Tool’s music has been called many things: heavy metal, alternative metal, art rock, progressive metal, and progressive rock. Perhaps the best description of the band’s unique and challenging sound is “the thinking man’s heavy metal.”
Despite releasing just four albums in 16 years, this hard working and conscientious band has earned a devout following. With their efforts to fuse progressive music with stark visuals, Tool has not only found commercial success but critical acclaim as well.
Tool is comprised of singer Maynard James Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey and bassist Justin Chancellor. The band’s original bass player, Paul D'Amour left on good terms in 1995 to peruse other projects. (Keenan also formed the band called A Perfect Circle).
The band’s first album, Undertow, was released in 1993. Their breakthrough album, the triple-platinum and Grammy Award winning Ænima, was released in 1996. Lateralus debuted at number one when it was released in 2001. The band’s last album, 10,000 Days, was released in 2006 and has sold nearly 3 million copies. In total, the band has sold over 9 million albums in the United States.
The band also has a very usual stage show that blends their high energy performance with strong and powerful images.
Keenan and Carey perform on platforms located in the back on the stage while Jones and Chancellor are positioned up front and slightly off to the sides. No followspots are used and lighting is designed to direct attention away from the band and towards several large screens.
These screens display video loops. The moving images are not timed to the music. Instead, they’re intended to be free-flowing and interchangeable, thus creating a unique experience for the audience every time they come to a Tool show.
Jones is part of the team that helped supply the band with over six hours of footage. The guitarist is also the driving force behind the band’s album covers and art work. His packaging for 10,000 Days earned him a 2006 Grammy Award.
The band’s video to “Prison Sex,” a song about child abuse, was banned by MTV after only a few airings. Furthermore, their song “Stinkfist” was re-titled “Track 1” by MTV due to its licentious connotations.
Tool often expresses their distaste for this type of censorship. One of the band’s most notable remonstrations was their first music video, "Hush." In the video, the band members appear naked with parental advisory stickers covering their naughty parts.
Besides being a serious band that tackles serious issues, Tool also has a cheeky sense of humor that seems to continually reveal itself on April Fool’s Day. In 1997, the band joked that three of them had been critically injured in a bus accident. Needless to say, the prank didn’t go over very well.
Due to the backlash they received the band apologized and promised no more practical jokes. However, in 2005 the band announced that Maynard had found religion and was leaving the band. The joke was so convincing it prompted MTV’s Kurt Loder to contact the band seeking confirmation.
As a band, Tool had it figured out from the start. After all, they signed with a record company just three months after forming. Perhaps this rapid ascension is due to the band having such a clear purpose.
Keen articulated the band’s intentions the best when he said, “Tool is exactly what it sounds like… It's a wrench.... we are... your tool; use us as a catalyst in your process of finding out whatever it is you need to find out, or whatever it is you're trying to achieve."