In the thirteen years since Tool released 10,000 Days, we’ve had a lot of time to listen to their relatively small discography. And as fans worldwide await the release of their fourth full-length album (and fifth release overall, not including 2000’s Salival collection), here’s how we rank what they’ve done so far.
Let’s be clear here: Tool’s least-great album is still great, and much greater than most bands’ best efforts. The album’s title was allegedly inspired by the fact that Maynard James Keenan’s mother lived for approximately 10,000 days after suffering a stroke in 1976 that left her wheelchair-bound. With that context, ‘Wings For Marie (Pt 1)’ and especially ‘10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2)’ are even heavier. The latter song is one of the most painful and powerful in Tool’s catalog. But the album also had some of the (relatively) straight-ahead rock jams that catapulted them onto MTV and the radio in the previous decade, including ‘Vicarious,’ ‘Jambi’ and ‘The Pot.’
Fans may have wondered if the band would be affected by the radio and MTV2 play enjoyed by Maynard James Keenan’s other band, A Perfect Circle, who debuted in 2000 with ‘Mer de Noms.’ The answer was ‘no.’ Still, following up ‘Undertow’ and ‘Aenima’ was never going to be easy. ‘Lateralus’ -- like every Tool album -- has so many great moments. Some of the best are on ‘Parabola,’ ‘Ticks & Leaches,’ and the title track, all of which are over six minutes long. The highlights, though, are ‘Schism’ and album opener ‘The Grudge.’
By 1992, there were a lot of bands trying to get onboard the ‘alternative rock’ or ‘alternative metal’ bandwagon. But from the first moments of ‘Sweat,’ it was clear that Tool actually were an alternative. Kennan, guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey and bassist Paul D’Amour didn’t sound like anyone else: they combined the rage and fury of punk and metal with the ambition of the wildest progressive rock (namely King Crimson). Tool would go on to push the limits of song length on subsequent albums, but here they kept it tight on classics like ‘Sweat,’ “Hush’ and the title track.
Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More, and yes, Nirvana, led the way for lots of loud, weird, uncommercial bands to get on MTV and on the radio. Still, it was surprising to see and hear Tool everywhere in ‘93. Part of that was thanks to the aforementioned bands breaking down doors, but it also had a lot to do with instantly catchy songs like ‘Intolerance,’ ‘Prison Sex’ and especially, ‘Sober.’ Fans of aggressive music loved the mosh-friendly jams, but some fans made a deeper connection with Maynard James Keenan’s painful lyrics.
Would the departure of original bassist Paul D’Amour faze Tool? A few seconds into the opening track on ‘Aenima,’ ‘Stinkfist,’ it was clear that the band would be as strong as ever with Justin Chancellor. And would the mainstream success of ‘Undertow’ impact the band? Maybe: at the very least, it gave them the currency to make one of the weirdest and most artistically ambitious albums ever to go triple platinum. ‘Forty Six & 2’ was allegedly inspired by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, The title track and ‘Third Eye,’ meanwhile, were inspired by the late comedian Bill Hicks. ‘Hooker With A Penis’ was about an argument Keenan had with a fan wearing a ‘dope Beasties T’ who accused the band of selling out. Was it based on a real or imagined encounter? We don’t know, but Maynard barks, ‘I sold out long before you ever heard my name!’ But even with songs as undeniably excellent as ‘Eulogy,’ ‘H.’ and the aforementioned ‘Stinkfist’ and ‘Forty Six & 2,’ the band clearly were following their own muse, not the pop charts. And that’s why the fans have loved and respected them for nearly three decades.