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

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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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

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Highlights of My Vinyl Collection

I’ve been collecting vinyl for awhile now. A few years and a few hundred albums later, here’s five highlights from my collection!

5. Richard Edwards – Pity Party LP

R-11145459-1519071279-3636.jpeg     On first glance, this may not seem like much. It’s been kept in relatively great condition, the cover is minimalistic and interesting, and the lightning blue vinyl is striking. What makes it special, however, is it’s status. The record only sold about 500 copies, and hasn’t been reprinted since. It was produced as a collectors edition, and as a place holder between Edwards’ excellent solo debut, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset, and his even better follow up, Verdugo.

   The album itself is a combination of tracks from the two aforementioned projects, each performed solo on an acoustic guitar with minimal production. Edwards has such a gorgeous voice and talent for commanding attention to stripped back performances. In most cases, the less barrier between him and the listener, the better. In the end, this is one of his best projects to date, and I only wish it was in full circulation for those who weren’t able to procure it on it’s first and only print.

4. Tool – Lateralus LP

tumblr_n55pmsbyt01rgojw1o1_500_600x   Turning from one of my favorite folk artists to may absolute favorite hard rock group of all time, my second choice has got to be my Lateralus by Tool. The design on the case is gorgeous enough, sporting the colorful spirals associated with the record’s theme, but the picture discs on the inside are even more impressive. They show the upper half of a human body, removing one layer for each side of the two discs. It’s a purely Tool design, and it sets the mood before the record has even played.

   Musically, what is there to say? It’s a Tool album. It’s fantastic. Lateralus is the band’s most technical work, mixing in complex mathematical elements and executing polyrhythms with a rare precision. Instrumentally, this album is a peak, especially for Justin Chancellor’s bass work, as he begins to find his footing with the group in a major way. Maynard’s vocals and lyrics are, of course, incredible, and overall, the album is just a pure master work.

3. Pink Floyd – Collection

  From progressive metal to pure progressive rock, we’ll turn to my personal choice for the greatest band of all time, Pink Floyd. My collection is missing only a few entries, namely Wish You Were Here and A Momentary Lapse of Reason, but the bulk of their massive discography sits comfortably near the front of my record box. The designs are breathtaking in their simplicity, one of my favorite qualities of Floyd’s album covers. Dark Side of the Moon and Atom Heart Mother in particular create so much meaning with basic covers.

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   When it comes to content, as I said, I consider Pink Floyd the greatest rock band of all time. Listening to their discography in order, you’ll hear them grow and breathe as a group with very few stumbles along the way. Their prime period, from Dark Side of the Moon in ’73 to The Wall in ’79, is nothing short of perfect. However, their earlier, more experimental work is fun and exciting and their later work is expansive and powerful. They’re simply the best to ever do it.

2. Kendrick Lamar – Autographed Damn. LP

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 8.42.39 AM.png   Though rap music doesn’t have nearly the tradition in the vinyl world that other genre’s do, I just can’t resist including this gem. The blood red vinyl references one of the best tracks on the album and Kendrick’s enigmatic face peaks out irresistibly as one flips through their stacks of records. Above all, however, the autograph elevates this LP above the rest of my Kendrick collection.

   Musically, DAMN. certainly isn’t my favorite album from Lamar’s discography. That being said, it’s still one of the best records of 2017 by a mile. The heavy trap influences and simple aesthetic is a notable difference from To Pimp a Butterfly’s jazzy, maximalist style. Kendrick’s flow is blistering, and his lyricism is second to none in modern hip-hop. He’s one of the greats, and it is a pleasure to be alive during his run.

1. Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s – Broadripple is Burning/Holy Cow SINGLE

R-745551-1518276605-9152.jpeg   This was my white wale, and last year, I finally caught it. The debut single for one of my favorite bands is the reason I started collecting vinyl in the first place and it was brutally hard to get my hands on. I eventually got my hands on it for less than $100, a score as far as I’m concerned, and it now sit’s proudly atop my collection. The cover is simple and hand-drawn, the disc is a basic black, and the packaging is fairly worn, but it still stands as my crown jewel.

   The lead track is beautiful, as one would expect from a band fronted by Richard Edwards. His voice is youthful and the instrumentation is full in a way that it wouldn’t be on later releases. Lyrically, it’s one of my favorite tracks of all time, as evidenced by the line from it’s second verse which rests permanently on my arm. The B-side, “Holy Cow,” is fun as well, sounding much more like the band’s later work, but nothing tops “Broadripple is Burning.” I’ve collected nearly 200 records at this point, but none of them have given me the feeling of excitement I got from this single.