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Tool’s 10 Best Songs

Ranking the best tracks by the masters of progressive metal

tool best songs
Tool (photo by Travis Shinn)
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    No one crafts equally perverse and philosophical slices of prog metal quite like Tool. Indeed, the quartet (drummer Danny Carey, vocalist Maynard James Keenan, bassist Justin Chancellor, and guitarist Adam Jones) have spent the last 30-odd years fusing the industrial salaciousness of Nine Inch Nails with the mesmeric sophistication of Pink Floyd and King Crimson, yielding a beloved sound all their own.

    The acclaimed band, set to launch a 2022 US tour (get tickets via Ticketmaster), has evolved significantly without losing sight of its most vital trademarks, ensuring that all of its work feels at home within the same catalog.

    In a nutshell, 1993’s Undertow and 1995’s Ænima perpetuated rougher and more risqué syntheses of progressive and alternative metal. Then, 2001’s landmark Lateralus offered a perfect bridge between that glorious griminess and the more artsy and academic approach of 2006’s 10,000 Days and 2019’s Fear Inoculum. Throughout it all, Tool have upheld a brilliantly characteristic knack for challenging rhythms, twisted guitarwork, emotional yet empowered vocals, arresting music videos, and stirring artwork (often provided by Jones).

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    Naturally, Tool have earned plenty of praise for those triumphs, including six Grammy nominations (with three wins) and the “Top Rock Album” trophy at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards. Dozens of other artists — from metal siblings like Mastodon, TesseracT, Gojira, Chevelle, and Karnivool to less obvious acts like Tame Impala and St. Vincent — consider them an influence, as well.

    Although they’ve penned dozens of great tunes over the years, some clearly outshine others. So, to coincide with the kickoff of Tool’s 2022 US tour (get tickets here), we’re offering our picks for 10 of the quartet’s tracks that truly reign supreme.

    — Jordan Blum,
    Contributing Writer


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    10. “Eulogy”

    Many Tool songs begin with a troubling prelude, yet few others can rival the subtly nightmarish leisure of “Eulogy.” Of course, that initial blend of soft guitar strums, punchy chords, and concurrently organic and off-kilter percussion provides a great backdrop for Keenan’s cold proclamations. The robotic distortion on his voice makes him sound markedly disconnected, too, adding to the prevailing sense of atmospheric tragedy. Before long, it’s complemented by more corrosive sound effects and standard metal elements, cementing the piece as an intoxicatingly moody gem. — Jordan Blum

    09. “Prison Sex”

    An early staple in Tool’s setlists was “Prison Sex,” the second single from 1993’s Undertow. Adam Jones’ bluesy, Southern-rock inflected riff provides the main hook, rendered through a modified drop-B tuning for added weight. It’s a raucous straight-forward rocker — an unexpected coda providing the obligatory prog turnaround — though Keenan’s lyrics add a heavy emotional subtext. As implied by the disturbing Jones-directed music video, the song deals with abuse, as Keenan elaborated to a Montreal audience in 1996: “This song is about recognizing, identifying, the cycle of abuse within yourself.” — Jon Hadusek

    08. “Fear Inoculum”

    The epic opening title track to the long-awaited Fear Inoculum ensnares the listener. After a few bars of hypnotic repetition via a chunky Adam Jones riff, we’re quick to forget we waited 13 years to hear this. It was like Tool never left, musically falling right in line with the cerebral psychedelia of 10,000 Days and the tasteful prog that’s become their trademark. Hearing it with the shimmering fidelity of a late 2010s recording is perhaps the greatest perk to the long gap between records. The band is hitting on all cylinders, Maynard’s voice sounds unaltered by time, and the composition meets the band’s staunch standard. — Jon Hadusek

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    07. “Vicarious”

    This is simultaneously Tool’s most epic and welcoming composition, with a fairly traditional verse/chorus/verse template and rhyming scheme representing their commentary on how the parasitic media we live through ultimately consumes us. The imaginatively unnerving prelude is particularly hypnotic, just as the central arrangement and melodies are overwhelmingly catchy. It’s impossible not to get sucked into it, and as usual, they do an exceptional job of continually adding new layers to the recurring motifs. It’s a faultlessly immersive anthem for the modern age. — Jordan Blum

    06. “Lateralus”

    Emerging from a softly played Zeppelin-esque guitar line, “Lateralus” blooms into one of Tool’s most memorable 9-plus-minute workouts. Not a second is wasted. The track journeys through crushing heavy chords, beguiling time signatures, and muted vocal passages that unleash Carey’s drum-fill virtuosity. Mathematically speaking, the song’s 9/8 to 8/8 to 7/8 time signatures mirror the 16th number in the Fibonacci sequence: 987. The song’s captivating flow is the result of syncing the chord progression to this numerical sequence. — Jon Hadusek

    05. “The Pot”

    It’s a captivating example of the quartet gradually building tension, complexity, and structural continuity, with Keenan’s chillingly isolated opening verse quickly becoming enhanced by tribal syncopation, funky bass lines, and piercing guitar riffs. With pointed sentiments like “Who are you to wave your finger?/ So full of it/ Eyeballs deep in muddy waters/ F**kin’ hypocrite,” it bluntly yet cleverly wears its indictment of insincerity and elitism on its sleeve, too. Overall, it’s a magnificent showcase of each member’s distinctive talents. — Jordan Blum

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    04. “Forty Six & 2”

    Ænima highlight “Forty Six & 2” combines Jungian-inspired lyrics with a complex arrangement of time changes. Tool’s progressive inclinations had become an integral part of their sound by this this point, but never so much as to obscure the emotional impact of Maynard’s vocal performances or the general listenability of the track. The band masterfully balance intense instrumental workouts with melody, resulting in songs like “Forty Six & 2” that are somehow extremely complex while remaining accessible in a ‘90s alt-metal context. — Jon Hadusek

    03. “Sober”

    The finest moment in Tool’s early era is undoubtedly “Sober.” For many, it would be their introduction to the band — the incredible stop-motion music video providing a gateway via MTV. The song’s origins go back to the late 1980s when Keenan performed a version of it with his prior band, Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty, though Tool’s take is slowed down and more metallic. The guitar riff nods to the grandeur of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” while Maynard’s impassioned vocals and melodies would become his artistic trademark. Live renditions from this era see the singer writhing and shirtless, completely given up to his performance in an almost transcendent state. — Jon Hadusek

    02. “Stinkfist”

    The first single and opening song from sophomore LP Ænima, “Stinkfist” epitomizes Tool’s capacity to be seductive and sinister in the same moment. Written about a fearless and hardworking friend of Carey’s (and not that other interpretation), it kicks off with jarring vigor, using dissonant percussion to instigate some of Jones’ most riveting guitarwork. Keenan’s modulations are just as effective, oscillating between fragility and ferociousness as only he can, and the song’s eventual transformation into an unsettlingly ritualistic and mechanical jam is remarkable. — Jordan Blum

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    01. “Schism”

    “Schism” is the quintessential Tool track. Led by Chancellor’s iconic bass riffs and Carey’s outstanding theatrics, it taps into Lateralus’ overarching integration of math, science, and human relationships via alluringly metaphorical but earnest lyricism and confrontational singing. The opening movement alone is grippingly cyclical, yet it’s the song’s ability to ebb and flow around various changes in key, rhythm, and melody (while remaining irresistibly thematic and intense) that makes it a masterpiece worthy of winning the 2002 Grammy Award for “Best Metal Performance.” — Jordan Blum

    Tool’s US tour kicks off January 10th in Eugene, Oregon. You can get tickets here.

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