The only time I have ever seen Tool play live was at the Download Festival in 2006. I’d gone to Download with my cousin, Mark, and we camped with a few others that I knew to varying degrees. I remember when we got the tickets and the line up was announced I was immediately excited to see Metallica, couldn’t believe I’d have a chance to see Prodigy, and hugely anticipated seeing the likes of Deftones, Alice In Chains, Korn and so on.
Headlining the Friday were Tool. I really only knew a few songs; ‘Sober’, ‘Parabola’ and ‘Schism’. Past that, absolutely nothing. I’d always thought ‘Sober’ was an incredible song, but the other songs seemed to go over my head a bit. I remember going to the pub a few weeks before the Download weekend and some of the guys I was going with saying, “Tool on Friday but, you know, seen them once and it’s always the same.” Nothing was really making me think, “Tool are a band I need to invest in.”
But, despite it all, I did. On a day out in Norwich, we popped in to HMV. They were selling the album ‘10,000 Days’. The artwork was unlike any I’d seen before for a CD, with what were special 3D lens type glasses that enabled the pictures in the booklet to almost come to life, showing you more than if you just looked at them normally. It was a work of art. Out of interest, I decided to get it. I remember asking my Dad to put it on in the car, and vividly remember him saying at some points “They’re really trying to rip off Pink Floyd, there.”
I enjoyed it. I wasn’t overawed by it, but I seriously appreciated how good an album it was technically. When Download came, we decided to watch Tool on the Friday night.
Thirteen years on, there are a few bands I remember from Download. Strapping Young Lad were hilarious and brutal, Metallica were sensational (but ‘fashionably’ late), Korn were fronted by various different people as Jonathon Davies was ill, Prodigy was the most insane gig I’d ever seen…and Tool. They were just cool. Visually stunning, the sound was amazing…but it wasn’t that that got me sucked in.
Stood in front of us was a guy that looked to be in his early twenties. Short dreadlocks, back pack on, stood alone. And he was break dancing.
Break dancing. To Tool. In the middle of a field in Derbyshire.
It was as hypnotising as the visuals on the screens. On stage, Maynard and the band had their stands – they rarely moved from their areas – but here was this guy, break dancing at a heavy metal festival. I watched in awe, and started to really listen to the music and, in that moment, I got it. The rhythm, the beats, the differing time signatures…you didn’t mosh to Tool, you felt Tool. This music was something else.
In a way, it’s such a shame that it happened in 2006. Nowadays, in an age where stuff like this is just recorded and put on YouTube, you can guarantee it would be online…but in 2006, all of that was still relatively new ground. The flip side to that is, for all those that argue the point that they need to record so they have the memory of the show, this is proof that you really don’t. That moment stayed with me, I still remember it, I can still play it in my head…and I enjoyed the moment far more than had I been stood there holding my phone recording it.
Following Download, I went back to ‘10,000 Days’. It was like I was listening to a different record. I felt the music more, I got the lyrics more…I started to get it. I understood just why those that love Tool really love Tool, and became enamoured by it. I couldn’t wait to hear more.
But, Tool aren’t like any other band…in my hope for a follow up to ‘10,000 Days’, I was left wanting. The band continued to play and tour, but no new music came. I delved in to the older stuff but I craved more.
One of the things I truly loved about Tool was that you could see, and hear, the growth of the band through their albums. The sound changes, the complexity of songs…the experimentation in noise…I just wanted more. Greedy, really, but that’s how it was.
As time went by, life went by. I went to uni, I graduated from uni, I had a long term relationship and saw it end, I got a job and progressed in to management, I started another relationship, I had two kids…life changed.
Within that time, also, I suffered the personal devastation of my Mum passing away suddenly in 2015. Nine years after ‘10,000 Days’ had been released. But, with that tragedy, came a new level of understanding for the album.
I’d always loved “Wings For Marie (Part One)” and “10,000 Days (Wings Part Two)” as a couplet…but I didn’t feel them in the same way as, say, “The Pot” or “Right In Two”. When Mum passed, the first time I went back to listen to ‘10,000 Days’, I remember sitting with my headphones in and just being heartbroken by the lyrics and the emotion to the songs. Both songs focused on the passing of Maynard’s mother, and I was blown away.
In grief, you feel a lot of different emotions. There’s the sadness, but there’s also anger, frustration, guilt – a reluctance to accept. When Maynard sang “Ignorant siblings at the congregation gather around spewing sympathy; spare me. None of them can even hold a candle up to you” I started to really get it. One thing that always sticks in my mind around my Mum’s funeral was having a distant relative asking me to make her drinks, clearly not having any idea who I was, and then after the funeral offering me a hug before not saying another word to me all night. I felt an anger towards it, and you do feel sick of these people…inside, it feels fake.
I also felt real anger at the time as I had people trying to preach religion on to me. I have never been a religious person, but in turn I just felt anger – a real anger at ‘God’ – how could anything like this happen to my Mum? Why did she deserve it? Hearing Maynard sing that his Mum should “shake her fists at the gates” just seemed to connect to me even more. But, through the sadness of the song, to the anger, it ends on acceptance. It was an acceptance that took me a long time to feel…I sometimes, even now, fall out with that acceptance. But these two songs were a journey in grief – and a journey I could relate to.
After that, Tool were more than just another band to me, and their music made more sense. They are a journey band. I feel that, the older you get – or, more so, the more you go through in life – the more you start to understand Tool. From the angst in the first records, to the development – you grow up with these records and they grow up with you.
And now today, finally, thirteen years later, a new album has been released. ‘Fear Inoculum’ is tremendous. When I think back to the not long turned 18 year old I was in 2006, I know I wouldn’t have been ready for this album. It’s not an album to listen to and expect to understand immediately. It’s another step in the journey.
To go back to what my Dad said when he had ‘10,000 Days’ on in the car, and compare to Pink Floyd. I love Floyd, but even the great albums – ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, for example – take a few listens before you find those stand-out moments. They’re albums that demand time, demand a few listens before you can judge…before you notice all the little details.
On the title track, Maynard sings “long overdue”, and, initially, I felt like it was a little comment on the length of time leading to this record. As it is, I don’t think it is ‘long overdue’ in the slightest. “Fear Inoculum” isn’t an album to introduce new fans to Tool with, it’s an album to listen to in order to take the next step in the journey. The natural successor to ‘10,000 Days’ – we’ve all got older, the band are in their fifties, the songs have become mellower…but still with that bite, and still with that sense of build, tension and excitement that Tool do so well.
Thirteen years has felt like an age and so much has changed but listening to ‘Pneuma’, listening to the majestic ‘Culling Voices’, the absolutely incredible 16 minutes of ‘7empest’…’Fear Inoculum’ came right on time.
And who knows what the next step on the journey will be?
If you like what you’ve read here, why not like my Facebook page? That can be found HERE.
Or maybe you’d like to see me moan a bit on Twitter: twitter.com/adam_townsend
Thanks for reading!