Tool for hammering eardrums – The Budapest Times


The Los Angeles quartet Tool have released just five albums, an extended drive and a box set in the 30 years since their recorded debut in 1992. The album the band can only tour now, “Fear Inoculum” by 2019, took 13 years to complete. For even a supposedly progressive metal band, their output isn’t exactly prolific, and touring has been equally sporadic. Still, a short European tour will see them at the Papp László Budapest Sportaréna on May 24.

Budapest will follow shows in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Berlin, Krakow, Antwerp and Prague. Prior to that, the band’s show at Manchester’s AO Arena on May 3 was their first non-festival UK date in nearly 15 years, apart from a performance at Download 2019 in Leicestershire. Their concerts are described as intense and brooding, and the visuals are said to be hypnotic.

For the first quarter of their shows, the band performs behind a translucent curtain that mirrors the visuals displayed on the towering screens in the back. Something resembling the Eye of Sauron – Sauron being the main antagonist of JRR Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ – seems to swallow the whole scene, while vocalist Maynard James Keenan prances around the drum riser like a Mohawk Gollum .

Tool formed in Los Angeles, California in 1990, the line-up including Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey. They emerged with a heavy metal sound on their debut album, “Undertow”, in 1993, and became a dominant act in the alternative metal movement with the release of second effort, “Ænima”, in 1996.

When grunge faded and nu-metal began to tear apart the rock hierarchy in the mid-1990s, Tool came up with something completely different. The band’s transcendent union of visual arts and stormy, offbeat prog-metal has secured their status as one of the genre’s greatest enigmas. They strived to unite musical experimentation, visual arts and a message of personal growth. The goal continued with “Lateralus” (2001) and “10,000 Days” (2006), bringing the band critical acclaim and international commercial success. Although unintentionally, the 13-year gap between “10,000 Days” and “Fear Inoculum,” the fifth studio album, only intensified Tool’s mythos.

This new album has garnered further general praise. Prior to its release, Tool had sold over 13 million albums in the United States, as well as worldwide sales. Their albums topped the charts in several countries and they won four Grammy awards and toured the world. “7empest,” the longest song on “Fear Inoculum” at 15 minutes and 44 seconds, is the longest song to win a Grammy, winning Best Metal Performance at 62n/a ceremony in 2020.

Tool began writing “Fear Inoculum” ten years ago and has worked on it in spurts over the years. In concert, they play almost the entire album – a dense collection of seven long songs that span almost 80 minutes – devoting more than half of the show to new material. Or at least most of them are new, as Tool started playing two of the songs, “Descending” and “Chocolate Chip Trip”, live long before their official release.

As usual, Keenan spends the evening delivering his volleys while hiding in the shadows on two small, dark platforms on the back wings of the stage behind drummer Carey. He is deeply focused on the lyrics he wrote. Guitarists Jones and Chancellor stand in front but focus on their instruments rather than the audience. The main non-musical entertainment comes from the series of trippy, personalized movies shown on the big screen behind the band.

A string veil envelops the entire front of the stage, not only sheltering the musicians but, according to at least one reviewer, also blunting the essential visual effect of the videos. Jones and Chancellor stand on the periphery of the front stage, with Jones particularly reluctant to the rare spot that comes their way.

This focus on music and visual spectacle, rather than on-stage personalities, echoes many progressive rock bands of the 1970s. Tool’s complex songs are said to draw much inspiration from acts such as King Crimson and Pink Floyd, but add a much darker, sometimes nihilistic vibe. While there are flashes of twisted wit in Tool’s music, they’re far from a feel-good band.

The songs are usually around 10 minutes long. In a little over two hours of performance for a concert, not counting a 12-minute intermission, the group normally plays only 13 “airs”.

As said, the musicians of Tool are not the type to shine the spotlight on stage. The four members of the group are between 50 and 60 years old and are perfectly content to write, record and perform music as they please. In 1994, Carey said the band’s name represented how they wanted their music to be a “tool” to help understand tearology. Tear medicine is the art of crying as a type of therapy.

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