"To be or not to be," Maynard James Keenan sings on "Descending," a sprawling epic from Tool's long-awaited fifth LP. Fans have been asking that question for the past 13 years, analyzing social media clues and interview quotes in excruciating detail — even when Keenan hilariously shuts them down. But at the 2019 Welcome to Rockville, they finally got their answer.
Tool debuted two glorious, 12-minute behemoths during their headlining festival set: the full version of "Descending" (a song they've previewed onstage in shortened, instrumental form) and "Invincible," both of which are expected to appear on the band's follow-up to 2006's 10,000 Days. Based on the (surprisingly high-quality) fan footage available online, the songs pull off a feat that seemed impossible: meeting, if not exceeding, expectations.
The expanded "Descending" is classic Tool in the 10,000 Days/Lateralus aesthetic, full of knotty riffs, tricky time-signatures (including one passage of alternating 5 and 6, by our estimation), and complex polyrhythms. Keenan sings of a "disillusioned" state over Adam Jones' psychedelic guitar drones, Justin Chancellor's menacing bass, and a dynamic performance from drummer Danny Carey that builds from atmospheric percussion samples to bludgeoning tom fills. The peak arrives 10 minutes in the metallic riff/solo Jones recently hyped on Instagram.
"Invincible" — a powerhouse largely set, as best we can tell, in 7/8 — offers more of a showcase for Keenan, who belts about "beating tired bones" and a "warrior struggling to remain consequential," seemingly echoing themes of survival and relevance addressed in the final episode of Revolver's "The Art of Work" video series with him. It's harder-hitting and more accessible than "Descending," despite its numerous tempo shifts and winding structure. "Here I am!" Keenan roars at various points. Indeed — here they are. So far, so fucking good.