Tool have officially (re)entered our strange new world. After years of holding out, they've finally released their catalog for streaming and digital download. After years of teasing and tormenting fans, testing their patience beyond reason, the band finally dropped their first album in over a decade, Fear Inoculum. This makes now the perfect time to look back at the bizarre, dark, inspiring, psychedelic and progressive music that Tool have brought into the world to date. Below, we've ranked their albums (and EP) from worst to best.
Released only on CD/VHS and CD/DVD (and still not available via digital music platforms), Salival is a collector's wet dream. The 2000 compilation album came as a beautiful box set packed with cryptic artwork, a 56-page photo book and a compelling array of live tracks and outtakes, as well as Tool's music videos to that point. Yet, while it's a must-have for diehards, the release is hardly essential for the average listener, it's biggest calling card being the band's strange, lysergic cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter."
No, it's not an album proper, but Opiate is monumental enough to merit inclusion here. Primal and unpolished, Tool's debut EP barely hints at the wide-screen prog-rock expansiveness to come (other than, to some extent, on the industrial-tinged hidden track "The Gaping Lotus Experience"). But what it lacks in sonic ambition, it makes up for in blunt force and inescapable hooks. Songs like "Hush," "Jerk-Off" and the title cut showcase Tool at their most concise and venomous. Yet, for all its greatness, Opiate feels like the captivating tantrum of a band still in its infancy.
Tool may have kept us waiting more than a decade since the release of this, their last album, but at least 10,000 Days is absolutely massive, dense and multilayered enough to be poured over and dissected by fans for years. Sweeping, progressive compositions such as "Vicarious," "The Pot" and "Rosetta Stoned" are modern classics, but at nearly 76 minutes across 11 meandering tracks including multiple interludes, 10,000 Days doesn't exactly embody the phrase "all killer, no filler," sometimes getting lost in its own grand scope.
Coming after a 13-year wait full of ever-compounding rumors, hype and misinformation, Fear Inoculum could never live up to the expectations. And yet somehow it did. Long, discursive and uncompromising, the nearly hour-and-a-half-long album captured Tool at their most meditative and trance-inducing, with drummer Danny Carey claiming the spotlight with the most virtuosic playing of his career, and the Grammy-winning cut "7empest" punctuating the jammy, introspective proceedings with a ferocious bit of throwback ire.
Relentlessly brooding and terrifying, Tool's breakthrough first full-length saw the band take a huge evolutionary leap from Opiate's rough-hewn attack. But there was still plenty of room for growth: From the unnerving and controversial artwork to mercilessly dark songs like "Prison Sex" and "Bottom" (the latter featuring an inimitable guest turn by Henry Rollins), Undertow represents the encompassing vision of the band before they found any light at the end of the tunnel. The stage was set for a leap into even greater and much more transcendent heights.
Tool fully jumped off the prog-rock deep end with Lateralus, a sprawling, otherworldly opus full of Fibonacci sequences and "Tibetan monk sounds." This isn't just alternative metal anymore; it's visionary art, a fact cemented by the group's deep collaboration with painter Alex Grey on the album imagery, music videos and tour visuals. But what is perhaps the most remarkable about Lateralus is that, as long-winded and complex as the LP is, songs like "Schism" and "Parabola" simply rock — which is why they improbably continue to get radio play despite their over-six-minute running times.
If Tool's preceding EP and album plumbed the dark recesses of the human psyche, Ænima aimed toward spiritual awakening and psychedelic inspiration. It was here that Tool truly became Tool, prog-metal seekers and prankster philosophers, the album title itself — a cross of "Anima" (Latin for "soul") and "enema" (well, you know) — suggesting their intriguing mix of high and low art. Yes, the album is exploratory and experimental, but Ænima never fails to hit hard. Indeed, "Hooker With a Penis" might be the group's most vitriolic cut ever, while the title track could be its most joyously nihilistic, a bitter, beautiful prayer for the apocalypse.