Review Summary: One of the finest experiences ever conceived
In the seven years since the release of their last studio album, fans of Tool have more than likely given up all hope of ever seeing another release from the band again. Such a protracted length of time since a previous installment is best reserved to such things as Duke Nukem and Aliens : Colonial Marines, although if those two examples are anything to go by then perhaps it is best that Tool remain dormant. Indeed, were this the case then the legacy they have left behind is a fine one, with four studio albums chronicling their entire career, and each one of these albums being nothing short of the pinnacle of intuitiveness and creativity and the apex of musical genius.
Undertow is the not-so-humble debut from these legends of the progressive metal realm, and is one of the most schizophrenic mash-ups of frantic time signature changes and professional yet unrestrained musicianship ever put to record. It would seem that for their first release Tool decided that it would be an idea to abandon anything coherent and instead sling together whatever musical progressions and conflicting ideas that came to mind. And somehow it worked. Upon re-listening to this band's past discography in the fervent wish they would come to terms with the ideology of releasing another masterpiece, I realized that it would be exceedingly hard for a band to expand on the ingenuity on display on Undertow.
Released twenty long years ago now, Undertow still remains as fresh as it must have felt upon Day 1, retaining the trippy elements of their music that helped to astound and confound their audience for the two decades that followed. The eleven (or 69, depending on if you take the album cover as Gospel) tracks that make up this release are nothing short of the most fabulous music in existence. This is a band with the ability to transcend genres in the same vein as artists such as Opeth whilst never losing the integrity of an artist like Radiohead, making for a musical cacophony of insanity that somehow came together and feels absolutely perfect as a result.
The most instantly noticeable thing about Tool's seminal debut album is the constant low-end trickle let out by the bass guitar. From Intolerance right through to the end of the album, this band never seems to let up with the guttural finger-grinding craziness on display from their bassist, chewing through any preconceptions you may have had about an artist such as this. The bass work on this release makes an absolute mockery of almost everything else out there, as it shows perfectly around three minutes into Prison Sex when their bassist just unleashes some of the most incredible bass accomplishments ever heard.
However, it is not just their bassist who makes this such a worthwhile album. Whilst they may have shown on the three albums that followed this that they were never really running out of guitar work, it truly seems like they scraped the bottom of the barrel and used the absolute finest riffs they could on this album. Each of these tracks is fueled by a seemingly never-ending artillery barrage of bludgeoning, in-your-face guitar riffs that twist and turn through each time signature change with a grace more mysterious than that of Macavity The Cat. Not one of these tracks ever lets down on any of their musical frontiers, from the aforementioned constant incredible bass work to the brilliant vocal work. One thing that truly will amaze is the sheer bombardment of what's constantly happening throughout this release. Each instrument savagely assaults your senses, whilst the vocals are frequently right at the front of things, with some weird effects ensuring that they will either echo or fade off to the left or right speaker as if to deliberately cause epileptic fits.
Tool's debut album is nothing short of an absolute masterpiece made up of the finest musicianship out there, and is an essential album for anyone who is either into progressive metal or is tripping off AMT whilst listening.
I think Mongi23 needs to hear some Pearl Jam, Psychotic Waltz, Eminem, GY!BE, Nick Drake, SORNE, Niechec, Agalloch, Emperor, Shpongle, mewithoutYou, Iron Maiden, Death, Led Zepelin, Streetlight Manifesto, Allman Brothers Band, Kayo Dot, blah blah.... these are some debuts. Undertow= at best 3.0