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Opiate (EP)

Tool

1992

I'm probably one of the few people that would rank Opiate as Tool's 2nd best album (behind Aenima), but in spite of the fact this album is an EP, and only consists of 6 songs total, the intensity and quality of those 6 songs is pretty GD impressive.  In a nutshell, this is Tool's most direct and most heavy album.  It's basically like a more stripped-down version of Undertow, but, like I said, heavier.  Haven said that, this is Tool, so it's not like these songs aren't controlled and disciplined in their assault, but this is Tool at their most intense and immediate, and it's all pretty awesome to behold.  Equally impressive is the subject matter here.  It's not nearly as cryptic and dense as their latter material, but rather an unflinching assault on political correctness, materialism, and religion.  Nothing to decode or research here, it's all pretty straightforward, which compliments the seriously kick-ass sonic assault provided by the band.  At the end of the day, I'd rather listen to this album over anything they released post-Aenima, and although Undertow wins points for it's sinister-vibe and more expansive sound, I prefer Opiate.  Undertow is like drinking a thick black stout, Opiate is like taking a shot of Jager...it gets to point quick, and is more engaging and satisfying as a result.

8.7

Undertow

Tool

1993

Like most of Tool's albums, Undertow can be difficult to fully wrap your head around or digest at first.  Upon first listen, it might sound a tad underwhelming, but discipline and execution are two trademarks of the band they would come to perfect in the coming years.  Undertow is not as direct/heavy (or good) as Opiate, and it's not as dense/dynamic/epic sounding as Aenima, but it does fall somewhere in between.  Their attack is on the heavier side here, as this album sounds the most "metal" or perhaps "grungy" of any of their other albums.  They don't sound as progressive here as they would on subsequent albums, but they do sound intelligent, albeit with a distinctly malevolent tone.  It's hard to describe the Tool found on Undertow when considering what was to come from them.  It's certainly more dark and direct than anything they would produce in the next decade, and I certainly prefer Undertow-era Tool to Lateralus or 10,000 Days-era Tool any day.  Undertow sounds like a more authentic, menacing version of what was to come.  The sound here is much more modest, even though it is heavier.  Undertow's production is fairly stripped-down compared to future recordings, but ultimately that's what I like about it.  Undertow represents a purer yet more sinister version of Tool before they became too pretentious/popular.  They're not looking to please anyone here, no blatant singles, they're just making uncompromising and uniquely bleak alt-metal, and upon repeated listens it becomes clear that Undertow is one of Tool's best albums.

8.6

Aenima

Tool

1996

Aenima is an interesting listening experience.  It's dense, not just sonically, but conceptually as well.  There's a lot of heady stuff to be found on Aenima, which is a dark exploration of all things metaphysical, Jungian philosophy, Egyptian mythology, etc.  It all sounds so serious, so mysterious, which is exactly why it's not meant to be taken too seriously.  Sure, it is certainly impressive for a band to tackle such intellectual subjectmatter, and Tool should be commended for their efforts.  And, this reviewer would like to think that Tool have a better grasp of the human experience and our existential place in the universe better than most any other band in the music business, so that is certainly a large part of Aenima's appeal.  Then again, there's also a hokey "Intermission" piece, a reciepe for hash-brownies that at first sounds like as an evil neo-nazi industrial diatribe, and songs about California falling off into the ocean.  Hence why you can't take this album too seriously.  That said, the music the band delivers on Aenima is arguably more impressive than the metaphysical musings found throughout the album.  Yes, perhaps what's most impressive about Tool is their emphasis on discipline and restraint as opposed to aggression and brute force.  This is a truly unique brand of alternative-metal, something genuinely original and distinctly their own.  The music is executed to near perfection throughout Aenima.  It's often times quiet, mysterious, murky, searching, and vulnerable.  But on the flip-side, when Tool jams, they jam with precision, excellence, and power, delivering a pummeling style of dense sonic riffage that pounds the listener into submission and is often times uniquely invigorating.  

Overall though, Aenima is an album that is meant to take you on a trip.  It's to be used as a "Tool" (pun-intended) in that respect.  It seems to be in search of the essence of humanity, of existence, of purpose, of the human condition, and our relationship with ourselves, the subconscious side of our psyche.  Because of that, it is difficult to listen to this album casually, as it's meant to be listened to in it's entirety in order to get it's full effect.  It's an impressive album, but it's a dark album, and at times, too meandering for it's own good.  But ultimately it is a compelling listening experience, not just because of it's obscure nature, but also because of Tool's impressive brand of alternative-metal musicianship.  Aenima helped evolve alternative-metal in the 90s, as well as rock music in general, and stands as one of the most accomplished albums of the decade as a result.  Although they went on to record more "complex" albums in the next decade, Aemina stands as their best record, one that balances out their pretensions with a uniquely human (albeit detached) element.

9.1

Lateralus

Tool

2001

They kind of disappeared a little too far up their own ass on this one.  Too technical, too prongy, too indulgent, and frankly just not as good as their prior albums.  It's not as natural, not as organic, it doesn't feel as honest or fresh to these ears.  That said, "Parabol/Parabola" is incredibly awesome...always thought "Schism" was waaaay overrated, kind of like this album as a whole.

7.7

10,000 Days

Tool

2006

This is an improvement from Lateralus in my eyes because it is generally less pretentious in nature.  Tool actually jam-out pretty hard at times, but they also kind of cancel that out with some APC-esq mellower numbers, particularly on the 2nd half of the album.  To these ears, they still don't really sound much like Opiate/Undertow-era Tool, and only vaguely similar to Aenima-era.  Unfortunately they sound too much like Lateralus-era Tool, just fast-forward 6 years and a little less progessive-rock sounding.  It's pretty good overall, but can't say I listen to this album much anymore.

7.9

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