April 28, 2006. George W. Bush was president, the second Pirates of the Caribbean film was gearing up to hit theaters, and the Saint Louis Cardinals had just won their tenth World Series. Of course, I don’t write about any of those things, I write about music, and in the music world of 2006, Tool had just dropped their long awaited fourth studio LP, 10,000 Days.
The album was sprawling, conceptual, and one of the band’s most personal to date. In many ways, it the final step in Tool’s transition from an especially impressive member of the West Coast alt-metal scene to a fully fledged, internationally successful, prog-metal outfit. Most importantly, it put an end to a five year wait for a follow up to 2001’s Lateralus. It was a gap that frustrated fans at the time, but would soon be dwarfed in the coming years.
To date, We’re coming up on 13 years since we last heard new Tool material, and the explanations are numerous. The most common reason given is legal issues as the band has recently been involved in two major law suits, each of which they won. Additionally, each of the four members have been quite active in side projects. Regardless of the reasons, the law suits are over, the side projects are on brake, and according to Keenan’s Twitter account, we could see new Tool music as early as mid-2019.
This, of course, brings with it many questions, two of which are quite pressing. Firstly, what can we expect to hear? Second, will we be disappointed for the first time in Tool’s long and nearly perfect run? Neither of these questions will be answered until we’re holding the physical CD’s in our hands, but we can take a stab at them now.
When it comes to expectations, there is even less to go on for this record than for your average new album. Where as most bands provide fans with a litany of sneak peaks, updates, and interviews, Tool has, predictably, not done this. Instead, they’ve released only a few images from inside the studio, one of which showed Danny Carey’s elaborate drum kit, and sporadic messages of assurance that the record is in the process of being made and will release in 2019.
So, to know what we can expect, we can only look to a few sources for hints. First and foremost, at least one track, reportedly entitled, “Descending,” has been performed at a few live events, one of which I was lucky enough to see at Rock on the Range in Ohio. The track is entirely instrumental, uses heavy delay effects, and feels like a continuation of growing emphasis on a prog style that we saw on 10,000 Days. That and its tentative title lead me to believe that this may be an opening track to the new album, which could be another longwinded outing for Tool.
On the other hand, the setlist of the recent tours have been almost entirely populated with the band’s earliest material. This could easily be something of a thank you to longtime fans for waiting as long as they have, but it could just as easily indicate that they aim to return to the simple, heavier sound that put them on the map.
Considering the new album also leads one to wonder how much the changing landscape of rock and metal will influence the sound. The waves of nu-metal which Tool rode in on though never falling in with are long gone. In their place, bands like Code Orange and Daughters have done their part to bring back a more brash, explosive form of metal. I, for one, would love to hear an older act like Tool take a few notes from the recent work of bands like these in developing a more primal, visceral sound. More than likely, though, we will be treated to the most lengthy and conceptual entry of the band’s catalogue, which, of course, raises questions of disappointment.
Even the most avid fan can’t be blamed for wondering if it’s still there; if the Tool we know and love has survived the long hiatus and can return without obvious rust or aging. A bit of hope can be found in side projects.
Maynard James Keenan’s work on the side has been the most public by far. In the time since Tool’s last release, he’s started a new band in Puscifer and released three original LP’s under the moniker, not counting the multitude of remixes and EPs. He’s also become a massively successful wine maker in Arizona, an activity which he has long credited with keeping him grounded in his writing. Not to mention the newest A Perfect Circle album, which did quite well. All of this work, though I can’t speak to the quality of the wine, has been quite impressive in its own right. Most importantly, his vocal melodies and lyricism don’t seem to have lost a bit of quality.
The rest of the band has been quite active as well. Danny Carey has played with the jazz-fusion band Volto! for several years including a fantastic 2013 album, Incitare. His work with the group is as complex and groove heavy as its ever been and the album serves as further proof that Carey is one of the greatest drummers in rock history. Justin Chancellor worked with his own side outfit, MTVoid to create the 2013 album, Nothing’s Matter, an underground, industrial metal record that relied heavily on his excellent bass work. He’s also had a rumored collaboration with the experimental hip-hop trio Death Grips in the works since early 2018. In short, there is far less rust on the joints of Tool than casual fans may think.
As far as disappointment, that burden falls squarely on the shoulders of fans and our ability to mitigate our expectations. If you’re waiting on an Earth shattering, world changing, metal record, then you’ll absolutely find yourself disappointed. On the other hand, if you expect a great metal album from a great metal band who’s discography is essentially without a blemish, then you’ll likely get what you want in spades.
Tool is one of the most enigmatic bands in rock history and so it’s unsurprising that we’re headed into a new album after a decade and a half of silence with little to no information. While rumors swirl, including the theory that, along with this release, the entirety of Tool’s catalogue may finally be available for online streaming and sales, virtually nothing is confirmed, and it will likely stay that way until the album is here. What it will sound like is anybody’s guess, but for my money, I expect nothing less than greatness from one of my favorite bands of all time.