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Tool - Undertow CD (album) cover

UNDERTOW

Tool

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.18 | 514 ratings

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Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer
3 stars I first heard about Tool when I was in high school. I wasn't a fan then. They were very popular, and after listening to Undertow, it's easy to see why. The band is punchy, sonically and lyrically, with a nuanced metal vibe that supercharges the alt-rock approachability that permeated the mid-90's. Mostly though, Tool was popular because Maynard's passionate vocals and very, very angry lyrics. This is probably where the band lost me. I wasn't nearly so jaded back in those days! This album is a like ball of pent up rage, disgust, and spite just waiting to be let out; for most 15 year-olds trapped in high school, it's easy to see the appeal.

Fortunately for prog fans, Tool has a lot of musical appeal, too, even on this early album where the band is still working out their identity and sound. For an alt-rock album, it's amazingly ambitious and effective; for a prog-metal record, it's somewhat light-weight. The song writing isn't as creative or gripping as we'll hear on their later works, though still great when compared to the sort of standard FM fare we still hear on modern rock radio stations. For me the biggest attraction is the band's playing, which is undeniably great. Each member of Tool is like a dark magician, creating evil spells alone in a corner with their instruments. There's no member of the group that steals the spotlight, with solo moments, for example; instead, the band are consummately focused on the effect that each of their evil spells contributes to the experience. The rhythm section is one of the best in modern rock, and Adam Jones' guitar single-handily creates an astounding amount of noise and effects.

Of course, one can't talk about a Tool album without touching on Maynard Keenan. The guy's a master performer. His emotion and phrasing are well above his peers, though in this early album his lyrics are so focused on frustration and anger that they sort of lose me in the end. The songs have messages, but they're usually about how much the narrator wants the listener to die. Being the listener, I sort of have a problem with that! So for this early outing, Maynard's vocals get a pass.

The album as a whole should definitely be picked up by fans of the band, who on Prog Archives are probably coming from the group's more diverse, experimental, and enjoyable later albums. If you enjoy dark, fuzz-heavy, and menacing metal, Undertow could become a go-to release for you; for me, it's an every once and a while enjoyment.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Prog Leviathan | 3/5 |

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