The A-Z of Tool

A photograph of Tool at Lollapalooza in 1993
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the quarter of a century that they’ve been a together it’s arguable that no other band have had as much obsessive attention over their every move as Tool. The alt.metal band that came from the vibrant LA scene of the early 90s have transcended to one of music’s most intriguing cults. With rumours of a new Tool album doing the rounds (again), we look back at their career from A-Z.

A Is For… Aenima

Released on September 17th 1996, Tool’s second full length album noticeably upped the bands progressive leanings. With both Eulogy and the epic closing Third Eye clocking in around the ten minute mark. It was a critical and commercial success for the band, by being featured in many top ten albums of the year lists and going on to be certified triple platinum.

B Is For… Billboard 200

For a band as unique and unclassifiable as Tool their commercial success is a quite incredible achievement. Aenima debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 upon its release, and the band went one better with both Lateralus in 2001 and 10,000 Days in 2006. In fact 10,000 Days managed to shift over half a million copies, twice as much as second placed Pearl Jam, in its first week alone.

C Is For… Carey And Chancellor

Possibly the greatest rhythm section currently plying their trade in modern music, the relationship between bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey has created one of Tool’s most definitive elements. Ever since Chancellor left Tool’s former tour mates Peach to take the place of original bassist Paul D’Amour he and Carey have developed a telepathic understanding that has resulted in the kind of mind bending time signatures that so many bands have tried to ape.

D Is For… Download

Tool have played many festivals over the years, from their legendary Lollapalooza appearances to stealing UK shows at Reading and The Ozzfest, but on Friday 6th of June 2006 they joined an elite group of acts by headlining the Download Festival at Castle Donington. That Metallica and Guns ‘N’ Roses were the other headliners and yet, for many people, Tool’s set was still the most anticipated of the weekend was proof of the band they had become.

E Is For… Electric Sheep

Guitarist Adam Jones’ pre-Tool band only released one record, and that was a cover of the Steppenwolf classic Born To Be Wild, and split when the other members grew bored of the band. But they are worth noting as it’s where Jones and Carey both worked together for the first time after the drummer decided to jam with the dwindling outfit as he “Felt sorry” for them, and they originally featured one Tom Morello on guitar. Who went on to do alright for himself.

F Is For… Fanatical Fanbase

Not many fans would go to the lengths that Tool fans do for a band. Enough words have been written about the mythology of the band on forums on the darkest corners of the internet to fill an entire encyclopaedia. Everything from the true meaning of their lyrics to breaking the mathematical code hidden inside their rhythmic patterns. They also have put up with contrary quotes, rumours and practical jokes from the band, who are seemingly hell bent on testing their loyalty to them.

G Is For… Green Jelly

Formed in 1981 and with a revolving cast of well over a hundred members in their lifespan, comedy metaller’s Green Jelly would probably be a long forgotten curio if it were not for the fact that they enlisted Danny Carey to drum for them in the late 80’s. His future bandmate Maynard James Keenan would perform with him for the first time by adding backing vocals to the bands only hit, the ludicrous Three Little Pigs, in 1992.

H Is For… Hick, Bill

The hugely influential stand-up comedian immortalised by the both in the artwork of Aenima and by the sample of his work that opens Third Eye from the same album. Hicks was seen as a kindred spirit by the band and they became great friends, with Hicks introducing them to the stage on the final show of the 1993 Lollapalooza in Los Angeles. The band went to great lengths to promote his work after his death from cancer in 1994. He is now considered one of the greatest comedians ever.

I Is For… Interviews

No band in the modern age are as secretive or prickly about what is known about them than Tool. Their reputation for being an awkward band to interview has only intensified over the years, especially from frontman Maynard James Keenan. A man who makes absolutely no attempt to hide his distain for unprepared journalists.

James Maynard Keenan at Lollapalooza festival in 1997

James Maynard Keenan at Lollapalooza festival in 1997

J Is For… Jones, Adam

Jones is not only the guitarist in Tool, but he is arguably the man that has helped them become the unique proposition they are by shaping the visual aesthetic of the band. A student of art and sculpture, Jones has worked on creating the look of many a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, notably Terminator 2, Jurassic Park and Ghostbusters 2. But it’s his artistic vision both on Tool’s music and the visuals that surround it that mark him out as one of the most talented men ever to grace our world.

K Is For… Keenan, Maynard James

Tool’s reclusive, contrary, wine loving frontman has led quite a life. From serving in the military in the early 80’s to becoming the voice of some of music’s most interesting and challenging bands, Keenan is a huge part of Tool’s appeal. Something which he is obviously utterly ambivalent about. But, however you feel about Maynard the man, the power, range and passion that comes out every time he commits his spine-tingling voice to tape is undeniable.

L Is For… Lateralus

The album that is, for many, the greatest achievement of Tool’s career. Lateralus arrived in a nu-metal and pop-punk obsessed scene on the 15th of May 2001 and tore up the rulebook completely. Lateralus still has the power to blow you off your feet today, from the opening metallic clunk of The Grudge to mind bending title tracks pure prog indulgence this remains one of the greatest pieces of music made by anyone ever.

M Is For… MTV

Tool are not a band that you would immediately associate with what used to be the only dedicated music channel on Earth. Too weird, to dark, with songs that are too long and unpalatable to your common or garden MTV viewer, but the station did push the band quite heavily in their early days… Or at least they tried. Viewers were quick to complain about the lyrical content of Prison Sex and the station banned the video, and then, a few years later, those same people took umbrage to the sexual connotations of the title of Aenima’s first single Stinkfist, leading to the station to change its name to “Track No.1”. Which in turn lead VJ Matt Pinfield of the show 120 Minutes to shake a frustrated fist at his audience when introducing the song.

N Is For… Nominations

Not many bands have got as good a record in the Grammy stakes as Tool. They have been nominated for Best Metal Performance twice, for Aenima and Schism, and won twice. Add to that Adam Jones picking up an award for Best Recording Package for the wonderful 3-D 10,000 Days artwork. Although, when it comes to their nominations in the Best Hard Rock Performance category we’d best not mention it; they’ve been nominated twice and lost both times.

O Is For… Opiate

The first release (is it an album or an EP?) by the band, Opiate arrived on March 10th 1992 in a post-Nirvana world that was hungry for anything even vaguely ‘alternative’. As such Tool, along with the likes of Helmet and Prong, were jumped on by a mainstream that didn’t really know what it was looking for. Listening back to Opiate today you can hear enough clues in Hush or the live version of Cold And Ugly to see where the band were heading. But no one could have quite predicted what was to become of this odd little LA band with just this to go on.

P Is For… Puscifer

It could have just as easily been A Perfect Circle, but Puscifer have got the nod here as they are the band that many hardcore Tool fans love to hate. Seemingly because they have, along with wine, become the main concern of Maynard James Keenan over the last few years. Either way, both APC and Puscifer are capable of excellent music and, particularly in Puscifer’s case, stunning live shows. Ultimately though, all and everything the members of Tool do will be overshadowed by their previous work. Which is understandable, but a shame.

Q Is For… No Quarter

Tool are a band that have been happy to pay homage to their influences with a myriad of different covers. They released a version of Led Zepplin’s No Quarter in their Salival Box Set in 2000. But, in concert, they have covered the likes of Chancellor’s former band Peach, Pink Floyd, Kyuss, Dead Kennedy’s, King Crimson and even Ted Nugent.

R Is For… Rollins, Henry

The former Black Flag frontman was a peer of the members of Tool in the early 90’s as he trod his own path with The Rollins Band. Rollins turned up on the song Bottom on debut album Undertow in 1993, along with Chris Haskett of Rollin’s band who is credited with playing “sledge hammer” on the album. Considering the influence of Bill Hicks on the album (who is credited in the linear notes as an inspiration) it’s an eerie link that Rollins now performs predominately spoken word tours and has been likened to Hicks on may occasions.

Fan and collaborator Henry Rollins

Fan and collaborator Henry Rollins (Image credit: Getty Images)

S Is For… Stand Up Comedy

As we’ve touched on already, Tool are a band that have their fingers in many artistic pies. Keenan was a performer in many sketch comedy collectives and performed stand-up on many occasions before joining Tool, and then, even after his band became stars, he appeared the cult sketch show Mr. Show with David Cross as the singer of a, then, fictional band named Puscifer.

T Is For… Ten Thousand Days

Five years after the career high of Lateralus the follow up to the impossible to follow arrived. 10,000 Days was released on 2nd May 2006, and is Tool’s fastest selling album. Reviews were initially positive, but the backlash was always going to come. Fans claimed that the band had taken too much of an influence from acts that they themselves had been an influence on. The main one being tech metal masters Meshuggah. And, while there is plenty of the kind of polyrhythmic riffing that the Swedes made their name with, there is still enough of Tool’s unique flavour and Keenan’s powerhouse voice to make the album another classic.

U Is For… Undertow

Even in 1993 Tool were a group that the rest of alternative culture struggled to pigeonhole clearly. When Undertow was released on April 6th of that year the helped keep a rock scene that was starting to become vaguely cartoonish and sanitised with the arrival of Green Day and Grunge’s morphing from underground punk to corporate rock. Tool were odd, dark, heavy and, in songs like Sober and Prison Sex, had some of the times most anthemic songs in their locker.

V Is For… Videos

If there is anything outside of their music that makes Tool an absolute law unto themselves then it has to be the visuals that accompany the band. In the live environment they become as much a part of the show as the band. But it’s the videos from the mind of Adam Jones, videos that don’t even feature the band, that even the most casual music fan can be sucked into Tool’s world by. The promo films of Stinkfist and Schism are now almost synonymous with the music they compliment.

W Is For… Walmart

Tool have never been a band that have been willing to compromise their artistic vision, but there have been numerous times when they have fallen foul of the more conservative strand of mainstream sensibilities. The MTV censoring was one thing, but in 1993 the giant US company Wal-Mart refused to stock the original artwork of Undertow. Leading to the band having to sell an alternative cover. Hard to imagine them bowing to that now.

X Is For… X, Generation

The slacker generation of the early 90’s, christened Generation X by a cynical media, were not what you would associate with Tool. A band that were more thoughtful, intellectual and involved than the kind of rusty, scratchy punk approach of many of the bands of that time. But where Tool did succeed in capturing the zeitgeist was in the bleak, sarcastic level of disgust they felt towards the world at large. Generation X V2.0.

Y Is For… Years

How many has it been now? Well, it’s looking like it will be over a decade and counting until the follow up to 10,000 see’s the light of day. With no real date or information that is trustworthy coming to the table, Keenan seemingly happy with his work in Puscifer and the band involved in various legal processes it’s hard to even predict if we will ever see another Tool album. Depressing, but true.

Z Is For… Zoo Entertainment

The label that originally signed Tool, Zoo were formed by industry icon Lou Maglia but were dissolved when the label were sold to Volcano Entertainment in 1996. This in turn led to the a contract dispute during the Lateralus period, due to contract violations, and the lawsuits that have dogged the band and help drag the feet of any new Tool material.

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Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.