on July 1, 2017
Tool is the first band I ever got into, after hearing "The Pot" on vacation. It was the heaviest earworm I'd ever heard; the bass hook and Maynard James Keenan's studio-enhanced falsetto seized my attention, and once it gave way to that simple, catchy-as-all-hell main riff, I had a new favorite song. Soon afterwards I bought the CD, and what a first album it was! I could scarcely have picked one better in terms of creative packaging. The artwork is much more thematic than the band's 90's albums, which were all over the place and tad dumb, I think (especially Aenima, what's even going on there?) After enlisting Alex Grey with Salival and Lateralus, the whole package just felt more in tune. It's dark and detailed and psychedelic, perfectly complimenting Tool themselves. However, I do have gripes about it: the 3D glasses built into the case for enhanced viewing of the booklet artwork is clever, but not totally practical. The case won't fit nicely anywhere, and it seems like they didn't know where to put the disc in all this, so it was shoved into a frustrating sleeve, which already increases scratching. If that wasn't enough, the sleeve faces inward, toward not only the crease of the gatefold but the STAPLES of the booklet! My original copy was so scratched it became unlistenable, and the one I just bought off Amazon was delivered brand new with scuffs already on the disc, proving how potentially damaging this case design is.
But the music itself is fantastic, for the most part. The first half of the album is packed with quality, five full tracks that are some of the best work Tool has ever released. "Vicarious" is a little preachy and whiny, thanks to Maynard, but the instrumentation by Adam Jones and company is so good that it completely makes up for it. "Jambi" is one of the heaviest Tool songs ever; it still baffles me that this gets labeled as "rock", Tool is definitely on the far end of heavy metal and brushes up against extreme occasionally. The two-part "Wings for Marie" is a completely justified epic, unlike self-indulgent foolishness a la "Disgustipated". That's not to say "10,000 Days" doesn't have self-indulgent portions; after "The Pot", there is unapologetic filler in the form of "Lipan Conjuring" and "Lost Keys (Blame Hofman)", which is chanting and a nurse and a doctor talking, respectively. I guess part of enjoying Tool is accepting that they'll never have an album that doesn't waste your time at one point or another. "Rosetta Stoned" is an admittedly goofy title for the second longest track, which is comparable to "Third Eye" on "Aenima" for its length and irreverence. Tool, or at least Maynard, loves destroying any semblance of seriousness, at least for a little while, (see "Wings for Marie"), for the chance to repeat the phrase "G**damn, s**t the bed" over and over throughout an 11-minute song. Once again, however, Adam Jones makes it all worthwhile and even halfway brilliant with his guitar work, switching things up half a dozen times in true progressive fashion. "Intension" is a very ambient track, like the double-punch of "Disposition" and "Reflection" on "Lateralus". I love this side of Tool, it represents a more mature and thoughtful band at work. "Right in Two" makes a return to self-important preachiness about monkeys (humans) and their disappointed guardian angels, but is actually a wonderfully evocative piece of work with a cooing guitar and traditional-sounding drums. "Viginti Tres", like "Faaip de Oiad", is some filler to close out the album with, unless you are a bit more ambitious and want to piece it together with other songs to make a bonus track.
I'm surprised by how much I still like this album, and Tool as a whole. I thought I was over them and music like this a few years ago, but I came back to metal with a vengeance and was interested in re-listening to my former favorite band. Tool is so idiosyncratic and compelling and full of itself, it's hard not to enjoy it in the end. It manages to be atmospheric and long-winded without sacrificing quality instrumentation, like Opeth, the band that became my favorite after I'd let some of the blood drain out of my achingly firm Tool loin-shark. I've relaxed on them, definitely, but they will always be a standby for me, not just for nostalgia but because they can produce such great music, complex or simplistic, and still maintain their popularity. Something this progressive and textured has no right being quite this well-known, but Tool did it, and I think that speaks for itself. I hope their new album turns out well.