Ever since they first formed almost 30 years ago, Tool have managed to make a name for themselves as one of the most popular and acclaimed bands in the progressive metal genre.
While their discography is more than able to back up this reputation as a fine musical outfit, they haven’t exactly been the most prolific group on the scene. In fact, 2019 finally saw the band release Fear Inoculum, their fifth album, which has spent more than 13 years in the making.
We’ve decided to take a look back at Tool’s discography, embarking on the impossible task of ranking their albums (and one EP) from worst to best.
Of course, it is vitally important to stress just how inappropriate the word ‘worst’ is in the context of a band like Tool. However, after a lengthy discussion in the office, we’ve managed to agree on the following list.
Honorable Mention: Salival (2000)
No mention of the Tool discography would be complete without giving proper consideration to the band’s 2000 box set, Salival.
Often overlooked by the band and fans alike (heck, it didn’t even make the cut when the band made the move to Spotify), it remains one of their most varied, but most beloved releases.
Consisting of a number of live tracks, covers, and other interesting tunes, fans often point the band’s performance of Led Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’ as one of their best performances, while the live version of ‘Pushit’ is often considered to be a career highlight.
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However, while the final track – ‘L.A.M.C.’ – might be a bit of a non-event to some, it’s worth sticking around for the tongue-in-cheek nature of the hidden track, ‘Maynard’s Dick’. Immature in its lyrics, but accomplished in its composition, it’s clear this is where Tool and their fans come to have a bit of fun.
Check out ‘No Quarter’ as covered by Tool:
5. Opiate EP (1993)
The first official release from Tool, Opiate was the EP that helped to put the band on the map.
Released in early 1992, the record was the product of two years of performances from the group, and featured a number of tracks that were re-recorded from their demo tape, along with a pair of live tracks which have never seen a studio release.
Featuring less of the progressive-rock sound that would appear on the band’s later releases, the heavy tunes cover a lot of ground, discussing themes like religion, while ‘Hush’ protests censorship within the music world.
Released as a single, ‘Hush’ is also the only official music video from the group to feature appearances from the band members in a typical fashion.
Stream the Opiate EP by Tool:
4. Undertow (1993)
It’s pretty rare for a band to feature Black Flag’s Henry Rollins on their debut record, and it’s equally rare to see their producer turn down the likes of Prince just to work with them, but then, there are very few bands like Tool.
Released in April of 1993, just 13 months after Opiate, Undertow shows the start of a rather brilliant band. Having taken on a darker, atmospheric tone with his record, the band still allowed themselves to have fun, releasing popular singles ‘Sober’ and ‘Prison Sex’ along the way.
While the Tool on Undertow is quite far removed from the Tool we see on their later records, it serves as a perfect way to showcase who they were at this particular time; a band still finding their feet, but hitting the ground running, and heading to a lifetime of critical acclaim.
Stream Undertow by Tool:
3. 10,000 Days (2006)
Whether they like it or not, Tool fans have probably found themselves listening to 10,000 Days more than they had ever planned. After all, with 13 years between this and their new record, it’s only fitting for fans to turn to the band’s most-recent album while they wait for new material.
Thankfully though, the band’s lengthy absence saw them leave us with this rather interesting album. Sure, it might not have as many catchy or memorable hits as others, but the record is a mesmerising listen regardless.
Inspired by the passing of Maynard James Keenan’s mother, the album features fan favourites like ‘The Pot’ and ‘Jambi’, while the exceptional ‘Rosetta Stoned’ sees the technical brilliance of guitarist Adam Jones and drummer Danny Carey merging with Maynard’s rambling, trance-like vocals that describe a trip on DMT.
Much of the album is built around longer, more experimental pieces such as ‘10,000 Days (Wings, Pt 2)’, or the stunning ‘Right In Two’, but unlike similar records, Tool have the unmistakeable ability to never leave us feeling bored once, instead allowing us to lose ourself in the gorgeous soundscapes they’ve created.
Let’s be fair though, the fact that this album contains ‘Vicarious’ – which includes that unmistakable intro and the absolutely astounding vocals from Maynard near its conclusion – makes it worth the price of admission alone.
Stream 10,000 Days by Tool:
2. Ænima (1996)
Often cited as one of their finest moments, Ænima was arguably Tool’s commercial breakthrough, and the record that truly made them household names.
Whether it was their unforgiving musical style that put them on the map, or the fact that their first single was called ‘Stinkfist’, remains unclear, but what we do know is that Tool’s second album remains their best-selling, with more than three-and-a-half million copies sold.
Cited by many to be one of the greatest metal albums of all time, Ænima was the first album recorded with former Peach bassist Justin Chancellor, and was easily a warm welcome for the rocker.
With ferocious songs likes ‘Forty Six & 2’, ‘Ænema’, and ‘Hooker With A Penis’, Tool undoubtedly proved their worth as a band that could make brutal metal songs, but deliver them in a radio-friendly way. However, so much is their talent that even the lesser-known songs, like ‘Eulogy’, ‘Pushit’, and ‘Third Eye’ could have easily topped the metal charts if given the chance.
Regardless, Ænima remains a favourite amongst both casual and diehard fans alike, and even just a cursory listen is enough to see why.
Stream Tool’s Ænima:
1. Lateralus (2001)
By the time that Tool released Lateralus, expectations were pretty high. Coming after the astonishing release that was Ænima, fans had to wait a number of years while the band went through a lawsuit with Volcano Entertainment.
By the time they emerged in early 2001, they were armed with an album ostensibly titled Systema Encéphale. However, after revealing the news to be a bit of a prank, the band unveiled lead single ‘Schism’, before sharing Lateralus with the world in May.
Scoring widespread acclaim across the board (save for Pitchfork‘s 1.9/10 rating), Lateralus was the album that Tool fans had dreamed of.
From the menacing opener of ‘The Grudge’, you know that the next 80 minutes aren’t going to be an easy-going affair, with classic tracks mixed in with lengthy, ambient instrumentals, and eventually closing with the frantic sounds of an hysterical radio caller describing an experience with extra-terrestrial beings.
As the record unfolds though, fans are met with an album that could easily double as a “greatest hits” package. While the slow-burning nature of ‘The Patient’ eventually gives way to the radio hit ‘Schism’, the energy only increases thanks to the powerful one-two punch of ‘Parabol’ and ‘Parabola’.
As Maynard pushes his vocals to the limit with ‘Ticks & Leeches’, the album’s crowning moment is undoubtedly the title track, ‘Lateralus’.
Sure, we could go on for hours about the lyrics were inspired by the Fibonacci sequence, or how fans love to dissect the ethereal experiences they have with the track, but ‘Lateralus’ is best left to be simply listened to and experienced, leaving the “over thinking, over analysing” as mentioned in the lyrics to one side while you appreciate the group’s finest moment.
Hitting #1 on the ARIA charts, and eventually winning a Grammy for ‘Schism’, Lateralus is undoubtedly one of Tool’s finest moments. Whether you’re a newcomer or an OGT, there’s no denying the power and influence that this record has had upon metal and the world of music as a whole.