Tool Lives Up to the 13 Year Hype!

Tool is back, and it was well worth the wait.

Tool is an alt-rock/prog-metal four piece who rose to popularity in the early 1990’s thanks to their unique sound, bizarre live performances, and their fantastic 1992 demo EP  Opiate. At this time, their sound was heavy, often droning, and far more melodic than the majority of the underground metal in the early nineties. As they progressed, there were extended delays between releases as 2006’s 10,000 Days was the last studio project from the metal legends before one of the longest hiatuses in music history. Throughout the 13 year gap, the infamous “new Tool album,” became almost mythic and when Fear Inoculum was finally announced, fans worried that no band could live up to 13 years of hype. Luckily Tool can and did.

The record opens with the title track and lead single. The song’s original drop about a month ago was the final gas on the fire needed to raise the album’s hype to a fever pitch, and for good reason. This song is, undeniably and essentially, Tool. With the long, spacey intro, the track seems to descend onto the listener with Maynards calm, melodic vocal as the cherry on top. But as the cut progresses, new layers of guitar and bass riffs are slowly unraveled, presenting a complex midsection which finally shifts into a brutal finish with all four members bringing their all. From the beginning, it’s clear. Tool is back.

“Pneuma,” follows and seemed to draw some of the most attention from critics with early access to the record. The attention is very much deserved as this is easily one of the most daring efforts in the tracklist. The clean guitars in the intro are a surprising touch, but it doesn’t last long as Adam Jones’ signature, distorted tone rips into the track’s first real groove. Justin Chancellor’s bass really shines here as well with a thumping groove driving large chunks of the early sections. “Pneuma”’s highlight, for me, comes near the end of it’s 12 minute runtime as the band breaks into a punishing breakdown featuring all four members performing as well as we’ve ever heard them and leading toward an awe-inspiring crescendo. This is yet another full throated proclamation of Tool’s return, and it’s a blast to hear.

“Invincible,” falls third on the album and readers of my most recent Tool Concert Review may remember that this song absolutely blew me away at their live show in Saint Louis. It’s no less effective here, I can assure you. This is another instrumental powerhouse with some of the best bass work on the entire album and one of the most brutal breakdowns yet. With every listen, though, I find myself more and more moved by Maynard’s performance and lyricism as the track follows an older warrior coming to terms with his aging body and giving up the chase of youth. This is of course, and analog for the band itself and for any long time fan, it’s a bit of an emotional listen. It reads like Maynard preparing to write and perform one last Tool album, and god am I glad he did!

“Descending,” is another track which had been played live before the official release, but this one seems to have grown quite a bit since it’s appearance on tour. Once again, the band utilizes long, atmospheric builds in its first few minutes and goes through sections of rise and fall, each more complex and creative than the last. Every element really works together here with Maynard’s performance being one of his best on the record, Adam and Justin’s interplay flowing fantastically, and Danny Carey playing drums with a skill and speed that genuinely seems like it shouldn’t be impossible.

The record continues with “Culling Voices,” and a large portion of this track is surprisingly calm. The opening minutes are a fun listen as the clean guitars and simple chords under Maynard’s tight vocal runs feel almost like a calm in the storm, but this doesn’t last forever, of course. When the track finally crescendoes into its big finish, it’s one of the best on the record. Adam’s central guitar riff is simply fantastic and the thunderous drum and bass combo near the close brings the song to yet another overwhelming wave of music.

“Chocolate Chip Trip,” is an interesting inclusion on the record. The track itself is simply a Danny Carey drum solo which seems to have been workshopped across several tours as the first part of the band’s encore and, while we will of course discuss the drum work, it’s worth pointing out that the backing track, composed of a buzzing, sci-fi groove is the perfect backdrop for Carey’s style. The drumming itself is, as expected, remarkable. On first listen, the flashy fills and inconceivably fast rolls will catch the ear of most listeners, but after revisiting, it’s Danny’s creative timings and unconventional beat placement that will have me coming back again and again.

Finally, there is “7empest.” The 15 minute odyssey closes the album and it becomes clear quite early that this is what we’ve waited for. There isn’t a moment of down time here. Maynard’s vocals harken back to the Aenima era as he angrily growls the confrontational lyrics, Justin’s bass is rattles away with intensity, and Danny Carey’s drumming is, once again, jawdropping, but we simply must talk about Adam Jones on this track. “7empest,” is, without a doubt, the masterwork of Adam’s career as his guitar drives every second of the track with biting leads which layer over each other for a cacophonous tidal wave of sound. There isn’t a second of this track which isn’t filled by Jones’ fantastic lead guitar and it makes the perfect finale to a perfect LP.

Is it possible for an album to live up to 13 years of hype? I’m not sure. This album has meant something different to many people and everyone will experience the record differently. That being said, as far as I’m concerned, this is everything I could’ve hoped for. As a dedicated Tool fan for the majority of my life, I couldn’t ask for much better. The long track lengths could easily have been filled with wasted space, but instead, every track is an event in of itself with long builds, breathtaking climaxes, and perfectly paced movements and each of the four members sound as fantastic as we’ve ever heard them.

Tool is back, and it was well worth the wait.

10/10

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Tool Sells Out the Enterprise Center For An Incredible Performance

Tool is still one of the best rock bands in the world, without a doubt, and this tour has only further codified their place in rock history.

Tool is an alt-rock/prog-metal four piece who rose to popularity in the early 1990’s thanks to their unique sound, bizarre live performances, and a fantastic debut EP called Opiate which came out in 1992. At this time, their sound was heavy, often droning, and far more melodic than the majority of the underground metal in the early nineties. As they progressed, and thanks to the additions of Peach bassist Justin Chancellor and King Crimson producer David Bottrill, Tool took on a more experimental and cutting edge tone which led to massive success and critical acclaim which has continued to this day.

I’ve seen Tool three times, and this was by far the best of the bunch. My first experience came in 2016 at the Chaifetz arena in Saint Louis. It was a smaller tour and Chaifetz is a smaller arena, but the show was fantastic and seeing one of my favorite bands for the first time was a blast. The second came as the headliner and final performance at 2018’s Rock on the Range festival where Tool, though not on tour at the time, brought the house down musically but didn’t quite have the stage set up one would expect from the group. Last night, I saw them for the first time in their peak form, in front of a sold out crowd of about 18,000 roaring fans at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Of course, a giant question looms over any review of a Tool concert in 2019, and so I’ll answer it immediately. Yes, they played new music and it was fantastic. Coming into the show, I’d heard a few shoddy cellphone videos of new tracks like “Descending,” and “Invincible,” but I found myself shocked at the extent to which those videos don’t do these songs justice. The former was brutally heavy, featuring a few of the thickest breakdowns in Tool’s catalog and the latter has an interestingly bright tone and some of the best drum work of Danny Carey’s career. As the intermission before the encore came to an end, the screen went blank and lit back up the word’s “August 30th” written in white, referring to the release date for Tool’s first new LP in 13 years, and having heard these new songs in person, I found myself filled with a brand new excitement like I’ve never felt for an album before.

Beyond new music, all four members of the band gave simply incredible performances on a litany of Tool’s best hits over their long career. They opened with “Aenima,” which was a perfectly heavy way to kick off the show. Maynard’s cleaner vocal sounded excellent on tracks like “The Pot,” and his screams were gravelly and powerful. Adam Jones’ guitar work on songs like “Jambi,” was thick and impressively fast-handed.

The stars of the night, however, were certainly the drums and bass. Justin Chancellor’s bass line on “Schism,” was as excellent as ever, and throughout the show, he was an absolute ball of energy, swinging his hips like an ape and playing with a deep, rich tone that seemed to shake the walls of the entire arena.

Just behind him, Danny Carey helmed a massive drum kit and proved once again that he is one of the best drummers of all time. From his complex rhythms on “Forty Six & 2” to his explosive playing on “Vicarious,” and “Intolerance,” his playing commanded respect and attention for the entirety of the show. The encore began with an extended drum and synth solo from Danny, alone on stage, which was an extremely welcome break in the action to appreciate one of the most talented musicians to ever pick up a set of sticks.

Highlights of the show included a sprawling, expansive performance of “Parabol/Parabola,” early in the set and the ferocious performance of “Stinkfist,” to close the show. These were made that much better by an awe-inspiring light show which included an array of lasers, a lighted, colorful pentagram which moved about in the background, and a multitude of entrancing videos on cranes behind the band, most of which consisted of Tool’s infamously strange music videos.

All in all, this was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. Nearly 30 years after their debut, to see Tool returning to form in front of a sold out arena is an exhilarating experience. It’s hard to believe that we’re only about three months away from finally hearing the new album and this show left me more excited than ever.

Tool is still one of the best rock bands in the world, without a doubt, and this tour has only further codified their place in rock history.

East of the Wall Returns After Five Years With a Strong Prog Rock LP

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

East of the Wall is a progressive metal outfit from Keyport, New Jersey. They debuted with a self-titled EP in 2006, which kicked off a fairly impressive career and expansive catalog. However, after their fourth full length LP in 2013, they seemed to fall off the map a bit, only releasing one EP in 2015 under Epistemic Records instead of their usual partners, Translation Loss Records. After a long hiatus and more than a few notable lineup changes, they’ve finally returned with their first full scale release in almost six years, NP-Complete.

Much of what works so well about this album is what one would expect from a prog metal band of this caliber, but there are a few surprises, namely in the production. The stereo imaging on this album is absolutely wonderful, and really demands a nice set of headphones. Take a track like the opener, “Tell Them I’m Sorry,” for example. The production work doesn’t quite jump out, but closer examination shows that not only is every instrument, especially the drums, extremely well mixed, but every sound has a direction allowing this album to really surround a listener. 

Another strength which is all too often ignored in the metal world is the excellent bass guitar work. From cuts like the hilariously named “Fast-Bang Pooper Doop,” to the later “Somn 6,” the bass is not only extremely well played, leaving the guitars side for some inspired melodic lines, but it’s also able to cut through the rather chaotic mixes and shine quite effectively. It’s often missing from even the best metal records, and so a strong bass presence is a welcome feeling on NP-Complete.

Of course, the staples of great progressive rock are still here. A multitude of electric guitars form the melodic front to nearly every track, even verging on some shoe-gaze inspirations at a few points. “Leinholder,” is an excellent example of the pure proficiency with which these guitars are played by nearly every member of the band and the track dances through strange signatures and quick riffs with ease. The closer and best track, “Non-Functional Harmony,” on the other hand, is more sparsely populated with a driving and well written riff.

However, while the guitars may be the muscles of this project, Seth Rheam on drums is definitely the backbone. Nearly every song incorporates complex rhythms, strange signatures, and remarkably fast fills, all of which Rheam does with relative ease. “Clapping on the Ones and Threes,” is a nice shining moment for the drums as Seth strikes a great balance between tight, sharp fills and explosive cymbal shots. “N of 1,” on the other hand kicks off with a fantastic drum solo which carries over into one of the best, most rhythmic cuts on the album.

All this being said, I do have a few loud gripes with the album. First and foremost, the vocals leave quite a bit to be desired. While there are a few nice moments like the brutal screams on “Somn 6,” but the majority of the album is packed full of incredible instrumental work and sub par vocals.

Additionally, the instrumental and overall sound pallet are a bit clean and safe for my taste. Nearly every guitar sounds almost pristine, and the majority of vocals are clean as well. When they do attempt to add other instruments, be they synths or a saxophone on the closer, it feels mostly out of step with the direction of the track. I can’t help but wish for a more daring, and perhaps more abrasive pallet.

Worst of all, though, the pacing varies widely, but leans on the side of slow and dense. This, of course, may not be an issue for the hardline prog-metal fan, and I myself can forgive some of it, but a track like “The Almost People,” illustrates this quite well as it just becomes lost in itself over the near eight minute runtime, with no discernible sectioning or direction.

Overall, I enjoyed NP-Complete. It can be a bit of a slog at times, and the lack of risks does catch up with the band at times, but for fans of long-form, jazz-influenced, technically challenging music, this is a treat.

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

6/10

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