting deep (and lost) in the weeds here, every song – save some of the covers included on 2000’s Renegades deals with social, political, economic and/or environmental commentary of some kind. Considering the group’s singular purpose, their longstanding commercial success and popularity is quite amazing.

I was fortunate enough to see Rage Against the Machine once in late 1999. (They abruptly disbanded a year later and reformed in 2007, performing sporadically since.) It remains one of the most INTENSE shows I’ve ever attended, and it was by far the most aggressive mosh pit I’ve ever been a part of. (Even though I was only feet from the stage, I had to leave the pit before Rage even took the stage and find an open seat from one of the many people who rushed the floor.) The band didn’t need a light show, lasers, or any other special effects. All they had was a backdrop that read “The Battle of Detroit” and their instruments. And it was one of the best, most energetic performances I’ve witnessed. Hopefully the below videos convey that.

“Know Your Enemy”
One of my favorite RATM tracks. (TOOL’s Maynard James Keenan sings the bridge on their debut album. A clip of both bands together on stage at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival is here.) This 2011 performance at Brazil’s SWU festival is ELECTRIC. It was part of RATM’s first string of South American dates ever, and it’s obvious that much of the audience had waited two decades for this.) Watch Morello work his magic throughout!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbYVDjDpR8U

“Freedom”
From Germany’s Rock im Park 2000
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSNeonapnT8

*I had tickets to see them again in 2000 as part of the Rhyme & Reason tour featuring Beastie Boys, RATM, Busta Rhymes, and No Doubt, but the tour was cancelled to due an injury sustained by Mike D. That’s one tour I’d love to alter history to have seen…

 

MTH-V: TOOL’s “Third Eye” Live

Although I’d like for my Einstein reflection to remain from and center on the main site (as it is in my mind), Tuesday is here and therefore another video post is due. The timing definitely works out, however, as it’s quite complementary to the concert-going about face I’m engaging in. Although I have yet to successfully pick my jaw up from the floor after Sunday’s EOTB experience, tonight I’ll be seeing TOOL in Toledo, OH. (Yes, I’ll be wearing my earplugs…)

Ah, TOOL. (While it’s not completely necessary that I capitalize all letters, I’ve done so for 15 years and see no reason to quit now.) 1/5 of my mythic Top 5. Tonight’s show will be #14, my first having been almost 15 years ago (07.26.97). It’s been five years since I last saw them, and my overall attendance numbers would be far greater for them if they actually toured regularly. However, that’s part of their charm. They tour when they want and can, and do things on their terms, and release new studio albums at a snail’s pace. But considering each album somehow evolves past the last, it’s always worth the wait.

In case this is news to you, a quick rundown: Since its inception, the band has been categorized as progressive rock/metal, and has only amped up those characteristics – lengthy tunes, compound meters, unconventional form, strong technical facility – over time. Although many progressive rock bands fall prey to the math more than the music, TOOL can organically rock in 11/8 without giving the impression that they perform solely to showcase their rhythmic acuity. Furthermore, they exhibit restraint and taste, employing such devices only when the music (or Maynard’s idiosyncratic vocal melodies) demands it. As far as subject matter, the lyrics are overall intentionally vague while also referencing, aside from the usual “life and death,”  individual expression, philosophy, social commentary, humor (often sarcastic or ironic), and the occult. (The band members and their associates have a deep knowledge of the latter, as opposed to superficial references.)

For this week’s video, I’ve selected a recent and decent (despite the final few seconds being clipped) HQ audience recording of one of their best songs, “Third Eye.” Without giving too much away in the title, it’s about opening one’s fabled third eye. 🙂 The spoken dialogue played at the beginning is a recording of Dr. Timothy Leary they use during live (rare) performances of this particular song. (The studio album features complementary bits by Bill Hicks.) I’ve only seen this song live a few times – it’s rarely performed. If you have the time to get through all 15 minutes you’ll see that it’s not just “jamming,” but rather a well-structured composition. Also note the great use of tension and release via volume, texture, meter, and tone. It’s something they do better than most. The other thing TOOL does better than most is perform. They are SOLID live – crisp, well-rehearsed, and intense. TOOL is:
Danny Carey – Drums/Percussion
Justin Chancellor – Bass (1995-present)
Adam Jones – Guitar
Maynard James Keenan – Vocals
(Paul D’Amour – Bass, 1990-95)

“Third Eye” (from 1996’s Ænima)

Lyrics:
Dreaming of that face again.
It’s bright and blue and shimmering.
Grinning wide
And comforting me with it’s three warm and wild eyes.

On my back and tumbling
Down that hole and back again
Rising up
And wiping the webs and the dew from my withered eye.

In… Out… In… Out… In… Out…

A child’s rhyme stuck in my head.
It said that life is but a dream.
I’ve spent so many years in question
to find I’ve known this all along.

“So good to see you.
I’ve missed you so much.
So glad it’s over.
I’ve missed you so much
Came out to watch you play.
Why are you running?”

Shrouding all the ground around me
Is this holy crow above me.
Black as holes within a memory
And blue as our new second sun.
I stick my hand into his shadow
To pull the pieces from the sand.
Which I attempt to reassemble
To see just who I might have been.
I do not recognize the vessel,
But the eyes seem so familiar.
Like phosphorescent desert buttons
Singing one familiar song…

“So good to see you.
I’ve missed you so much.
So glad it’s over.
I’ve missed you so much.
Came out to watch you play.
Why are you running away?”

Prying open my third eye.
So good to see you once again.
I thought that you were hiding.
And you thought that I had run away.
Chasing the tail of dogma.
I opened my eye and there we were.

So good to see you once again
I thought that you were hiding from me.
And you thought that I had run away.
Chasing a trail of smoke and reason.

Prying open my third eye

 

Protection

I stumbled upon this NPR article a few weeks ago and it’s since stuck in my craw. While I agree with one of the overall messages – it’s important to protect yourself in high-volume environments – I’m puzzled by the Bob Boilen’s seemingly surprised POV. I try not to get preachy about much, but earplugs and volume regularly lead me to filibuster. I know that I already have slight hearing loss in one ear, and I’ve waged an all-out preventative assault for the better part of the last decade.

Like the author, I regularly attend (and participate in) performances of varying kinds: clubs, large arenas, theaters, ampitheaters, museums, bars, etc. Some are quiet and cozy, others are deafening. When I’m preparing to leave the house to rehearse, perform, or attend a show, I always take a moment to assess the sonic environment I’m heading to, and almost never leave home without my earplugs (my own personal American Express). About 8 years ago I decided to spring for a pair of Etymotic custom-molded earplugs. It seemed a little much at first, but it turned out to be arguably the best $160ish I’ve spent.

Performing in loud ensembles was ~65% of my reason for the purchase, with the remaining ~35% stemming from my regular attendance of loud (mostly rock) concerts. Now, I do love many loud styles of music, but I tend to be extra cautious with the volume at which I listen to them. (My wife regularly snipes at me in the car or at home for having the music too low when listening.) I always enjoy listening to music (of course), but it should also be a comfortable experience. After all, if musicians and other audiophiles insist on investing in a great pair of headphones for private listening (I do love my Bose headphones), why not apply the same logic to earplugs and “public listening”? Similarly, consider bowling, an activity many Americans participate in occasionally. For most people, renting shoes and/or balls doesn’t really affect their enjoyment – they’re often there for reasons more social than sport. But for those with a love of the game who play frequently and with purpose, investing money in gear (ball, shoes, upkeep, etc.) is a no-brainer because it enhances the experience.

The big complaint about earplugs in general is that they distort the sound. True, $3 foam thimbles – like renting a bowling shoes for your ears – work slightly better than taping a pillow around one’s head. In that case, you get what you pay for. However that’s not at all the case when using earplugs that are actually meant for listening (as opposed to those meant to block out sound). I always tell people that wearing custom earplugs is the equivalent of simply turning down a volume knob on your ears. Everything comes through cleanly and as projected, only at a softer level. (Also, custom plugs come with adjustable filters for varying volumes.) In fact, I can often hear better with them in, as the natural distortion and fatigue is a non-issue.

I’ve seen many loud performances. (Korn & Staind touring with the Guinness-certified world’s loudest sound system, which was painfully loud even with foam earplugs, and Phil Anselmo‘s Down immediately come to mind.) The episode that most sticks out to me is my 8th TOOL concert (10.18.02). I eventually forced my way to the front row, but was located directly in front of one of the speaker stacks for a majority of the performance. I had a deeper-than-normal ear fatigue afterwards and was to see them again two nights later. In between, I attended a wedding and, seated near the DJ, I suffered a slight auditory meltdown at the reception. As a result, the 10.20 TOOL show was a turning point for me, as I’ve worn earlugs since and haven’t looked back. (Side note: My ears, mind, and body were much better off after that concert than the previous two nights.)

Granted, the Korn show I mentioned was a bit much, but for the most part some types of music just demand loud performance. Much of rock music is quite visceral and therefore physically engaging the audience is a factor – even when wearing earplugs, feeling the music’s vibrations run through your entire body at a live show is a truly wonderful feeling. But yes, there are many instances in which a band or venue is obnoxious (again see Korn), bordering on dangerous. (I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of this.) It’s a situation in which everyone – performer, engineer, listener – should and does have skin in the game.

While I’ve written most of this article from the audience’s perspective, I should also note that my earplugs have done wonders for gigging this whole time – standing amidst drums and amplifiers takes its toll quickly and aggressively. But since the original NPR article stressed the audience perspective, I opted for that arena.

I could go on and on. Truly. But since I want people to return to this blog from time to time, suffice it to say that the listener ultimately shares responsibility in auditory comfort. 🙂 And, if done correctly, it doesn’t have to compromise the overall experience.