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5 Essential Tool Tracks That Showcase the Band's Prog-Metal Journey

From "Sober" to "Schism," Tool spawned out of the early 1990s music scene when guitars were still king.
Tool returns to South Florida to perform at the Hard Rock on January 18 and 19.
Tool returns to South Florida to perform at the Hard Rock on January 18 and 19. Photo by Travis Shinn
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During its 30-plus years together, Tool has only released five full-length studio albums, apparently content to focus on quality over quantity after spawning out of the early '90s music scene when guitars were still king.

With most of the grunge-era music influenced by punk and classic rock, Tool, led by vocalist Maynard James Keenan, stood apart as a love child of metal and prog-rock. It's as if every other successful band during that time grew up listening to Led Zeppelin while the four members of Tool were emulating the heaviness of Black Sabbath and the precision of Rush. It's a subtle difference, but one that has served Tool well.

Before the band's two-night stand at Hard Rock Live, New Times looks at five essential Tool songs to get you ready.

"Sober"

When Tool's debut album, Undertow, came out in 1993, MTV was critical in introducing the act to a broader audience thanks to the band's video directed by stop-motion animator Fred Stuhr. While many bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden seemingly used visuals in an ironic, comedic way, Tool went with utmost seriousness for the aptly titled "Sober." The stop-motion animation, accompanied by the epic echoing sound, made Tool stand out as a no-nonsense alternative to the alternative. With not a single image of the band, viewers and listeners were unsure and fascinated about who they were dealing with.

"Forty Six & 2"

On the band's sophomore record, ├ćnima, Tool proved it still had plenty of obscure time changes in its back pocket,  continuing to build a unique sonic landscape. Last year, when Rolling Stone listed the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time, this was the lone Tool representative. Some of the guitar riffs do shred, but the inclusion is a surprise since much of the song is more melodic than aggro. Tool definitely has recorded more archetypal metal tracks, but rarely has it, or any other band, demonstrated so much versatility in the space of a single song. 

"Schism"

On 2001's Lateralus, Tool successfully completed the hat trick of putting out three one-word singles that start with the letter S (including "Sober" and "Stinkfist"). Until the chorus, the vocals of "Schism" seemingly take second fiddle to the electric orchestra and the unique time signatures, but perhaps the song that inspires the most debate among fans as to whether the lyrics are about a schism in a church, the band, or a relationship. In an interview with New Times in 2022, bassist Justin Chancellor said he'd never give a definitive answer on how to interpret this or any other Tool lyric, with the ambiguity a major part of their appeal. "[Keenan] gives you interesting ideas but leaves them open-ended. He doesn't tell you exactly what he's saying. They let you make up your own mind."

"Triad"

Over the decades, the lyrics and Keenan's distinctive voice have probably been the main draws for Tool, but this six-minute instrumental demonstrates how the grooves and beats contribute to making the four-piece so distinctive. Guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey, and Chancellor each get their moment to shine on this sonic journey found near the end of Lateralus.

"The Pot"

By 2006, bands influenced by Tool, like Muse and Mars Volta, were breaking out, taking art metal to far regions of the cosmos. With the band's fourth album, 10,000 Days, Tool was unwilling to be left behind. Everything about the record is massive, from the 75-minute running time to the crisp production where every bassline, drum beat, and lyric are clearly heard. "The Pot" is probably the catchiest of the eleven tunes, with Keenan defiantly asking, "Who are you to wave your finger?"

Tool. With Elder. 8 p.m. Thursday, January 18, and Friday, January 19, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood; 954-797-5531; myhrl.com. Tickets cost $105 to $245 via ticketmaster.com.
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