Okay, I'm going to rant a little bit here, and people who don't know anything about music might not get some of this, but it's worth saying anyway.

Typically, I listen to classic rock and jazz music, but a little while back I discovered a band called Tool. A lot of you have probably heard of them, but maybe not heard more than about one song by them. Tool plays the most complicated, difficult music in modern rock, without any rival other than another band called Dream Theater.

Anyway, I like music that forces me to think. I love to try to analyze the guitar licks, and especially the drum fills and patterns. These guys play some riffs that no one else can touch. For example, take "Intolerance", the first track on their second album, "Undertow". The song starts out alternating bars of 4/4 and 13/16!!! For you musically illiterate people, just understand that this is an incredibly hard time signature to play in, let alone write in. Other pieces include alternating bars of 7 and 8 (Forty-Six & 2), 6 and 5 (in a couple of random places), 5 and 3 (which is, admittedly more a feel-thing in 4/4), and a few actually split the band (Lateralus and Third Eye), having half play in 3 and half in 4. That gets REALLY confusing. But they're sooo clean.

They play some really heavy music, and their lyrics tend to be scary at times (with titles such as "Prisonsex" and "Hooker with a Penis"), but the quality of the music is well worth it. Every member of the band is in his own right not only a great musician, but an amazing writer, and an intellectual thinker as well. I have heard that no member of the band has an IQ less than 160, but that's unconfirmed. I do know that they are one of the very few bands that Ozzy Osbourne considers his equal in writing ability.

So, in an attempt not to write the entire history of the band, I will say simply that Tool is a band that, if they chose to, could really bring metal to the forefront of respected music. They seem to prefer the often moronic metal scene to any other, and they are all noted assholes, but excellent musicians. I also suggest checking out "A Perfect Circle", the singer's (James Maynard Keenan) side band, who is opening up for Nine Inch Nails' tour this summer. Okay, that's it for me this time around.


yes, I am a drummer.
Okay, it's five years later, and I've just looked back at this. This is SO COOL! srkorn, danlowlite, artemis entreri, FlexAble, and nyte, you guys (or girls, or whatever) are awesome. This is why I love E2. I could NEVER in "real life" find five other people that could have this kind of a conversation about Tool, or any other musical act. THANK YOU.

A statement which is only true if you are a drummer. Tool's percussionist, Danny Carey, is undoubtedly one of the best the modern music scene, or any other for that matter, has to offer: the best example of his skill is the intro to the song Eulogy, the second track of Aenima. The rest of the band's instrumentalists, however, have far more powerful rivals in the extremely broad genre of modern rock. Anyone claiming Tool writes the most difficult music around has never heard the talent of such musicians as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Les Claypool, and Dimebag Darrell, among others. While playing extremely complicated drum lines in non-standard time signatures is very commendable, playing power chords and repetitive guitar and bass lines in them is not nearly as hard as the downright crazy shit the aforementioned four do in most of their songs. Nothing against Tool, because they are a very talented, creative and no-bullshit band, but the guitars and bass certainly don't completely top the charts. Of course, it's an honest mistake to make, especially to someone only familiar with the classic rock and jazz scenes, because by and large the most popular heavy music of late is the cacophony of such talentless bands as Korn and Limp Bizkit. However, do a little research before you start throwing around such extreme superlatives.

The guitar riffs in Tool's songs are amazingly simple. toolshed.down.net is the unofficial/official site where you can grab drum, guitar, and bass tablature for every song.

What might make the songs seem odd, is that the guitar uses a drop-d tuning, which is relatively common, but not as well done as in tool's tunes.

It's been hypothisized that because of Adam Jones's (guitarist) former art training, his music comes off as original. And it is, but not as much as some tend to believe. I'm not trying to put him down or anything, but there are far more accomplished players.

Most of the tunes are in standard 4/4 time, albeit syncopated.

Many of the first songs I learned to play on guitar were Tool songs. However, it's also been hypothisized that Danny Carey (drummer) is a minor deity.


artemis entreri: You're probably right. While the tabs can be quite bad at times, I don't think they're there for a note per note transcription. I don't think that's the point.

As well, the tone is the key here, I totally understand what you're saying. Some of that has to do w/r/t Jones' gear, of course, and both studio effects, etc.

The inverted/other chord thing: I dunno, it seems pretty basic to me. I could just be not as good as I sometimes like to think myself to be. Actually, I'm quite sure I suck, so . . .

    Perhaps nocodeforparanoia is getting at the intensity of Tool's sound.  I'll agree with danlowlite in that Adam Jones's artistic background gives him a sort of artiste aura that colors our evaluation of his playing style, and in general the oftentimes cryptic, occult and deep lyrics add a sense of mystery to the band.  If you go to toolshed.down.net, as danlowlite suggests, you will find tabs, but these are very basic, and are often wrong.  Sure, they have the basic melody, and most of the chords are right, but they don't capture all the variations and chord inversions that Adam Jones uses.  

     The fact that Tool is a metal band would cause many to argue that these are minor details, as this sort of purposeful complexity is too often associated with the shred style guitarists, or the guitar-god/guitar hero persona started by Jimi Hendrix, and applied through the late 80's.  Steve Vai, Joe SatrianiEric Johnson, as well as Nuno Bettencourt, John Petrucci and Reeves Gabrels are prime examples of the shred school of soloing. Dimebag Darrel, of Pantera, also embraces this sort of breakneck speed, caustic soloing, but Pantera are so heavy that it's hard to compare them to 80's shred.

    So if sheer speed of playing is the criteria we are going to hold Tool to, than this is a very one sided discussion, and we find ourselves ruling out bands simply because of the musical genre they happen to be categorized under.  Once we accept the more modern metal sound as a valid genre, consisting, like everything else, of artists of varying degrees of skill, we start to distinguish stylistic differences.  Pantera takes a more complex approach to soloing.  To carry this over to the whole band is a gross error.  They still play power chords, and they often play in dropped-D as well.  The fact that Dimebag Darrel rips up the fretboard for about a minute and a half each song doesn't make the band musical geniuses.

    The complexity of Tool lies both in the chord inversions used, as well as the texturing.  A major factor is Adam Jones tone.  The hardest part of playing Tool, assuming you have comparable technical abilities, is to sound like Tool.  This is not to say that to play Tool songs is simply a question of having enough money to afford kick-ass equipment, but also the know how to get these tones.  Having said that, one could argue that this makes Tool simply one of many studio bands, or bands that, while in the studio, create these wonderfully rich and complex songs, but cannot reproduce them live, as they have only one or two guitarists. For some odd reason, this is not the case, as Tool manage to capture this complex tone incredibly well when they play live.

    So this brings us to a dilemma.  If we accept the electric guitar as a viable instument to master, than can we consider mastery of effects and equipment to achieve a given tone artistic ability, or simply fidling with knobs. If the type of paint, and the texture of the canvas can be said to play a part in the quality of a painting, or at least in the overall aesthetic appeal, than can we parallel this to music?

    If so, than Tool are wonderfully complex, and to simply say that they're not because some people have made tabs that encompass the bare bones of the song, or that Adam doesn't play a certain number of notes per measure is simply missing the boat.  They use drop-D because they were influenced by Helmet, arguably the gods of dropped-D, and even more importantly, the use of silence in the midst of a simile or riff.  Helmet is another example of a band that is perceived as simple, because most people that tab just get the bare bones chord structure, not the inversions and complex jazz chords that the second guitar plays.  I think it is a common misconception nowadays that heavy is simple.  This is not the case, and in this new manifestation of complexity, Tool can be said to stand out from the crowd.

I would tend to disagree that Tool's music is the most difficult in modern rock. When it comes to sheer technical prowess, there is no question in my mind that Dream Theater holds the reigns. Though none of the members may be the best at their respective instruments, each is a virtuoso in his own right, and, on the average, their talent surpasses any other band. Furthermore, though the alternation between 4/4 and 13/16 in Intolerance may be impressive, it cannot compare to the madness that is The Dance of Eternity, an instrumental which pushes the limits of how odd meter can be applied.

Tool's music, however, has a quality far greater than what can be produced with chops alone. I can only describe them as being one of the most musical and innovative bands I have ever heard. Their songs are full of texture, layering, and other subtleties. Danny Carey, in addition to being one of the most skilled drummers in modern rock, is exceedingly creative and constantly amazes me in how he meshes perfectly with the rest of the band. While Tool's music may lack the ripping guitar solos of John Petrucci, I enjoy listening to it every bit as much as I do Dream Theater.

artemis entreri has it right: while Tool's music doesn't look too impressive on paper, and they don't play at inhuman speed, the tone and texture of their sound is almost impossible to duplicate, and this is what makes them masters of their instruments. But in a more general sense, they are masters of music (and this is a very important distinction: it doesn't matter if you can play like Jimi Hendrix if you write like N'sync).

Tool is probably the closest thing in modern rock to classical music. Ever listen to a fugue? I'm sure you have; if you aren't familiar with the term, go fix that right away. Now listen to Forty-six & 2. Pay particular attention to the solo/breakdown bit, the last two minutes of the song (note: I've been trying on-and-off for months to tab this bit correctly and completely for all instruments. It's absolutely impossible.) It is - make no mistake - a modern fugue (albeit shorter and less complex than something Bach would've written). Listen - there is the basic theme, and then we hear it transformed, played over itself delayed, played with a different rhythm, different emphasis, moved up an octave, etc etc. It may not conform to all the rules of a fugue (I don't know them so I couldn't say) but it retains the basic concept.

Tool's music, unlike that of most bands, is orchestrated; it is thought out. The vast majority of bands in modern rock follow the basic pattern: think up a couple chord progressions (hey, lets use power chords, they're easy), think up a tune for the verse and one for the chorus, insert cliched and hackneyed lyrics here and viola we have a song. If they're really lazy, they can even use the 12-bar blues and dont even have to think up their own progression! (Note: a lot of very good music is in 12-bar blues (lots of Stevie Ray Vaughn, for starters); their strengths lie in the incredible soloing. There's also a lot of shitty, generic 12-bar blues out there.) Tool doesn't play like that. In fact, I can't think of a Tool song where a guitar actually strums a chord; they prefer to let the chord be expressed through the amalgamation of what all the instruments are playing. A similar style is often employed in classical music, as many instruments can only make one note at a time.

It is true that some of Tool's music, particularly pre-Lateralus, is much less complex than Forty-Six & 2. Opiate, their freshman album, is just barely outside the realm of average alternative music. Undertow and ├ćnima are better, but still contain a few songs that have little instrumental complexity (although generally these songs are balanced with lyrical complexity, like, say Hooker with a Penis). But it is worth noting that pre-Lateralus, Tool refused to write music that they couldn't play live exactly as they did in the studio - so no layering. Lateralus, however, brought with it the wonderful world of studio enhancement (though it STILL sounds exactly the same live; I am amazed. But anyway), and most of the songs on Lateralus have a high degree of intrumental complexity. Lateralis, The Grudge, Disposition, Reflection, are all very similar to Forty-Six & 2 in this respect.

There is a further degree of complexity to Tool's music, however - the scales they use. Anyone familiar with Indian Carnatic music reading this? Listen to Sober, off Undertow. Try and discern the raga. It's Revathi. Listen to Reflection. You'll hear Sindhu Bhairavi (and listen to the drum in Disposition, its a tabla!). Tool uses scales (and, indeed, other musical concepts) from all over the world in their music. They use Indian and Middle Eastern ragas quite frequently, as well from the Far East and other places around the world.

Tool, taken in pieces, is not difficult. A guitarist with a few months of practice could probably play the main riff from Forty-Six & 2. But it takes true musical mastery to compose the way they do, and to play so perfectly in step with each other as they do. And it takes a true understanding of music to bring together concepts from all different parts of the world and make really good music out of it.

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