Review Summary: Recipes, finger pointing, tidal waves and third eyes. A Tool album that is just about a cut above the rest.
Few bands have had a career as elusive and enigmatic as Tool. Tool have managed to have a unique run since starting out in the early 90s that has seen them basically have the cake and eating it. Creating a huge internal buzz from the underground scene allowed the band to sign a record deal based entirely on their own terms. They've always avoided the conventions of what it is to sell a band: photoshoots, interviews, generic tickbox album promotions, and interaction from their fans -- all key factors of what 99% of bands need to do to sustain longevity and relevancy, but Tool have always avoided it for the most part, and people want them more for it. With almost complete control of their contractual terms, they've only made a mere 4 albums in their near 3 decade lifespan, with every album completely in their control; meticulously crafted, with the results being timeless pieces of art that document 4 individuals at that point in their lives. When you put their career under a retrospective scope, their last two albums are more mature, trippy and progressive masterpieces; slick productions, spacey soundscapes, a more laid back vibe and even more intellectually vague lyrical content. Their first record documents a much more abrasive metal sound, relying on more visceral instinct than pulling out the mathematical graphs. Which leaves their sophomore effort, a record that resides itself in between both worlds.
After the release of Undertow
, founding bassist Paul D'Amour left the band stating conflicting directions of where he wanted to go and where the band wanted to go. After his departure the band went to work on finding a new bassplayer, eventually finding their man in English born Justin Chancellor. After they hired Justin they went into the studio to begin work on Ænima
, a collection of tracks that contain the abrasive attitude of Undertow
with a much more methodical approach to the band's songwriting. The more straightforward rock track that kicks the album off isn't an indicator of what to expect, but is a nice introduction for its listener; "Stinkfist" is the band's equivalent to a pop song, a pretty standard song structure, with Maynard laying some softer melodic vocals to the track. The song title is also an amusing slice of humour which proves the band don't take themselves all that seriously; an occurrence that pops up several times throughout the album if you look out for it. Namely on tracks like "Die Eier Von Satan" which sounds like a German fascist rally going off, but if you look up the lyrics you'll discover our leader of the rally is actually writing off a recipe for a cake, or "Pu***" which hears Maynard shifting through the lyrics "Push it on me, put *** on me"
. It's the band being a little more playful, and is something that fizzles out of their music after this album.
It also has to be said, the interludes and Easter eggs are definitely some of the best out of all the band's LPs, simply because they range from being humorous to intriguing. "Message To Harry Manback" is a rather disturbing phone message from a guy letting rip on his once roommate James Maynard Keenan, basically telling him how much he hates his guts and wants him to die. The fantastic little Easter egg for America's legendary comedian Bill Hicks, which has a sample of one of his shows at the beginning of "Third Eye". But even the likes of "Cesaro Summability" and "(-) Ions", while they don't particularly go anywhere, they set the sinister tone perfectly before going into their next track.
As for the remaining tracks on here, they showcase a band with a rather hungry side: revealing their intellectual side from time to time, just as much as the raw emotion showcased on Undertow
. "Forty Six And Two" shows the first signs of Justin stamping his marks onto what will become a core staple for the band in the future. His bouncy reverb soaked bassline is met with Danny Carey's drumming ranging from simplistic to technical and Adam driving the grit of the track with his guitar parts. The band has a fantastic control on shifting from the softer sides of the riff before moving into a powerslam of heavy sounds it goes into. It's a brilliant example of the band working on a different level of creativity to when D'Armour was in the band, and a sign Tool's current line up is what was needed to move forward. Maynard has an unparalleled level of anger on this record, which is matched only by the music that backs him up. "Hooker With a Penis" is one of the best tracks he's ever sung on, simply because his emotions are so raw on it. The track starts out with a refrained, distorted and edgy performance from its singer, but as the song moves on he lets out a bellowing scream from time to time, before the song finishes off with an explosion from every member of the band at its interlude, hearing everyone going insane in an almost avant-garde way, before powering the song back up to its final section of the song. The album's title track is centred around Maynard's complete disdain for LA and how he wishes for the whole thing to be flushed down the toilet. The song is the best track on the album, simply because it lets loose in full force. Musically the track dabbles on being a punk track, while dragging in plenty of progressive elements for good measure. But its Maynard's lyrics and vocal work that standout as the tracks highlight; presented in a way that sits between comically playful, whilst there's an underlining layer of utter disgust and contempt for where he lives. It's one that makes you feel he is completely serious in what he's saying, but its done in an almost goofy way that it makes the song that much more effective in the process.
I could sit here and praise Ænima
forever, but at the end of the day, it's an album that has to be experienced; words really can't deliver in the same way sitting down with your headphones on and blasting this album out can. This is the band's best album -- hands down. But if you put their discography into context, Tool have a level of quality to every one of their albums that few bands have managed to match. Which I think resonates on just how genius this LP is. Countless layers to be uncovered, it's fun, it's serious and it has an unbelievable amount of thought put into it. If you've never heard a Tool album before this is the place to start.