As a young teenager obsessed with all things Headbanger’s Ball, seeing the Sober video for the first time trememdously affected me. The way the feedback was intertwined with the guitar and the vocals quite literally gave me chills. I was 14 though, so I was in search of something to identify with my newly-found angst.
The album Undertow was the soundtrack to my 9th grade year, and I was drawn to everything Tool for years after. It wasn’t until they really started pushing the strange mysticism and quasi-religious-in-an-alternative way stuff that I kind of stepped back and realized some things about Tool that I was a little unhappy to see… Odd time signatures don’t immediately mean the song is genius, lots of shitty progressive metal bands write songs in alternating 7/8 and 9/8 time, the spacey interludes and odd tracks on their albums weren’t amazingly crafted, just kind of annoying until you learned to skip past them as they came up. Lots of really annoying teenagers and metalheads who I didn’t identify with were flocking to Tool by the truckload just as I was on my way out. Every time I wore my aging Tool shirt out (to my wife’s dismay), I had people coming up and saying “Tool! Right on!” and these were not people I really wanted talking to me.
But. I still cannot deny that when I was hanging out at the singer of my band’s house, when our friend came RUNNING into the house, yelling at the top of his lungs that a new Tool song was on the radio, we turned it way up and sat enthralled, even through the static of bad FM reception. The melody of the chorus of Stinkfist stunned me.
So here we are, looking at the upcoming release of Tool’s fifth studio album and the 14 year old in me had to get an advance copy of 10,000 Days, just to see. Just to hear if they’d done it again and made an album that I didn’t connect with me (Lateralus) or if they could repeat the awesomeness that is Undertow.
And the answer is… they’ve done neither. Are the staples there, the 11 minute songs full of time changes and long open sections where you’re not sure where things are going next? Yes. Are there the 1 minute tracks full of strange voiceovers and meandering guitar? Yup. But there are also a few gems on this album that hit the same stride as Sober and Prison Sex.
To be more precise, what I noticed as I grew as a musician and learned the intricacies of the two tracks mentioned above is this: They’re basically the same riff, played over and over. The same phrases, the same concepts, just played differently, with different tones in different contexts, to great effect. Because when they change it up, when they rock the fuck out, you KNOW. You get lulled into a complacency during most of the song, but when that shit changes, it punches you in the gut. Hard.
10,000 Days contains a couple tracks that match this description, the best of which is Right in Two. If you know how to listen to it, you can hear the same phrase done a million different ways, each slightly embellished from the last. The first single from this album, Vicarious, is alright. It’s more of the “let’s change the time signature 12 times, and show how badass we are” and really, you just want to go “hey, Adam, we know that you got the 9/8 to 5/4 switch down, we got it. Get on with the rocking.”
Fortunately, with this album, they do. When you buy it though, just remember to skip any song over 8 minutes or under 3.
The album is 10,000 Days, and it comes out tomorrow. If you’re a Tool fan, get it. If you’re not, well, it’s not going to change your mind.