Review Summary: Showcasing their charismatic musicianship in a rawer, more accessible light, Undertow highlights some of Tool's best work.
It’s safe to say that Tool has become a bit of a household name when it comes to progressive metal. Much like Pink Floyd for progressive rock and Godspeed You! Black Emperor for post rock, Tool’s towering influence over progressive metal and alternative metal certainly proves to be undeniably justified due to their incredible musicianship and overall unique sound. However, every band like this has to start somewhere and Undertow
happens to be where this behemoth of a band jump started their career. They grew to adapt a technically complex and philosophical style over time. However, they kicked things off with an incredibly raw sound that leans more towards an alternative metal direction with their major debut. Though certainly more immature than their succeeding albums, everything about it just works. Whether it be Maynard’s underdeveloped yet passionate delivery, Danny Carey’s impressive drumming performance or the charismatic chemistry between the guitar and bass, Undertow
serves as the poster child for albums to listen to when you've been stabbed in the back with its angry and frustrated mood.
Take “Sober” for example with its overly self-loathing lyrics, intense atmosphere and Carey’s In the Court of the Crimson King
esque sound. Showcasing some of Tool’s best work here, this song shows how well Tool can deliver a truly angry performance while still having substance at the same time. It’s the style they’ll soon go on to perfect on their seminal sophomore album Aenima
. It should also be mentioned how Justin Chancellor didn't participate until their second record too and Paul D'Amour’s similar approach to the bass as a regular guitar paved the way for Justin Chancellor and it shows on this track. “Crawl Away” showcases similar tendencies, but in a more direct manner with Maynard exclaiming “If I could I’d stick that knife in” at the end of the chorus. Carey also gives the listener a taste of his towering influence to come with a mind blowing drum roll near the end of the song highlighting a thoroughly impressive performance.
Spectacular musicianship aside, the heart and soul of this album lays in its riffs and Maynard’s passionate delivery. Adam Jones truly shines throughout the entirety of Undertow
and “Prison Sex” is a shining example of his talent. With the help of everyone else giving it their all, Jones drives the song with his groovy and memorable guitar work. In addition to his exemplary work here, Maynard belts out every lyric with an in your face kind of style that proves to be nothing short of underdeveloped. He was younger here with lyrics that doesn't exactly strive to be philosophical or spiritual like their latter albums, but they somehow manage to get the job done. “Swamp Song” serves as the prime example for these qualities with it boasting a fantastic performance from him. His delivery isn't technically as great as his latter performances on Lateralus
, but his notably rawer work here pays off so well with the mood of the album and it shouldn't be any other way.
Though notably more direct in style as a whole with its more alternative metal leanings, Undertow
easily highlights some of Tool’s best work here. It even gives the listener a taste of what’s to come with the immense progressive metal vibe of “Flood.” Songs do tend to drag a bit in the second half though, leaving the listener with the impression that the album is undoubtedly top heavy. However, Tool still manages to show off their incredibly charismatic musicianship here in a bit of a raw, more accessible light and this album happened to pave the way for the well-deserved success that is inevitably to come. Angry and frustrated from top to bottom, Undertow
certainly shouldn't be passed up in their discography. The entire vibe and atmosphere on the album will rock the listener’s world and definitely contains some of Tool's most classic songs.