Few bands have built such a mighty reputation on such a sparse back catalogue as Tool. Since their formation in LA’s febrile early 90s alt-metal scene, the four-piece have managed just five studio albums and one EP – though when they do get around to gracing the world with new music it's rapturously received, as 2019’s 13-years-in-the-making Fear Inoculum proved. Still, everything they’ve released has been worth the wait - the question is which Tool album is best of all? Read on to find out.
6. Opiate (1992)
Compared to Tool's alt-metal peers of the time (Rollins Band, Helmet, Prong, Kings X etc), Opiate shows a band with their own unique flavour, without giving away any clues to the world-class works of art they would release further down the line. Songs like Sweat and Hush are rhythmically bewildering beauties, but the real treats are the live songs, particularly the grinding Cold And Ugly, which showcases both Maynard James Keenan’s spectacular vocal prowess and dry sardonic sense of humour. An impressive start, but dwarfed by what came later.
5. Undertow (1993)
A continuation of what came before on Opiate but with a sicker, darker and more menacing tone; Tool’s debut full-length album saw the band begin the process of pulling away from the rest of the scene around them. They received plenty of attention for the catchy, growling groove of Sober, but it’s the likes of Bottom (featuring a contribution from Henry Rollins) and Flood that show the direction that Tool were moving into. Technically precise with more patience and musical subtlety, while still delving deep into the more perverse aspect of the human psyche, Undertow is a hell of a statement from a band growing in confidence.
4. Fear Inoculum
Thirteen years of speculation, rumour and conjecture surrounded Tool’s insanely anticipated fifth full-length album. Was it worth the wait? Yes, although in hindsight its 86 minute, nine track length – six songs and three interludes – could have done with a little fat trimming from it. But there’s no arguing with the depth and layers that make up Fear Inoculum, even if, several months after its release, it feels like it still has plenty of secrets to give up.
3. 10,000 Days (2006)
The reason that 10,000 Days isn’t held up as a genuine masterpiece of this millennium and instead viewed as a disappointment by some is purely due to the length of time it took to arrive, and the album that it had to follow. Surely if any other band were to release a song as bewitching as The Pot or as huge as Vicarious we’d be carrying them around on our shoulders and lauding them as kings. As it is, this is seen as the album where Tool took their cues from the technical fluidity of Meshuggah, but listen to the cinematic journey of Lost Keys (Blame Hofman) into Rosetta Stoned and you’ll hear that is an over-simplification of yet another stunner.
2. Aenima (1996)
The first Tool album to be recorded by the classic line up, with former Peach bassist Justin Chancellor joining the band for the first time, was to be the record that really established the band as genuine one-offs. Aenima is the first time where Tool sounded like nobody else but Tool. Weird, esoteric, sarcastic, unsettling, progressive, complex, involving... it is a masterclass in teasing the listener and keeping them on their toes. Stinkfist was the big single, but the nine-minute build of Eulogy (going from two notes to a wall of furious noise) or the psychedelic nightmare trip of the closing Third Eye (possibly their finest song) really showed the world the real Tool for the first time.
1. Lateralus (2001)
Put simply, Lateralus is one of the greatest records of any genre ever created in the long history of popular music. A genuinely faultless near 80-minute-long piece of music that still sounds like it’s been created by some kind of higher power, even 17 years after it was dropped on an unsuspecting world. From the second that The Grudge kicks into gear, it's hard to fathom where to start with high points, let alone entertain the idea that Lateralus drops anywhere below perfect at any point, but the swaying ocean of the title track or the measured post-prog metal machinations of Parabol and Parabola would be two moments that immediately spring to mind. A landmark band's landmark release. And a genuine classic.