I came across this excellent video earlier today, which explains what it is about Tool that makes it unique:
…Tool is well known for their odd meters, and they love writing songs 5/4, 7/8, 9/8, and even more complicated meters. The band also switches up their time-signatures within their songs, like in “Schism,” where we have a total of 47 such switches, breaking the song into dozens of little puzzle pieces…
…There’s another layer to Tool’s rhythmical complexity. Drummer Danny Kerry is a big fan of polyrhythms, where he plays a different meter than the rest of the band. He does this more often than you think, in subtle percussion parts […] it loosens up the arrangement of the song; there is no clear center, no hierarchy. Like in pop music, the drums and vocals are the driving force behind everything. Here, it’s not so clear…
…in an interview with Aquarian, Maynard said this: “I don’t think we sound machine-like. I think we may be like a clock. So is the universe. The universe has patters that pretty much chime right in with each other.” Well he’s right, their music does do that too. Each musician has their pattern, and the song we hear is the interplay of these gears clicking against each other…
…further underlining this heavy tonic sound is Maynard with his melodies, which tend to revolve around the most prominent notes in the tonic: the 1 and 5. Who else uses harmony like this? Essentially, all parts of the world that haven’t been exposed to Western functional harmony, and this gives Tool an almost primal, tribal vibe. Combine that with the fact that an important characteristic of tribal music is polyrhythm, and you’re beginning to understand the musical backbone of this band.
Their music is extraordinary in its own right, but I believe what really makes them special cannot be understood through the music alone.
Tool has been a favorite band of mine since a friend introduced me to them back in high-school (2008-2009). My friend described Tool as “the only band that he could study to,” and we would listen to their album 10,000 Days while drinking beer and working on an engineering project of his: converting a Dotson 280zx Turbo into a fully-electric car with 20 car-batteries and a forklift motor. Since Maynard described the band’s somewhat eponymous purpose as being a tool to help others “find out whatever it is you need to find out, or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve,” I’d say Tool fulfilled its purpose in my friend’s schoolwork and engineering endeavors (the project was successful).
I have come to believe that music can be broken down into three different categories, based upon its effects on your emotional state. There are songs that leave you feeling more energized after hearing them, there are songs that leave you feeling depleted, and there are songs that are neutral. This is not a gauge of the quality or the beauty of the song; some of the songs that most energize me are not particularly creative or well-written (“Hail to the King” by Avenged Sevenfold, for instance), and some of the songs that are neutral or even depressing are both beautiful and brilliant (“The Times They are a’Changin'” by Bob Dylan and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, respectively). It is valuable to understand this, and it is not a judgment of merit to categorize songs in this manner… unless, of course, the band in question sets out with the explicit goal of falling into the “energizing” category. Tool does this, as do–to a somewhat lesser extent–Maynard’s two other projects, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer.
For me, Tool’s music fills me with a kind of relaxed, cool hatred, a sense of understanding and calm that simulates being in a “flow” state that is motivating and self assuring. Vicarious, The Pot, Sober, Ænima, and The Doomed (A Perfect Circle) are, for me, unmatched in their ability to induce this hyper-functional feeling. When you set aside moral judgment of this state, and instead look at it through a purely utilitarian lens, I believe that you see Tool as they set out to be, and the integrity and beauty of their success becomes more apparent the more you listen to them.
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