10 songs that prove Tool’s Danny Carey is a drum god

Danny Carey of Tool
(Image credit: Robert Downs/Rhythm Magazine)

One of the hardest things any musician can accomplish is to have their own sound, a musical signature that makes them instantly recognisable whatever the song, whatever the context. Think of Eddie Van Halen, Slash, and Jimi Hendrix.

On the drums, Tool’s Danny Carey is one of a rare handful to achieve this level of accomplishment and recognition. He's unmistakeable, from his polyrhythmic fluency to his imposing power and expansive vocabulary, so to celebrate the man and his mastery of the art of four limbs, here are ten lethal cuts from Carey’s catalogue.

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10. Legend Of The Seagullmen – The Fogger (2018)

Nautical tales and sludgy heaviness meet on this track from the supergroup featuring Mastodon’s Brent Hinds, Pete Griffin from Dethklok and vocalist David Dreyer. Carey’s signrature tom-tom work appears in the tumbling runs around the kit. There’s a brisk drum break leading out of the mid-section, and the outro, with the drums locked in perfect sync with Hinds’ guitar, really couldn’t be anyone else but Carey.

9. Tool – Invincible (2019)

Although Invincible might be relatively restrained compared to the rest of Tool’s output, this Fear Inoculum track features Carey at his most tasteful, weaving serpentine drum grooves that slither over and around Adam Jones’ menacing, chugging guitar riff. The outro dials up the intensity, with Carey balancing heaviness, power, and originality in a manner that lesser drummers can only gaze upon with wonder.  

8. Adrian Belew – Ampersand (2005)

Former King Crimson singer/guitarist enlisted Carey and Primus’ Les Claypool as his rhythm section on his 2005 solo album Side One, and the result was a mixture of technical wizardry and uninhibited mayhem. Carey never takes his foot off the pedal in Ampersand, uncorking a frantic bass drum and tom-tom beat for the main groove, punching in accents on the snare, until it all finally spirals out into pure percussive chaos.

7. Tool – Forty Six & 2 (1996)

From small acorns grow mighty oaks and so it proves with Ænema favourite Forty Six & 2, which begins with Carey tickling his cymbals over Justin Chancellor’s knotty bassline. When the full band kicks in, it’s a showcase for how to navigate standard 4/4 time without playing a conventional backbeat as Carey twists the groove into weird and wonderful shapes.

6. Volto! – Tocino (2013)

Carey has often spoken of his admiration for jazz and fusion legends Tony Williams and Billy Cobham, and Volto!, the band he formed with guitarist John Ziegler, lets him give full expression to that side of his playing. Tocino is a free-flowing fusion workout with a funky undercurrent from Carey and, true to form, highly melodic use of the tom-toms.

5. Tool – The Grudge (2001)

Lateralus cornerstone The Grudge begins with one of those drum licks that could only be Danny Carey, setting up the groove and establishing the pulse of the song while expressing a melodic idea on the drum set. He’s never limited to just playing the role of timekeeper, maintaining a constant musical dialogue with the rest of the band throughout The Grudge’s multifarious gear shifts.

4. Tool – Pneuma (2019)

Pneuma is another daunting display of Carey’s command of unusual time signatures, with one of the main patterns switching meters every bar. His range is on full display here, from the articulate tom-tom lick of the mid-section, a testament to his Tabla studies with Bengali master percussionist Aloke Dutta, to the swaggering, doomy heaviness of the post-chorus.

3. Tool – Eulogy (1996)

A bruiser of a tune that proves that virtuosity and crushing power are not mutually exclusive. The bridge section is polyrhythmic, with Carey play a hi-hat pattern in groupings of 3 against the bass drum and snare beat that’s in standard 4/4 time. It’s precisely the sort of dextrous and creative groove that makes Carey’s playing so distinctive – and difficult to emulate.

2. Tool – Vicarious (2006)

Tool’s fourth album, 10,000 Days, opens in punishing style with the intimidatingly complex Vicarious. The track is an onslaught of offbeat syncopation and odd meters but Carey powers through it all with his customary drive and intensity. The melodic runs around the kit in the outro, as the drummer locks in with Adam Jones’ guitar licks, are just blistering.

1. Tool – Lateralus (2001)

Lateralus is a numerologist’s field day, with the syllables of the lyrics following the Fibonacci Sequence, where each new number is the sum of its two predecessors. This idea extends to Carey’s drumming in the chorus which cycles through measures of 9, 8, and 7 beats, referencing 987, the sixteenth number of the Fibonacci Sequence. And somehow it still grooves like a beast.

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David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.