Tool is an American progressive metal band from Los Angeles. Formed in 1990, the group's line-up includes drummer Danny Carey, guitarist Adam Jones, and vocalist Maynard James Keenan. Justin Chancellor has been the band's bassist since 1995, replacing their original bassist Paul D'Amour. Tool has won three Grammy Awards, performed worldwide tours, and produced albums topping the charts in several countries.
To date, the band has released five studio albums, one EP and one box set. They emerged with a heavy metal sound on their first studio album, Undertow (1993), and became a dominant act in the alternative metal movement with the release of their follow-up album Ænima in 1996. Their efforts to unify musical experimentation, visual arts, and a message of personal evolution continued with Lateralus (2001) and 10,000 Days (2006), gaining critical acclaim and international commercial success. Their fifth studio album, Fear Inoculum, their first in thirteen years, was released on August 30, 2019 to widespread critical acclaim. Prior to its release, the band had sold over 13 million albums in the US alone.
Due to Tool's incorporation of visual arts and very long and complex releases, the band is generally described as a style-transcending act and part of progressive rock, psychedelic rock, and art rock. The relationship between the band and today's music industry is ambivalent, at times marked by censorship, and the band's insistence on privacy.
During the 1980s, each of the future members of Tool moved to Los Angeles. Both Paul D'Amour and Adam Jones wanted to enter the film industry, while Maynard James Keenan found employment remodeling pet stores after having studied visual arts in Michigan. Danny Carey and Keenan performed for Green Jellÿ, and Carey played with Carole King and Pigmy Love Circus.
Keenan and Jones met through a mutual friend in 1989. After Keenan played a tape recording for Jones of his previous band project, Jones was so impressed by his voice that he eventually talked his friend into forming their own band. They started jamming together and were on the lookout for a drummer and a bass player. Carey happened to live above Keenan and was introduced to Jones by Tom Morello, an old high school friend of Jones and former member of Electric Sheep. Carey began playing in their sessions because he "felt kinda sorry for them," as other invited musicians were not showing up. Tool's lineup was completed when a friend of Jones introduced them to bassist D'Amour. Early on, the band fabricated the story that they formed because of the pseudophilosophy "lachrymology". Although "lachrymology" was also cited as an inspiration for the band's name, Keenan later explained their intentions differently: "Tool is exactly what it sounds like: It's a big dick. It's a wrench. … we are … your tool; use us as a catalyst in your process of finding out whatever it is you need to find out, or whatever it is you're trying to achieve."
Tool was described by Patrick Donovan of The Age as "the thinking person's metal band. Cerebral and visceral, soft and heavy, melodic and abrasive, tender and brutal, familiar and strange, western and eastern, beautiful and ugly, taut yet sprawling and epic, they are a tangle of contradictions." Tool has gained critical praise from the International Herald Tribune's C.B. Liddell for their complex and ever-evolving sound. Describing their general sound, AllMusic refers to them as "grinding, post-Jane's Addiction heavy metal", and The New York Times sees similarities to "Led Zeppelin's heaving, battering guitar riffs and Middle Eastern modes". Their 2001 work Lateralus was compared by Allmusic to Pink Floyd's Meddle (1971), but thirty years later and altered by "Tool's impulse to cram every inch of infinity with hard guitar meat and absolute dread". Tool had been labelled as post-metal in 1993 and 1996, as well as in 2006, after the term came into popularity.
A component of Tool's song repertoire relies on the use of unusual time signatures. For instance, Chancellor describes the time signature employed on the first single from Lateralus, "Schism", as "six" and "six-and-a-half" and that it later "goes into all kinds of other times". Further examples include the album's title track, which also displays shifting rhythms, as do 10,000 Days: "Wings for Marie (Pt 1)" and "10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2)".
Beyond this aspect of the band's sound, each band member experiments within his wide musical scope. Bass Player magazine described Chancellor's bass playing as having a "thick midrange tone, guitar-style techniques, and elastic versatility". As an example of this, the magazine mentioned the use of a wah effect by hammering "the notes with the left hand and using the bass's tone controls to get a tone sweep", such as on the song "The Patient", from Lateralus.
Completing the band's rhythm section, drummer Carey uses polyrhythms, tabla-style techniques, and the incorporation of custom electronic drum pads to trigger samples, such as prerecorded tabla and octoban sounds.
Keenan's ability as a vocalist has been characterized more subjectively by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: After his performance during an Alice in Chains reunion concert in 2005, freelancer Travis Hay saw him as "a natural fit at replacing Layne Staley". Regarding his role in A Perfect Circle and Tool, The New York Times wrote that "both groups rely on Mr. Keenan's ability to dignify emotions like lust, anger and disgust, the honey in his voice adding a touch of profundity".
According to Guitar Player magazine, Jones does not rely on any one particular guitar-playing technique but rather combines many techniques. For example, Allmusic wrote that he "alternately utiliz power chords, scratchy noise, chiming arpeggios, and a quiet minimalism" in "Sober". Additionally, the band uses forms of instrumental experimentation, like the use of a "pipe bomb microphone" (a guitar pickup mounted inside a brass cylinder) and a talk box guitar solo on "Jambi".
The band puts an emphasis on the sound of their songs and attempts to reduce the effect lyrics can have on the perception of songs by not releasing song lyrics with their albums, although they eventually released the lyrics for Fear Inoculum for that album's CD. Lyrical arrangements are often given special attention, such as in "Lateralus". The number of syllables per line in the lyrics to "Lateralus" correspond to an arrangement of the Fibonacci numbers and the song "Jambi" uses and makes a reference to the common metrical foot iamb. The lyrics on Ænima and Lateralus focus on philosophy and spirituality—specific subjects range from organized religion in "Opiate", to evolution and Jungian psychology in "Forty-Six & 2" and transcendence in "Lateralus". On 10,000 Days, Keenan wanted to explore issues more personal to him: the album name and title track refer to the twenty-seven years during which his mother suffered from complications of a stroke until her death in 2003.