Your Prog guide to Tool: the proggiest playlist

(Image credit: Future)

So Tool have finally relented and made their albums available on streaming services. And judging from this morning's response to our question asking what people are listening to, a lot of you are enjoying the band. But equally there's prog fans who are not so familiar with the band's output.

Now being massive fans of the band we've decided to help point you in the right direction with this primer list of some of the band's proggiest moments.

The band's back catalogue on Spotify starts with the 1992 EP Opiate, but given the band sprang from the grunge and alternative metal boom, there's maybe not a lot there, and even on the 1993 album Undertow for newbies of a prog persuasion to get into. Both are great releases, but for want of scaring off the more sensitive, we'll start by dipping into 1996's Ænima.

There's You Tube links for each song, or a Spotify playlist of it all at the end.


1. Forty Six & 2 - Ænima

Mixing basic 4/4 timing with 7/8, the fifth track on Ænima deals with lyrical concepts that espouse Carl Jung and American mystic Drunvalo Melchizedek. It opens with Justin Chancellor's loose but mesmeric bass, building in slow fashion over repetitive guitar riffs into a big proggy groove. Amazingly it was released as a single.

2. Third Eye - Ænima

Opening with drug-related clips from the late comedian Bill Hicks, the closing track from Ænima is a near fourteen-minute epic that helped point the way the band would move with later albums. Expansive, brooding, prone to occasional bursts of frenetic activity with a message about expanding the mind. The fact that producer Dave Bottrill had worked with King Crimson the year before on Thrak should not go unnoticed. The live version from the 2000 live album Salival (sadly not on streaming services) is held up to the best version.

3. The Grudge - Lateralus

Hypnotic bass lines, chanting vocals, crashing guitar crescendos. The Grudge opens 2001's Lateralus as a statement of proggy intent. By now Tool are far more about atmospheric soundscapes building into prog metal workouts. the abrasiveness of early albums has been replaced with a maturity and desire to explore musical boundaries.

4. Parabol/Parabola - Lateralus

The two tracks merge into one nine-minute prog rock work out. The opening Parabol featuring Maynard's chant-like vocals over a haunting musical backdrop, before the band crash in with Parabola, Adam Jones' guitar searing through the mix as the band lock into a super-tight progressive groove. Parabola was released as a single, with one of Jones' trademark videos to accompany it.

5. Lateralus - Lateralus

Drummer Danny Carey has said of the title track to Lateralus: "It was originally titled 9-8-7. For the time signatures. Then it turned out that 987 was the 16th number of the Fibonacci sequence So that was cool." Is that proggy enough for you? The nine-minute plus song mixes 9/8, 8/8 and 7/8 time signatures as the song implores humans to explore a deeper understanding of everything.

6. Disposition/Reflection/Triad - Lateralus

Although listed as three separate songs, this triptych towards the end op the album are meant to coalesce into one lengthy piece of music (running at over 20 minutes in total). Opening with the gentle, reflective Disposition before building into the epic centrepiece of Reflection which builds in slow fashion before bursting into life about eight minutes in. The more percussive Triad gradually brings things to a close. Possibly Tool's proggiest moment ever!

7. Vicarious -10,000 Days

About as catchy and immediate as Tool get on 10,000 Days, opening track, and first single Vicarious is the closest connection to the band's past. Or in other words, all that was left of the alt. metal band of yore. It's hardly metal though, riding in on a  big fat prog groove as Maynard sings of the thrill for people of living through others in the media eye.

8. Wings For Marie/10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2) -10,000 Days

From the even proggier 10,000 Days, this epic two-parter is the sound of a band living out its fantasies, playing the long-form music so beloved of drummer Danny Carey (a prog fan from an early age), or a band disappearing up its own arse. Clearly, we favour the former. Typically haunting to open, and building to a fine rolling groove.

9. Rosetta Stoned - 10,000 Days

In keeping with the band's love of drug-related allegory, Rosetta Stoned imagines a man waking from a DMT trip encompassing aliens and his own spiritual awakening. The song uses a staggering array of time signatures; 4/4, 5/8, 5/4, 11/8, 3/4, and 6/4, and if that's not prog enough for you, we don't know what is!

10. Intension/Right In Two - 10,000 Days

Another of Tool's proggy couplets, these two songs joined at the end of 10,000 Days are about as reflective as the band get, displaying Tool's more ambient side on opener Intension before the more epic Right In Two breaks through with more trademark jarring rhythms, twisted time signatures and odd percussive breaks. A pointer to where Tool Were headed with Fear Inoculum?

11. Fear Inoculum - Fear Inoculum

The five year wait between Lateralus and 10,000 Days was nothing compared to the 13-years fans had to wait for Tool's fifth studio album. When it did arrive in 2019 Fear Inoculum was placed under intense scrutiny, some belieiving it didn't hold up to such a wait. Having lived with the album for four ensuing years, and had the opportunity to see most of the songs performed live, the feeling is it's a fine addition to the band's canon, and certainly the most overty proggy - six of the album's ten songs weighing in at over ten minutes. The opening title track is a brooding beast of a song, which suitably opened the band's live shows in emphatic style, creating as much a sense of anticipation on the album as it did in the live arena, before exploding into life.

12. Invincible - Fear Incoculum

Perhaps it's no coincidence that our seciond choice from the most recent Tool album Fear Inoculum, is the one the band chose to close their live shows with, namely the 12-minute plus Invincible. Despite it's length, the song is actually one of the catchiest tunes on the album, riding along on Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor's tribal rhythm and featuring a differing vocal performance from Maynard, switching between gentle singing and his more regular loud and mournful howl. Until the song reaches its midway point, when a typically knotty and twisted Adam Jones guitar solo unfurls. A fitting show closer too.

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.