Tool is a band co-founded by vocalist Maynard James Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Paul D’Amour and Danny Carey in the late 1980s. Their music combines prog metal, thrash, industrial, psychedelic, and art-rock. Bassist Justin Chancellor replaced D’Amour in 1995 which I personally felt was probably a good replacement in terms of skill and talent.
The early releases dealt with anger against the establishment. Tool eventually concentrated on finding enlightenment and self-actualization instead of fixating on the outer world.
Here are the 20 best Tool songs, in my humble opinion, which represent the melodic and lyrical pattern that the band is well known for.
20 Favorite Tool Songs
“Sober” is the first single in the Undertow album of 1993. This is one of the Tool songs that demonstrated the powerful dynamics of the band when it was singing the debut album. Keenan sings in a strong but emotionally nimble voice when handling a lyric that mainly focuses on resetting the spiritual awakening and addiction.
“Sober” was around since 1986 but in a different and faster version under the title “Burn About Out.” It could be why Tool got it exceptionally well, especially Keenan, who previously was in a band that had this song in its demo cassette.
“Lateralus” is the title track for Lateralus, a 2001 album. The album upped the art-rock approach by applying the Fibonacci sequence. Sequence is a math formula where each number is equal to the sum of two preceding numbers. The formula relates to Phi, a golden ratio that describes spirals in nature.
Keenan mentions the spirals in the lyrics. They are represented by changing from 9/8 to 8/8 and 7/8. “Lateralus” is lovely because the complex formulas do not overshadow it. The music supports a line about perseverance towards influence.
“Third Eye” is in Ænima album of 1996. Tool got the inspiration to sing from comedian Bill Hicks comment that “watching TV is like black spray paint to the third eye.”
The lyrics are about the sixth chakra of the human body’s spiritual power. This spiritual power is also called the Third Eye. Vocal performance and the music reflect attempts and frustrations of ‘prying open′ somebody’s third eye.
“Parabola” is the second single in the album Lateralus of 2001. It is one of Tool’s upbeat, celebratory moments. The song has a similar singing style to a form of Islamic devotional music called Qawwali.
It puts forward an idea that our bodies are a temporary vessel and “pain is an illusion.” Parabola continues themes of spiritual enlightenment and practice of Buddhism Noble Eightfold Path regarding self-purification, self-discipline, and end of suffering.
10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)
“10,000 Days” got its name from the nearly 10,000 days (27 years) that Keenan′s mother was in a wheelchair after suffering a paralyzing stroke. The song expresses admiration of her faith with sweeping rhythmic momentum.
Keenan wanted it to be her comforter. Keenan admits that his spiritual pursuits led him away from the organized religion and regrets being emotionally vulnerable.
“Prison Sex” is the second single in Tool’s full-length debut and the first for Jones to be a sole video director. “Prison Sex” tackles sexual abuse.
Tool band lays out a viewpoint on how an abused child gets damaged and becomes an abusive adult. Keenan said that the song is about “recognizing and identifying the cycle of abuse within you.”
“Intolerance” is on of the Tool songs in the 1993 album Undertow. It derives a recurring line “lie, cheat and steal” from the cadet honor code of West Point Military Academy. Keenan picked the line while attending the school.
The premise of “Intolerance” is that people who are silent when others commit crimes and indoctrinate the world are bad as those criminals.
It suggests people should not tolerate apathy. “Intolerance” has alt-metal fury similar to that in Opiate. However, the production packs a continuous wallop, and the lyrics have more depth.
“Schism” is a commentary about religion splintering into wrangling tribes or attempts to resurrect sputtering romance. The lyrics to this Grammy-winning song practically apply to the restoration of friendship and partnership in the band.
A decision by Keenan to work with A Perfect Circle had caused a rift in Tool. Tool released A DVD single after three years with a music video featuring humanoids with noticeable similarity to engineers in Prometheus. Guitarist Adam Jones was directing the video.
“Rosetta Stoned” is a song in the album 10,000 Days of 2006. The lyrics warn that if people are not careful about mind-alerting chemicals, they are more likely to soil themselves instead of achieving higher consciousness.
“Rosetta Stoned” refers to an unresponsive patient in an earlier Tool song that referenced the father of LSD, Albert Hofmann. The patient in a hallucination encountered aliens, reached nirvana but forgot his discovery.
“Opiate” is a title track for Opiate EP of 1992. It co-opted a line by Karl Marx terming religion as an “opiate of the masses.” Vocalist Keenan takes a swipe at the “guidance” of organized religion and the strict rule that destroys personality to help to sustain the establishment.
He told a crowd that “your enemy is ignorance” when introducing the song at the 2017 Governor’s ball. Tool has won Best Metal Performance and Top Rock Album on different occasions. The latest awards were Best Metal Performance for 7empest in 2019 and Top Rock Album in 2020 for Fear Inoculum.
Hooker With A Penis
A fan confronted Maynard James Keenan about the band selling out. The fan had been with the band since its inception and felt wronged by the band. The singer along with the band felt that it was the right time to respond, and this song was their response.
Tool wanted to show that success doesn’t mean that they’ve sold out. The edgy and punk spirit that gave birth to Tool was still there, and real fans should see it. The title was punk, and the song pokes fun at mindless fans quite effectively.
There have been many memorable Tool songs released throughout their career, and this is a track to highlight. It’s a long one as it’s a little over eight minutes.
It takes almost four minutes for the song to get going. Still, the track is worth listening to because it’s awkwardly written. Its contrarian nature is part of why it’s hard to listen to but also why it’s so exciting.
It has a staccato foundation and uses that foundation to make a musical statement.
Many music critics had a lot to say about Tool’s fifth album, like how it focuses too much on the band’s mythos. Still, on this album, fans discover this amazing song.
Pneuma feels fresh, exciting, and unapologetic, which are key ingredients for typical Tool songs. The track is creative and employs Tool’s sharpness, which fans can never get enough of.
Part of what makes this song great is the percussive performance.
There aren’t a lot of bands with a song dedicated to a sexual activity involving the anus and a person’s hand as the title suggests.
The song isn’t just an opportunity to be provocative. It’s intelligent while still being subversive.
The lyrics don’t leave anything to the imagination either. This song belongs on this list simply because it’s unbelievable yet quite good.
Here’s another song that had to be mentioned on this list for several reasons. The song is named after the magical genie in Pee-Wee Herman’s kid show, which already tells listeners a lot.
This is one of the Tool songs that is quite dark. The lead singer asks the genie for one more day with his dead mother. It’s a heartbreaking request written in an absurdist way to show listeners that this wish is just absurd.
The hard-hitting rock music in the background adds to the atmosphere, and it’s perfect.
The band was ahead of its time in many ways and Vicarious is one of the Tool songs that exemplify this. It talks about how folks are glued to their televisions, hoping to see tragedy and violence.
People hope to see these stories and images and live vicariously through them. People are still crowding coliseums looking for bloodshed, just like in the past.
The internet has made this even more clear, but many people didn’t see what the band was trying to point out.
Most folks consider the Lateralus album to be Tool’s enlightenment album. If one was to look at that album in this fashion, then this is certainly on of the Tool songs that makes much more sense.
The song wants listeners to let go and take that first step towards enlightenment.
The song feels like a panic attack most of the time and gets fiery in the end, almost like a relief. The musical choices make it obvious that the song is about letting go, even if it’s hard to do.
This song showcases the band’s power. Part of what makes it such a special track is the guitarist. This is one of the Tool songs Adam Jones goes insane on.
The rest of the band has to keep up with the storm sound that Jones unleashes. All guitarists need to listen to the magic here because it’s incredible.
What’s even wilder is that this storm lasts for a long time. The song is a little more than 15 minutes, and listeners won’t even feel that much time pass.
Tool has always been a smart band. Their lyrics and thoughts about the world have always been peppered with philosophy. Sure, sometimes, that philosophy is layered within hard-hitting language, but it’s always there.
What makes it special is that it marked on of the first Tool songs to be intellectual and appealing to the masses.
The reality is that being able to communicate high concepts to the masses is very difficult. It rarely works, but this band made it work.
The band has always found ways to touch on subjects that are rarely touched on by other artists, and this Tool song is one example of that. It focuses on domestic violence, and the lead singer goes all the way.
He puts himself in the mindset of the abuser while also pointing out how heartbreaking the situation is. How confusing it must be to hear love and hate spewing from the abuser.
The song isn’t only provocative but also one of the most thrilling Tool songs ever made.