Publication: Spin

Date: June, 2001

Transcribed by
seamus cole (
as well as Adam Lancaster (

  page: 87
 title: Hammer Of The Gods
author: Chris Norris


By: Chris Norris for Spin Magazine

{A magazine that gave AEnima a very poor review upon its release has 
now jumped on the Tool bandwagon (or at least the Maynard bandwagon 
since most of the article is about his involvment with Tool and A 
Perfect Circle instead of being a straight up Tool article). Filled 
with Tool cliches and imperfect attempt to sound hip to the whole 
Tool experience but somewhat imformative all the same}	

       Sometimes, singing songs about choking infants, swallowing 
poison, and rotting in an apathetic existence can get kind of 
stressful. So every now and then, Maynard James Keenan likes to get 
away from it all. He comes her, to this sanctuary in L.A.’s San 
Fernando Valley -- a picturesque setting where he can relax, 
contemplate, and just, well, have a little Maynard time.

	The place, known as CityWalk, is an outdoor food pavilion-cum-
strip mall-cum-amusement park, a consumer flagship to the Hollywood 
megalopolis Universal Studios. Just three minutes from the recording 
studio where Keenan’s band Tool are completing their ferociously 
awaited new LP, this immense shrine to ill-advised spending greets us 
today with Lenny Kravitz blasting from inescapable speakers. Sidewalk 
vendors hawk airbrushed portraits of Tupac and Barbra Streisand, 
while the ritzier stores offer action figures, Pez collectibles, pink 
fudge, and other essentials. Kids scamper. Moms scream. The migraine 
countdown begins.

	“This is as close to hell as Earth gets,” says Keenan, edging 
down the promenade. He looks left, then right. “When it’s crowded, 
it’s almost intolerable,” he continues. “You want to get out a rifle, 
stand out on a building, and...erase the karmic debt, so to speak.

        ”These words come not from some dreadlocked goth-biker, 
tattooed B-boy, or any of the stock figures fronting “heavy” rock 
bands thses days. A bantam 5’7”, Keenan walks through the crowd this 
afternoon with a shaved head, black Nike warm-up suit, and the 
nervous, wide-eyed expression of a Jack Russell terrier. He has the 
dark stubble and generous nose that casting directors would 
label “ethnic-looking.” He might get picked to play a streetwise 
informant in a cop show. He would probably not be cast as a singer 
who has captivated millions of metal-mad concertgoers and motivated 
one of rock’s most rabid cults with two different band: Tool and 
their new competition, A Perfect Circle, which Keenan formed with pal 
Billy Howerdel and whose debut has gone platinum.

	In fact, given his preference for costumed performances and 
unpeopled videos, Keenan is pretty much the sole rock megastar who’s 
virtually unrecognizable, even to his fans. “Once, {Tool guitarist} 
Adam {Jones} and I were leaving the Hollywood Palladium after seeing 
a show,” he recalls. “And after we said goodnight and split to go to 
our cars, some kid runs up to me, frantic -- ‘Oh my God, oh my God, 
oh my God, were you just talking to Adam Jones from Tool?’ I was 
like, ‘Yeah, he’s cool, you should go talk to him. He might take you 
out to dinner.’” If Keenan’s look isn’t familiar, the sniper 
sentiments should be, at least to fans of Tool’s last record, 1996’s 
AEnima, whose title track longed for a natural disaster to 
strike “the hopeless fucking hole we call L.A.” and sweep 
away “millions of dumb-founded dipshits.” As singer and lyricist, 
Keenan has found a way to transmute such thoughts -- rueful, surreal, 
mordantly hilarious -- into a classic kind of Zeppelinesque drama. He 
now heads one of the last surviving heavyweights of the artistically 
ambitious hard-rock ‘90s, a shadowy dirge-metal outfit whose songs 
churn along in tightly orchestrated blasts of eerie sound and fury 
and whose spectacularly dark videos (like “Prison Sex” 
and “Stinkfist”) have never featured any members of the band.

	Concerts are a different story. “you can count on one hand 
how many band of today have great frontmen,” says Sharon Osbourne, 
wife of Ozzy and organizer of Ozzfest. “Maynard is definitely one of 
them. He has one of the best voices out there, and he’s just so 
creative. You don’t know what to expect when you see Maynard. He’s 
just amazing.” Plus, the man really knows how to accessorize. 
Keenan’s stage attire has include bustiers, long blond wigs, blue and 
white body paint, prosthetic breasts, Speedos, a wheelchair, and the 
shiny, wide-lapeled suit of a televangelist. (Wearing the latter, he 
began one concert waving a limited-edition, gold-plated Bible, which 
he later hurled into the crowd.)

	Yet here today, Keenan remains as unremarkable as any other 
wiseass hipster goofing on tourist traps. When we come upon the 
novelty store Out-Takes, which uses digital imaging to put customers’ 
faces onto movie posters and magazine covers, Keenan considers a 
fireman torso from Backdraft and a hunk on Muscle & Fitness. He 
finally chooses the poster for the recent 102 Dalmatians. “I’d get 
Glenn Close’s body,” he says. “Which I guess is good.”

	After the attendant seats Keenan before the blue screen, 
something strange happens. With his hands calmly folded on his lap, 
Keenan begins to change. His coal-black eyes start to glimmer, as if 
staring off at some distant horror. The corners of his mouth ease 
downward, finding the look of a frozen death mask. The shutter snaps. 
The pose breaks. The attendant and her coworkers burst into applause.

	A minute later we get the photo. Sitting atop the fur collar 
of the Disney diva, Keenan’s face evokes less Cruella De Vil than a 
classical depiction of some mythological tragedy. His look of 
unspeakable anguish suggests the martyred St. Sebastian pierced by 
arrows, or Prometheus chained to the rock, his liver devoured by an 

	When  I ask what he was going for with that particular 
character, Keenan shrugs.

	“Well, I was just trying to capture what Glenn Close was 
probably feeling during the filming of 102 Dalmatians,” he says. He 
looks at the photo for a few seconds. “This could be titled ‘I Smell 
	On a fine, sunny January day in Los Angeles, the members of 
Tool are, fittingly, holed up in the dark. They’re huddling over a 
mixing board with producer David Bottril, whose other clients include 
King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, putting the final touches on 
Lateralus. It’s a disquieting time for Tool, partially because, as 
they stand up, blink, and look around them, they realize they’re the 
sole survivors of the Hard Rock class of ‘93.
	“Alice in Chains, Helmet, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and now 
Rage,” says drummer Danny Carey, a tall, surfer-ish guy with dirty-
blond hair who hails from a small Kansas town. He lets out a long 
exhalation. “It’s really kind of amazing that all of them are gone.” 
Bassist Justin Chancellor sits next to him, with dark-circled 
eyes. “We can definitely understand; it’s hard to keep a band 
together,” he says, in a low voice with a Northern English accent 
vaguely reminiscent of Derek Smalls’. “But in our case, it’s just 
worth it.”
	Keenan says that mutual respect, more than shared tastes 
(Jones digs death-metal extremist Meshuggah; Keenan’s more into the 
Bulgarian Women’s Choir), has been the real source of Tool’s 
longevity. “What we have in common is the ability to listen,” he 
says. “You just listen to easch other and find some space in the 
center. And if there isn’t room for you there, then you wait until 
there is.”
	But three years ago, when the other three members of Tool 
were finally ready to start work on Lateralus, they found a bit more 
space than usual. “Maynard was gone for a lot of it,” says 
Carey, “off doing his Perfect Circle thing.” Chancellor adds, “We 
didn’t quit working because he was away. He was around jamming for a 
while. But there was a while where he was off and it was the three of 
us.” The band’s usual mode of working is to make the music first and 
add lyrics last, so they got much of the music done while Keenan was 
away. “It’s somewhat unusual,” admits Carey. But if there’s tension 
here, no one is copping to it.
	And so we have the setting for Tool’s comeback, the 
drama “behind the music.” Four decade-long friends, grappling with 
changes, facing down rivals, and trying to reestablish some kind of 
connection with each other. It isn’t smooth sailing, but that seems 
to be par for the course. After the release of AEnima, Keenan told a 
reporter, “Every aspect of what we do -- each song, each video, each 
album cover -- is tortured over by each of us. Nothing comes easy for 
this band.” In earlier interviews, Tool would often refer to a book 
called A Joyful Guide to Lachrymology, whose existence is dubious. 
Nevertheless, it is said to advise, “When there is no pain, there is 
neither the reason nor the desire to think or create.”
	Well, it seems Tool still have found reasons to think and 
create -- a lot. Explaining the title song, Keenan says, “The core of 
it is lateral thinking. And the human element of the spiral, the 
lateral.” Carey helpfully adds, “It was originally titled 9-8-7. For 
the time signatures. Then it turned out that 987 was the 17th step of 
the Fibonacci sequence (in which each integer is equal to the sum of 
the preceding two). So that was cool.”
	If your sensors are detecting nerd life on the planet 
surface, that’s understandable. The widely suspect genre known 
as “prog rock” has a few defining characteristics. Time signatures in 
odd numbers. Songs that stretch over seven minutes. Song titles 
like “Parabola.” Tool’s latest has them all. While “math rock” is the 
term used to describe any eggheaded, metrically ambitious band, these 
guys have a math-rock song that’s actually about math.
	Keenan insists otherwise. The new songs only us the 
constructs of math and science as metaphors for human live. “they’re 
all about relationships,” he explains. “Learning how to integrate 
communication back into a relationship. How are we as lover, as 
artists, as brothers -- how are we going to reconstruct this 
beautiful temple that we’ve built and that’s tumbled down? It’s 
universal relationship stuff.”
	Unlike on earlier Tool records, Keenan found these lyrics -- 
in a sort of Freudian free-associative way -- from scatting lines and 
responding to the emotions suggested by the music itself. which 
rises, ebbs, and crystallizes with a nearly Beethoven-ish 
deliberation. The debut single, “Schism,” builds a rippling arpeggio 
into a heady harmonic-minor groove. The title track begins with an 
ominous, Autechre-ish pulse and morphs it into a tightly packed metal 
riff, as Keenan’s lyrics chart a history of consciousness over 
digitally triggered tablas and congas.
	Lateralus is the work of thinking, optimistic adults who 
still have the gee-whiz eagerness of tinkerers, guys who have gone 
beyond purging adolescent baggage and are struggling, musically, to 
find the next phase. And the stakes for the struggle are high, since 
a beloved band, and some very intense friendships, hang in the 

	Eleven years ago, four artsy, self-effacing guys in Los 
Angeles formed a band, a quartet their liner notes would list, 
simply, as “Geeks: Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Adam Jones, 
Maynard James Keenan.” Jones was working in the film industry, doing 
special effects work for films like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. 
Carey and Keenan were sidemen in the joke-metal act Green Jelly {ne 
Jello}, the latter making his vocal debut as the falsetto voice of 
one of the three little pigs. The three met bassist Paul D’Amour, who 
was later replace by Chancellor.
	Under a rubric befitting a ‘30s Russian art cabal, this 
collection of King Crimson and Black Sabbath fans came to transcend 
the genre of “heavy” music. Keenan’s morbid telegrams from the 
subconscious -- “I am just a worthless liar / I am just an imbecile” -
- were complicated by his distinctive vocal ambiguity -- the eerily 
sweet, calm voice of a troubadour giving way to one of the all-time 
great metal shrieks. Their songs, tortured enough to merit 
comparisons to goth titans like the Cure and Nine Inch Nails, struck 
a chord with nation of bummed adolescents. In 1993, after an 
appearance at Lollapalooza, they exploded. Opiate, released in 1992, 
1993’s Undertow, and 1996’s AEnima have all gone gold or platinum; 
the recent multimedia set Salival has sold 250,000 copies. “I can’t 
name any other band that measures up to the kind of credibility that 
Tool have,” says Lisa Worden, music director at L.A.’s KROQ. “They 
never compromise any of their beliefs and interests as far as what 
they want to do. They have built this completely loyal and huge fan 
base, and it just continues to grow.”
	The fans come in all shapes and income brackets. “Tool’s 
probably the best band, I think, on the planet,” Fred Durst told MTV 
News a little while ago. “There’s something wrong with those guys. 
They’re too good. They know something the rest of the world doesn’t 
know.... I can’t even be in a category with that band.”
	With this last point, the members of Tool would probably 
agree. The world of hard rock has undergone a profound change since 
Tool were last on the scene. Not only are Jungian discourses and 
Fibonacci sequences pretty far from the concerns of most of today’s 
nu-metal bands, but even the ideas of “pain” and “dysfunction” have 
been devalued. They have become prepackage flavas, sampled emotions, 
which have perhaps found their most extreme reduction in a couplet by 
Nirvana-loving rap/rockers Papa Roach: “Broken home / All alone.” 
Sing in verse. Scream in chorus. Jump up and down.
	Such digitized packets of fun ‘n’ angst have little in common 
with Tool records, which are not cursory, MP3-singles-on-CD fan-club 
accessories. They are weighty, mysterious testaments from afar, full 
of philosophy, jokes, weird sounds, shifting imagery, and odd meters. 
They’re also a bitch to make. Which partially explains why fans 
haven’t heard from Tool in five years.
	Chalk the rest of the wait up to business as usual. Three 
years ago, Tool were forced to deal with corporate restructuring at 
their label, Zoo, followed by a suit from their manager of seven 
years, Ted Gardner, cofounder of Lollapalooza. Gardner filed a $5 
million-plus action against the band (for rescission of management 
contract, fraud, etc.), and the collective shit storm preempted 
musicmaking for, literally, years.
	To escape the legal chokehold, Keenan formed A Perfect Circle 
with roommate, guitarist, and Tool tech Billy Howerdel. “All the 
litigation and stuff was just crippling,” Keenan says. “I just had to 
go do something.” Their debut, Mer des Noms, delivered the killer 
industrial-rock single “Judith,” whose “fuck your God, your Christ” 
chorus provided withdrawing Nine Inch Nails fans with a mainline dose 
of tuneful blasphemy. The entire record revealed a potent songwriting 
team in composer Howerdel and lyricist Keenan, and one with a 
potentially wider audience than Tool’s. “I think people who listen to 
Perfect Circle hear something totally different from me,” Keenan 
says. “It’s much more like the Cure. It’s more ethereal and 
accessible. Also, I think a lot of Tool fans weren’t aware that I 
could sing.”
	If A Perfect Circle are giving Keenan an outlet for his more 
ethereal side, they’re also seriously complicating the story of Tool. 
In face, the two bands are so skittish about potential conflicts of 
interest that the other members of A Perfect Circle refused to be 
interviewed for this story. Which is understandable. The huge success 
of Keenan’s new band is the kind that might typically bode poorly for 
a long-dormant prior commitment. But then, it seems, very little 
about Tool is typical.

	The Hard Rock Hotel is the happening place in Lad Vegas. A 
brightly lit festival of gambling and booze, its jumping atmosphere 
and plush amenities cater to just about every stripe of weekend 
reveler except, maybe, rock fans. I know many people who would find 
the Kurt Cobain quote “Here we are now / Entertain us,” stripped of 
irony and posted over the bellhop station, less than inspiring. It’s 
hard to imagine how a casino could miss using the much more site-
appropriate Johnny Rotten line that ended the last Sex Pistols 
concert: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
	It is in this modern Babylon that A Perfect Circle play 
tonight, plugged on the electronic billboard alongside “Caribbean 
Stud Poker.”
	The crowd features plenty of pierced thugs in Tool tees, 
alongside goth mop-tops, snakeskin pants, and the region’s residual 
frosted showgirl hair. A pretty 25-year-old mortgage underwriter 
named Autumn explains why she prefers A Perfect Circle to 
Tool. “Perfect Circle are not so Satanic-sounding,” she says. A 
longhaired devotee named Todd has brought his ten-year-old daughter 
Clarissa to the show. “This is our first Maynard experience,” he 
says, grinning. An even more serious Maynard cultist offers facts 
about Keenan’s performing ethic. “He’s all about his costume,” he 
says. “every time they do a show, he’s trying to teach you something.”
	Tonight, class begins with a lone violinist and an ominous 
Middle Eastern drone. Keenan enters wearing a long black wig under a 
dark watch cap, shirtless, in black glitter pants. Sharing lead 
vocals with Billy Howerdel, who looks like a slighter Billy Corgan in 
shaved white head and tight crewneck top, Keenan stand stock-still 
between verses, hunched slightly, muscled, redoubtable, and -- 
somehow -- riveting. “He never blinks, dude,” says our Maynard 
expert, scrutinizing the huge video screens on either side of the 
stage. “He never blinks.”
	With only on album’s worth of material, APC construct newer 
compositions out of existing lyrics and songs, weaving them together 
into a sort of live rock remix. Songs flow one into the next, forming 
a flawlessly executed suite of glamour, tension, and fetching misery. 
The band close with a stellar version of David Bowie’s post-glam 
classic “Ashes to Ashes.”
	Tool and APC rarely play encores. “I don’t jerk off the 
crowd,” Keenan has said. Tonight his only words of closing 
are, “Well, there you have it.” No giant toilet, no cage dancers, no 
inflatable pigs. And somehow, nobody seems to have the feeling 
they’ve been cheated.

Clearly, Keenan has got this whole art-rock thing perfectly wired. He 
recognizes the plight of bands hoping to freshen cock-rock postures 
with post-Cobain angst. But he suggests looking a bit further back 
for inspiration and, more boldly, rethinking the testosterone 
impulse. “I think bands like Queen and Judas Priest ended up shining 
out of the crowd back then,” he says. “I think the vulnerability and 
emotional aspect in their heavy music was recognizable because it was 
genuine. ‘Cause you figure, Rob {Halford} and Freddie {Mercury}, 
being gay, and they can’t say it out loud, that’s a lot of genuine 
frustration, genuine passion.” Do not hold your breath waiting for 
another current rock singer to champion the transcendent value of a 
gay frontman.
	Keenan’s ideas of frustration and passion were formed growing 
up with a secret in a small town. The son of two Midwestern high 
school, Maynard did a fairly strange thing for a future metal 
warrior: He joined the Army. He calls the decision an exercise in 
contrarianism. “It was basically, ‘Let me do the most ridiculous, 
illogical thing I can think of,’” he says. “’And after that, if it’s 
not right, I’ll know it’s not right.’”
	When did you feel it wasn’t right?
	“As soon as the bus pulled out of the parking lot. Realizing 
I just...fucked...up.”
	Post-discharge, Keenan soon succumbed to the same force that 
lures so many dreamy-eyed young people to Los Angeles: the pet 
industry. Partly as a result of his gig at a chain store called 
Petland, he is currently the proud owner of four hairless 
cats. “Emotionally, they’re more like dogs,” he says. “They’re not so 
	Keenan also gravitated to the underground comedy scene, where 
he performed in after-hours clubs, making friends with up-and-coming 
comics like David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, who later cast him in a 
couple of Mr. Show episodes. As with his time in the pet industry, 
these experiences are hardly lost on his current occupation.
	“Maynard’s just a really funny person,” says Carey, an 
opinion borne out by the bone-dry humor running through the records 
themselves. On AEnima’s “Die Eier von Satan,” what sounds like a 
Nuremberg rally excerpt is actually a cookie recipe read in German 
through a megaphone. “Message to Harry Manback” sets an obscene, 
semicoherent death threat from a friend’s ousted roommate to a moody, 
Nine Inch Nails-ish piano nocturne. More recently, Tool’s website 
shared with eager fans supposed new song titles 
like “Encephatalis,” “Coeliacus,” “Pain Canal,” and “Lactation,” 
goofs on the death-metal aesthetic and Tool’s own reputation.
	If, as Goethe wrote, “men show their character in nothing 
more clearly than by what they think laughable,” Keenan is in some 
rare company. But if we also judge a man by the company he keeps, he 
seems just as unusual. Keenan’s friends include Trent Reznor and 
members of Rage, Melvins, and Deftones, all of whom are also 
collaborators (with Reznor leading, with Keenan, the upcoming, black-
clad, super-secretive supergroup Tapeworm).
	“Maynard’s approach to music is out in left field in 
comparison with other musicians,” says Deftones’ Chino Moreno. “I’m 
pretty sure he knows all that, and it’s probably why he’s such a 
smartass little fucker.” Keenan’s also friends with Judas Priest’s 
Halford, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine (with whom he’s reported to share a 
vacation house), and, most surprisingly, Tori Amos, who shares with 
Keenan a Christian upbringing and a lasting fascination with religion.
	“He really is this beautiful guy,” she says. “And he believes 
that you can’t separate yourself from what you create. I think we 
both believe that whatever you put out there, the phrase ‘Oh, I’m 
just kidding,’ is fuckin’ weak. He does not negotiate with his 
beliefs, and if he’s a friend, he’s a real friend. He just has this 
deep spiritual currency.”

	The sun is setting as Keenan and I finish our stroll through 
CityWalk, the scenery recalling AEnima’s description of L.A. as “one 
great big festering neon distraction.” A shrill alarm comes wailing 
out of a storefront. “You’re not allowed to have fun here,” Keenan 
muses. “Some fun was probably just detected.”
	Keenan and his bandmates have spent ten years negotiating the 
crassest commercial pressures and have a survivor’s humor about it. 
In the AEnima song “Hooker With Penis,” the singer is confronted by a 
young fan in “Vans, 501s, and a dope Beastie tee” who, between sips 
of Coke, calls him a sellout. His response is the mea culpa “I sold 
out long before you ever heard my name... / So shut up and / Buy my 
new record / Send more money / Fuck you, buddy.” The mix of sarcasm, 
self-loathing and righteous indignation is somehow very Tool.
	And yet, the last time a long, torturous, highly anticipated 
album from a tormented rock hero came out, it didn’t exactly shoot up 
the charts -- although critics and Tool agree that Nine Inch Nails’ 
The Fragile was a brilliant work. The road now seems to be even 
rockier for a supposed metal band that wants to make art.
	For their part, Tool don’t seem too worried. Of the few 
things Keenan has an abiding faith in, the fans seem to be one of 
them. “Tool fans aren’t masculine to the point of grunt-rock or 
whatever, with that kind of herd mentality,” Keenan says. “Maybe I’m 
completely kidding myself and overestimating our audience, but the 
assumption being that said thinkers with support thoughtful music.
	With luck, they will. One of Tool’s central accomplishments 
might be taking this musical language of heroic Sturm und Drang, of 
wizards, damnation, hammers and anvils -- and, more recently, 
caricaturized adolescent pain -- and populating it with more real 
discussions of life’s extreme moments and thoughts. Despite the 
pressures of a homogenized marketplace and the lure of other 
projects, it’s likely that this band has spent too many years tending 
to this unique creative outlet to just give up.
	Walking toward the “Jurassic Parking” garage, we find 
ourselves in the cool glow of the gigantic, neon Fender guitar that 
looms over CityWalk’s own Hard Rock Cafe. The mosque-shaped building 
provides a fitting image for the profound aspirituality of the rock 
industry, 2001.
	When I ask how Tool plan to get that industry to embrace a 
record as high-minded as Lateralus, Keenan answers concisely, in a 
manner befitting someone with deep spiritual currency.
	He chuckles and says simply, "Pray."

Posted to t.d.n: 04/30/01 00:08:43