Understanding Tool

Since Rock On The Range, I’ve been trying to make sense of the whole Tool craze. As I sat and listened to my vinyl record copy of “Lateralus” for the fourth time last night, I couldn’t help but ask myself some questions I’ve been obsessed with figuring out.

  • What makes Tool so different than any other band before them?
  • Why are Tool fans so passionate and loyal to the band?
  • How have they remained relevant despite the lack of new music in the past 15 years?
  • Why does the rock community have a divided opinion for a band that is so highly regarded?

These have been questions that I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for the past two months, and even with seeing Tool perform live at Rock On The Range, the answers are still quite a mystery to me, and I’m sure a lot of other people are just as perplexed as I am.

I’ve been aware of Tool for a long time, but until recently, I wasn’t completely familiar with their music and what they’re all about. Even to this day, I’m not completely sure what to make of the band, but over time, I’ve become more intrigued by the mystery and complexity that is Tool.


What Really Makes Tool Different From Other Bands?

Although this may seem like an easy question to answer, it could potentially be one of the most complex answers of the bunch. Like many metal and hard rock bands, Tool has dark undertones within their music. It could be the song lyrics or the instrumental tracks accompanying the deep lyrics. But I think it’s something else too.

It could also be the mysterious attitude the band boasts not only in their live show but the also the studio. Fans never know exactly when the next studio album is going to be released and they’re the only band I’ve ever see live that focused the audience’s attention to the giant screens behind them instead of the stardom many rock bands thrive in. I believe people are very captivated by the unknown, and like UFOs and Bigfoot, they’re just as elusive and mysterious.


Why Are Tool Fans So Passionate And Loyal To The Band?

Every band and recording artist from Metallica to Jimmy Buffett has those superfans who are obsessed and pretentious about their favorite band. It goes back to Beatlemania where we saw extreme fandom in rock music in the 60s. But from what I’ve experienced, prog bands always have some of the most diehard fans in the music industry. Tool’s fans are all about the music, and they’re are quick to defend the band’s live performances, which are usually bitched about on the internet due to the band’s ban on smartphones at their shows. Real Tool fans are completely understanding and respectful of their wish. You can always tell who the real fans are in the discussion forums because they get it. Other people are offended and distraught over the idea of getting off the grid for a couple hours to enjoy the show.

The real driver of the band’s fanbase is their music, and it’s really where all of the controversies are rooted. They play their songs live as if you were hearing them on the album. That’s how good they are. When I saw them perform at Rock On The Range, it was difficult as a casual listener to tell what song they were performing at times because they transition into each song so seamlessly, just how it is on their studio records, and since the songs are much longer than the usual rock song, they blend together for a great overall performance.

Some people, especially at festivals like Rock On The Range, are enjoying themselves, and probably aren’t looking to stand for an entire 8-10 minute song after partying all day. It’s also hard for people to mosh or crowd surf to Tool. Not saying you can’t, but it’s just a different vibe and it’s easier to take it all in when you’re just listening to the music.

The lyrics of the songs also go far beneath the surface of reality, and I can really respect that from a songwriter perspective. I just know Maynard likes to keep a low profile during live performances to keep the crowd’s attention on the musicianship of the rest of the band.

But it’s for these reasons why Tool is so beloved by their fans, which I can totally respect because, at the end of the day, it’s an acquired taste of music. Not everyone is going to love it in the same way as the hardcore Tool fan does. I look at how the legendary prog rock band Rush is appreciated and admired by their hardcore fans, I definitely think the same way about Tool.


How Has Tool Remained Relevant Even 15 Years After Their Last Album?

It all starts with the fans, but Tool has been able to stay relevant in different ways. First, they’ve played all kinds of different festivals ranging from Rock On The Range, Coachella, and huge European festivals. Since they keep playing live and putting on really good shows, they’re going to stay relevant.

They have also entered different channels too. I was really first introduced to Tool on Guitar Hero: World Tour. I know it’s cliche to say, but I didn’t listen to the radio back then and we can only listen to Tool’s music online on YouTube thanks to some people who have uploaded full albums. It’s hard to stay relevant when people can only really listen to it in physical format, especially within the past five years, but Tool’s loyal fanbase continues to support the band, and they will even if their next album is never released. However, once that new album is released, I’d expect to see another 15 years of prosperity for Tool fans.

Even with the nearly two-decade wait for the new Tool album, Maynard has remained active in other bands, which in the end gets Tool extra exposure due to the direct relation. A Perfect Circle and Puscifer have been active during the time Tool has taken to release the next new album, and for many fans, that’s close enough to Tool to appease their musical taste buds for the time being.


Why Is The Rock Community’s Opinion On Tool So Divided?

Tool is one of the most discussed bands on forums and social media groups. What I’ve got from reading many threads, you either love Tool or you can’t stand them at all. The availability of their music is one of the main reasons people give Tool a lot of shit. They’re not available on Apple Music, Spotify, and other online music platforms. It took a long time for many well-known bands such as The Beatles, AC/DC, and Def Leppard to get on streaming services and even iTunes and Google Play. As of June 2018, they are in the same ranks as King Crimson and Yoko Ono who are yet to be available on demand.

Many rock fans can’t let go of the fact they don’t allow and even lock up mobile devices at their shows. However, it’s not just Tool who chooses to ban phones from their shows. Jack White, Alicia Keys, and The Black Crowes are among other artists who do the same.

Sure, there are different reasons why people dislike Tool. It could be lack of access to their music, their live shows, or their long songs, but like I mentioned earlier, Tool is an acquired taste and, to be honest, if you haven’t listened to one of their albums from beginning to end, I think you should give it a try. That’s always how I test whether or not I will enjoy a band’s music. If you can get your hands on an LP version, even better. However, I wouldn’t recommend buying a record if it’s on a picture disc. I know most new versions of Lateralus nowadays are on photo discs now, and it tends to skip more frequently than non-picture discs. You’ll just be able to experience the music better without having to move the needle off a part that gets stuck repeating itself.

I’m by no means a hardcore Tool fan, in fact, I’m still very much trying to figure them out and understand them, but I wouldn’t make an opinion before understanding a band. Give them a try, or maybe multiple tries. You may just end up enjoying them way more than you would expect. Even if you don’t end up liking them, then can we at least agree “Schism” has one of the sickest bass riffs in metal? YES.