Tool’s long-playing debut was a revelation in 1993, and, nearly a quarter century later, it can still reveal new secrets and nuances to he who listens carefully.
Back then, the first thing that struck me about the band’s distinctive sound was Adam Jones’ incomparable mastery of his guitar tone and the myriad textures at his fingertips; he puts on an absolute clinic across “Intolerance,” “Bottom” and the title cut.
The latter song reminds me of the second thing that grabbed me about Tool: the inventive parts (both complementary and aggressive) played by bassist extraordinaire Paul D’Amour (had he stuck around, this guy could have been the next Cliff fucking Burton!), most famously on “Sober.”
This breakthrough single, along with the nightmarish “Prison Sex,” highlight the third thing I noticed on Undertow: Maynard James Keenan’s intelligent, acute and disturbing lyrics, which brought a vast range of unusual emotions – subtle menace, vulnerability, gritted-teeth fury – to “just plain angry” heavy metal.
And the fourth and final Tool dimension that sunk in was drummer Danny Carey’s superhuman dexterity, spectacular throughout, but especially domineering on “Crawl Away,” where he even gets a thrash breakaway.
Who knew the band would top this astounding first effort with virtually all those that followed – even if they made loyal fans wait forever in-between?
We had no choice; we’d been ensnared by Tool’s inimitable musical Undertow.