photo & text by nacrowe
its funny saying this now but i first learned about TOOL from KIM THAYIL of SOUNDGARDEN. i was a huge fun of THAYIL and around the SUPERUNKNOWN-era of that band there were several publicity shots of him playing live with a TOOL shirt on in guitar magazines. same thing regarding THE MELVINS. i wasnt even a teenager yet when my i bought the UNDERTOW (ZOO, 1993) record on a family trip to ITALY in the mid-90s on one of our first trips after relocating to NIGERIA. for what its worth, between my brother and i, we also snagged RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE's EVIL EMPIRE (EPIC, 1996) and SEPULTURA's ROOTS (ROADRUNNER, 1996) and CHAOS A.D. (ROADRUNNER, 1993) records on that same trip. no doubt one of the better record hauls of my life.
what i remember about the experience of first listening to that record was how thick, pronounced and upfront the bass guitar was. songs like "SWAMP SONG," "FLOOD" and "PRISON SEX" showcased the instrument as a key fixture of the melody and song composition as opposed to background support, as usually is the case. i should also mention that between the musty smell of the liner notes (which no doubt had to have been related to the small record store) and the transgressive artwork that was found therein, i was wholly engaged through being caught entirely off-guard. my impression was that here was a band that was playing by an entirely different set of rules than i was familiar with.
and that is before i even attempt to discern the opaque and mysterious lyrics of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN. the whole bit about the cries of the carrots in "DISGUSTIPATED" was something i couldnt even handle as a preteen, much less other subversive tracks such as "PRISON SEX," "SOBER" or "BOTTOM." even after reading his memoir and its elucidation with KEENAN's deep appreciation for the sacred art found with geometry, religion, comedy and the visual arts, i choose to not meet his lyrics intellectually as something to be deciphered. instead i attempt to appreciate them in terms of their poetry or potential allegorical interpretations. my sense is that such is what he would want as well as a gifted writer and performer.
i would be remiss not to mention guitarist ADAM JONES and his incredible PROG-worthy guitar riffage and atmospherics, not to mention the visual artistry of his music videos. also there is the drumming savant that is DANNY CAREY and his mastery of AFRICAN and LATIN polyrhythms. being familiar with their expansive catalogue of material post UNDERTOW, it is interesting to see this record as a blueprint of what was to come. and what followed this stellar record was a sonic vocabulary that makes TOOL a singular outfit of its era, or any era for that matter.
UNDERTOW is a record that deserves all the praise that it has received the past few decades. it has held up and established this legendary band commercially and artistically from whence they pushed further with subsequent albums like ÆNIMA (ZOO, 1996) and LATERALUS (VOLCANO, 2001) that influenced a whole new generation of bands unafraid to mix art with progressive musicianship. cant recomeend this record hard enough. a must listen for any fan of METAL or ALTERNATIVE ROCK.