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A TOOL-Related Article

Publication: The Record Exchange Music Monitor

Date: Fall 1996

Written by Marty Cassady (martyc@bev.net)




Here is my review of "Aenima" (which I wrote for a publication the chain
of record stores I work for puts out.) 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

        It's not often that I get introduced to a new band by MTV, but I
must admit that's how I first caught on, a couple of years ago, to the
L.A.  heavy-rock quartet Tool. The striking, unsettling video clips for
"Sober" and "Prison Sex", the two singles from the second Tool release,
"Undertow", were quite unlike anything else on the tube then or now (even
if they did rather shamelessly lift the style and atmosphere of the
underground animation team The Brothers Quay.) Only then did "Undertow"
make its way to my CD player, eventually to become one of my favorite
albums in recent memory. 

        It's with not small anticipation, then, that I've awaited the
release of "Aenima", the third Tool record. It's not really fair to call
Tool simply "heavy rock" or "hard rock", and certainly not "metal", as the
territory staked out by "Undertow" and "Aenima" falls within a realm as
closely bordered by Joy Division and the Birthday Party as by Led Zep and
Black Sabbath. Tool's is a meaty, bottom-heavy sound, driven not by
endless riffing but by precise musicianship, detailed interplay between
guitar, bass and drums, deft dynamic shifts and clever, almost diabolical
use of sampled sounds. Over the top of all this slithers the serpentine
presence of vocalist Maynard James Keenan, an enigmatic individual whose
irrepressibly dark vision has made him into something of a cult figure,
surrounded by a mystique that includes urban-legend style (and unfounded)
rumors of corpses hidden in basements and flirtations with the black arts.
Keenan's lyrics to "Undertow" spoke of the unspeakable in largely
metaphoric terms, focusing most of his anger inward; on "Aenima" he lashes
out, pointing a spew of bile and vitriol at his unfortunate targets.
"Aenima" is intense, challenging music, not for the faint of heart or the
easily offended, or for the casual listener looking for easy hooks and
simple grooves. Nevertheless, it's brilliant on its own terms, and
rewarding to those willing to take a scary ride. 

        Of the 15 tracks on "Aenima", 9 are actual "songs" (most longer
than those on "Undertow", ranging from 5 to 10-plus minutes), and the rest
"sound collages", if you will, consisting of a variety of found voices,
weird noises and odd instrumentations, used for transition throughout the
album. The opening track is "Stinkfist", an adrenalin rush of a song that
begins quietly, almost surreptitiously, with Keenan's voice filtered
through an "underwater" effect, then looses a raging torrent of power
chords and thunderous drums. The tone of the album is set early, as what
will follow are complex, convoluted songs with lengthy instrumental breaks
and a variety of vocal treatments; careening vehicles steered by new
bassist Justin Chancellor's slippery work. Hushed, chiaroscuro passages
build almost unbearable tension, with sledgehammer choruses providing
release. "Stinkfist" is followed by "Eulogy", which may or may not be a
paean to deceased comedian Bill Hicks (who is immortalized by a rather
twisted painting on the album's inner sleeve, and whose voice is sampled
later on.) 

        Soon we arrive at the first of the sound collages, some of which
seem to deliberately antagonize the listener; they range from "Useful
Idiot", which is simply the sound of a phonograph needle stuck in the
center groove, to "Message To Harry Manback", a voice-mail message laden
with threats of violence and death set over a melancholy piano track. The
"real songs"  return, and Keenan's fury lets fly on "Hooker With A Penis",
a song you will not be hearing on the radio anytime soon; "Pushit", whose
double-entendre refrain has much the same effect; and the incendiary title
track, a fierce litany of indignation, a profane denunciation of sloth,
hypocrisy and falsehood. "Aenima" closes with "Third Eye", an extended
piece that begins as something of a sequel to "Disgustipated", the
seemingly interminable angst-fest that suffixed "Undertow", and eventually
becomes a song, the band summoning up a reprisal cannonade that ends in
the aforementioned Bill Hicks sample and a final volley of Maynard's
tortured screams. The listener sits in silence, drained, beaten into
submission. 

        I like this record a lot. (Can you tell?) "Aenima" is the work of
a cutting-edge band in absolute control of its art. It seems to have been
made with little regard for commercial appeal or marketability, as there
are no obvious radio tracks; most of the album's themes and lyrical
content are shadowy if not outright disturbing, and the music itself is
considerably more "difficult" that 99% of what one will hear in the
mainstream nowadays. All this may scare some people away, but serious
music fans should find it all the more appealing. Tool's "Aenima" is
intelligent, original and uncompromising, and rocks really hard. You can
scarcely ask for more. 

(Copyright 1996 by Marty Cassady. May redistribute freely in cyberspace if 
not altered.)


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