Undertow, a Godly Album

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Spencer Nelson, Writer

Released in 1993, the infamous progressive/experimental metal band, TOOL, shook the world with their first release, UndertowThe pure amount of effort put into this masterpiece is astounding. The vocals are on point and lyrically breathtaking. No other band on earth matches the dynamics and feeling of the music with the lyrics better than TOOL does. Not to mention that the instrumentals that accompany are unlike anything you’ve heard before. TOOL couldn’t be TOOL without the god squad of Danny Carey (drums), Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar), and Justin Chancellor (bass).  

The first track on the project, “Intolerance”, gives you a practical slap in the face when the intro is over with. The whole band comes in together out of nowhere with force, and righteous drum fills. It’s a great way to introduce a new listener to TOOL’s sound, however it only covers so much of what the band has to offer. “Intolerance” revolves around Maynards anger towards lying, cheating and stealing. When trust was about to form, when everything seemed alright, Maynard still got stabbed in the back. “See, I want to believe you, And I wanted to trust you, And I wanna have faith to put away the dagger. But you lie, cheat and steal, lie cheat and steal, lie cheat and steal, and I tolerate you.” You can feel Maynards patience draining as the song goes on, almost as if he’s growing intolerant. “Our blood, our fault, I’ve been, far too, sympathetic (x2). I am not innocent. I am innocent. You are not innocent. No one is innocent.” 

The next track, “Prison Sex”, has one of the coolest riffs of the 90’s grunge/hard rock scene. It has a unique groove and feeling with a very odd time signature, to capture the essence of unfamiliarity.  One of the highlights of this track is Maynards tone and expression through his lyrics. The lyrics are very graphic, as they describe the scene of a rape, but its art. It seems he switches perspectives throughout the song, from the victim to the antagonist. He mentions how vulnerable he is as the victim, “Got my hands bound, and my head down and my eyes closed, my throats wide open.” “Do unto others, what has been done to me. Do unto others, what has been done to you.” He then shifts to the perspective of the abuser, “You’re breathing so I guess you’re still alive, even if signs seem to tell me otherwise. Won’t you, won’t you come a bit closer? Close enough so I can smell you.” “I need you to feel this, I need this to make me whole. Release in sodomy. Have you witnessed that blood and flesh can’t be trusted (x2)?”  

The third track on the album, “Sober”, blew them up. Of course it’s the most popular song on the album because it has a followable 4/4 rhythm, something that is abnormal for TOOL. The lyrics are more straightforward but there is still room for interpretation. One of the coolest parts about this song is that it revolves around a d power chord. It’s pretty much two notes the whole song, but it has so much energy and emphasis. Maynard captures the essence of the battle of sobriety, and how consequences of abusing things don’t come immediately. “There’s a shadow just behind me, shrouding every step I take, making every promise empty, pointing ever finger at me. Waiting like a stalking butler.” He then goes on about how the mistakes made are never forgotten, they are held like grudges. “Jesus won’t you fu*#ing whistle, something but the past and done (x2)?” The second verse explains the beast of guilt, and how it follows you around, until you are nothing. “I am just a worthless liar, I am just an imbecile. I will only complicate you, trust in me and fall as well.” Midway through the verse, it switches from his perspective on himself, and the shame he feels, to the beast itself. “I will find a center in you, I will chew it up and leave. I will work to elevate you, just enough to bring you down.” The chorus of the song captures the whole idea of “Sober”. Maynard expresses his confusion and frustration with the situation in the chorus, questioning why, and wanting a new beginning. “Why can we not be sober? I just want to start this over. Why can’t we drink forever? I just want to start this over.”    

Undertow is remarkable. There’s really no other way to say it. TOOL pioneered new possibilities and compositions that stand out from any other. This album set the stage for many other artists that took influence from TOOL, like Chevelle, or Deftones. I give Undertow a 10/10, and it’s growing to be one of my favorite albums of all time. I couldn’t talk about all the tracks, for they are all good, but seriously, give them a listen. They’ll blow you away. 

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