As their long-suffering fans know all too well, Tool work at a glacially slow pace, and as a result, their catalog, while masterful, is not packed with a ton of songs. Even so, for every hit — from "Schism" and "The Pot" to "Sober" and "Forty Six & Two," all of which top 50 million plays on Spotify — there are many gut-punching, mind-expanding compositions that don't get the credit, or plays, that they deserve. Below, we've highlighted 10 of our favorite such deep cuts.
Tool were a very different animal back in 1992 when they released their debut EP, Opiate, a raw six-track primal scream that, at just 27 minutes total, is only about as long as two of the band's modern-day multi-suite epics. The first of a pair of live cuts, both recorded at the Jellö Loft on New Year's Eve 1991, "Cold & Ugly" packs a nasty and lasting bite. "I am frightened, too," Maynard James Keenan sings, but really, the band sound like the ones doing the frightening.
The fact that "Jerk-Off" and "Cold & Ugly" are the only live recordings on Opiate might explain why they're the EP's two least streamed tracks, but for those who love the songs, the unvarnished presentation only adds to their power. "Jerk-Off" opens with Keenan's nasally banter — "Used to be a bunch of assholes that lived in this part of the building, here. But we systematically removed them like you would any kind of termite or roach." — and concludes with him shrieking, "Shoot it/Kick it/Fuck it/Shoot you in your fucking head." Between those bookends, we hear Tool at their most pissed-off and bloodthirsty.
"Sober" and "Prison Sex," with their jaw-dropping stop-motion music videos, are the hits, but Undertow is packed with worthy deep cuts. Track No. 5, "Crawl Away" grabs the listener from the get-go with Adam Jones' upbeat, bouncy riff and Keenan's evocative imagery, but it really takes off around the 3:22 mark with the Möstresticator (as MJK is credited in the liner notes) intoning, "This is love," while the band chugs and churns dramatically behind him, building to a long howl and thrashy pummel that carries the song to its breath-taking climax.
Eight tracks into Undertow, we get "4°," a stunning piece that opens with the mystical sounds of a sitar and is allegedly titled after the fact that the anal cavity is four degrees warmer than the vagina. 3TEETH'S Alexis Mincolla, who counts this as his favorite Tool song, says it best: "Maynard's cryptic lyrics guiding the listener on transcendent voyage to a place that's four degrees warmer as if he's inviting you to a psychic vacation to the land of anal sex in order to free yourself from yourself is literally only something Tool could pull off, and it's just all around brilliant."
At nearly eight-minutes long, Undertow's sludgy, slow-burning penultimate track, "Flood," hints at long-form, prog-metal things to come. Thematically, its vision of unstoppable rising waters wiping everything away to "cleanse and purge me" forebodes fan favorite "Ænema," the venomous prayer for the apocalypse featured on Tool's next album. "Flood" isn't as transcendentally great as that cut, but it still hits musical and emotional highs few bands could even dream of.
Overshadowed by all-time classics "Stinkfist," "Forty Six & Two" and "Ænema," "Jimmy" sits almost dead center on Tool's 1996 third album and blazes a grueling, heartfelt path. The intro riff may pack a muscular, Southern-metal-tinged groove, but Keenan's vocals open with soul-baring delicacy, fitting for a song that's autobiographical in nature, told through child's eyes. (The singer's birth name is James, hence "Jimmy," and his mother suffered a paralyzing brain aneurysm when he was 11: "Eleven and she was gone.") The next five-and-a-half minutes are a master class in dynamics; brittle, heavy and soaring.
With Ænima, Tool stepped out of the pitch-black darkness of their previous two releases, Opiate and Undertow, and into the light, aiming toward spiritual awakening and psychedelic inspiration. In that vein, the album culminates in the 14-minute, industrial-tinged, Bill Hicks-sampling epic "Third Eye," titled after the esoteric concept of a speculative invisible eye capable of perception beyond ordinary sight. It's a long, strange trip full of left turns and Keenan's staticky scream, "Prying open my third eye!" — and in typically contrarian fashion, Tool frequently opened 1996 shows with the challenging tune.
Keenan's mother Judith, her paralyzed state and religious faith are recurring themes in the singer's work, spanning his various projects (see: A Perfect Circle's "Judith"), not to mention multiple entries on this list. Lateralus' second proper song compellingly approaches the topic from a unique perspective: Judith's own, as she internally struggles with her condition, its impact on her loved ones ("the fearful") and what it means for God's plan. Meanwhile, MJK's bandmates conjure up pure instrumental magic, with drummer Danny Carey shining particularly brightly along the seven-minute opus' sinuous journey.
"Suuuuuuck! Suck me dry!" For OGT diehards, Lateralus' eighth track is arguably the album's single biggest highlight and, certainly, one of the most brutal and abrasive songs of the band's career. "Schism," "Parabola" and the title track get the radio play, but "Ticks & Leeches" — a defiant middle finger to parastic music industry suits — leaves the deepest, goriest mark. The band throws down hard — especially Carey, whose playing is absolutely acrobatic — while Keenan unleashes blood-curdling scream after scream. Subtle, it's not, but it is awesome.
Two tracks but really one 17-minute-plus song, "Wings for Marie, Pt.1" and "10,000 Days (Wings, Pt.2)" revisit the plight of Keenan's mother and the questions involved with her faith ("I only pray Heaven knows when to lift you out"). It's a lot to digest, but a gorgeous, poignant listen for those with the patience to take it all in. "Tool are just masters at growing this little seedling of a song and making it full bloom in front of your ear holes," says Mastodon's Brann Dailor, who points to the two-piece composition as his favorite Tool cut. "Hair standing up on the back of my neck," he recalls of hearing it for the first time. "The Pot" might be 10,000 Days' hit; this is its heartbreaker.