Tool - Undertow review
|Release date:||April 1993|
02. Prison Sex
05. Crawl Away
06. Swamp Song
Most newbies to Tool's fanbase know Tool for calm, introspective, and meditative works like Lateralus and 10,000 Days, but little do they know of the darker Tool that emerged from the early 90's. Before writing sincerely beautiful songs like "Parabola," "Schism," and "Wings for Marie," Tool wrote songs that evoked bleak emotions of darkness, regret, sadness, anger, and emptiness. Before the progressive intricacies of Lateralus and 10,000 Days, Tool composed heavy, raw music that had an artistic, intellectual side to it. Clearly, Tool were a different band in their early days, and Undertow, their very first record, showed the world what they were capable of.
From the dark, doom-laden intro "Intolerance" to the industrial closer "Disgustipated," Undertow is an artistic exhibition of creativity and variation. Songs like "Prison Sex," "Bottom," and "Flood" exemplify this truth with their progressively shifting atmospheres. For a more insightful example, one should take note of how the song "Prison Sex" is composed. As the song begins, the bass player contrives a groovy introductory tune leading into a rather solid, upbeat composition that drives the song. However, before one can realize it, the upbeat instrumentation nosedives into a slow, brooding, and depressing conclusion, leaving the listener in disbelief and awe. This intriguing technique of atmospheric progression is executed very impressively and is one of the many factors separating Tool from the rest of the crowd.
Obviously, the aforementioned technique of atmospheric progression wouldn't exist without talented band members, and Tool are composed of them. Each band member does an exemplary job on Undertow and contributes to the music in his own unique way. Drummer Danny Carey is quite appropriate for this band, for he shifts his style whenever the atmosphere does. One moment he's drumming with subtlety, the next he's drumming with relentless ferocity (see the latter end of "Crawl Away"). Guitarist Adam Jones also complements the band with his dissonant riffs and unpredictable play patterns. Ex-bassist Paul D'Amour, unlike many other bass players, plays a primary role in every composition, as he usually drives each song with his groovy bass. However, as talented as each band member is, Tool would not be the same without lead singer Maynard James Keenan, who plays an integral role in conveying the many different emotions found in Undertow's songs. Some times Maynard whispers his subtle feelings in desperation; other times Maynard shouts them in sheer distaste and anger. On every occasion, he, like his band mates, doesn't fail to impress.
It's also important to note how thought-provoking the songwriting is. Discussing topics such as violation ("Prison Sex"), regret ("Sober"), hypocrisy ("Intolerance"), and change ("4 Degrees"), the lyrics do well in driving Undertow's bleak atmospheres without seeming cliched or pretentious. What's most interesting about the lyrics is that most they can be interpreted in any way. For example, one may perceive the lyrics to "Sober" as anti-religious; however, another can interpret the same song as a sorrowful cry of regret and shame. This broad scope in Tool's lyrics is both ambitious and impressive, encouraging the listener to think deeply about the content of what he just heard.
I could probably continue discussing Undertow over the course of several additional paragraphs, but for the lack of space, I'll simply conclude succinctly: Undertow is most definitely worth a listen. Showcasing interesting techniques that would be later perfected on future works, Undertow is the artistic, creative, and ambitious album that started it all for Tool. Anyone who is interested in this band or simply curious in knowing Tool's roots should give Undertow a spin, for he will not be disappointed.
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