TOOL’s 'Undertow" crawled through my tape deck like a ghost.
I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. The speakers bubbled for several seconds, and then, quite honestly, the boogeyman could have burst through my closet door in a detonation of splinter and metal and I would have given no mention. A brooding bass line sucked me into another world.
The music was impressive, mysterious, and as I continued to listen, a power struggle formed and a bizarre indifference set in. Somber and angry, the heaviness of it all cast me into a very wary mood. And who could blame me for such a dramatic sway in temper? My normal slate of music listening was reserved for bands like THE OFFSPRING, GREEN DAY, PEARL JAM, PRIMUS, NIRVANA, WEEZER, and MARILYN MANSON.
While the latter group was dark in lyrical content, it was the instrumentation that cast TOOL apart from everything else; placing them on a pedestal high above, or rather, well below anything else I had ever heard or even imagined.
An aural landscape opened up around me.
Adam Jones’ guitar work, never flashy, always interesting, changed the way I strummed anything; Danny Carey’s drumming was simultaneously as pounding and as technically tight as an industrial park; Paul D’Amour’s bass play was groove-soaked, mean, and seemingly omnipresent; Maynard James Keenan’s harsh lyrics, at times beguiling, and at others, vicious, were exactly what I had always wanted from a Rock-and-Roll vocalist.
Of course, I was only 13 when this occurred.
My tastes were sure to change in a year - tops. Perhaps, even in months.
Unlike many bands that have become stagnant, TOOL has evolved from a pissed-off Metal band to a technologically progressive titan in music.
Sound bias? Well, it is. But it’s also the undeniable truth.
With the arguable exception of “The Pot” from the "10,000 Days" album, TOOL has never created radio friendly music. It’s melancholy, atmospheric, and at times, long-winded, but still, it remains uniquely accessible. While many of TOOL's fans may just as quickly adorn a DAVE MATTHEWS BAND emblem, the band's admirers run the gauntlet. From long-haired posers to beefcake jocks, picking out a TOOL fan is a crapshoot.
"Undertow" presented a first in music for me. Sludgy, intense, and remarkably creative, TOOL started a revolution with their sophomore effort and a venerable history has been cast in its wake.
One could speak volumes on the song structure and its many singles, Henry Rollins’ bad-ass guest spot, or even how the record was TOOL’s last full collaboration with D’Amour - who was replaced by Justin Chancellor after an audition that included KYUSS’ Scott Reeder and FILTER’s Frank Cavanaugh.
Controversy stirred when the song "Prison Sex" changed the scope of music videos with its bleak and vulnerable claymation, the album’s cover art and liner notes forced K-Mart and Walmart to pull the album, and an unlikely friendship with the late Bill Hicks became a prevalent inspiration and a recurring theme in their third album, "Ænema."
Much can be said about "Undertow," and even more has been unabashedly copied.
An Alternative Metal landmark, TOOL’s first full-length album is a must-own for all lovers of heavy music.
(Online June 24, 2010)