Album Review no.18: Undertow - Tool

Tool is a band that I have heard many things about, ranging from them being the most original, amazing band of all time, to them being a bunch of pretentious jerks that don't anything about music. After listening to their first 3 albums a few times, I feel somewhere in between these 2 extremes. I'll be reviewing the Tool albums in order, not for any particular reasons, I just feel like it. So let's get started on their raw, visceral debut album.

The opening track definitely sets the stage for some of what's to come. The riff used in this song is extremely heavy and progresses nicely throughout the song, starting off as very strong, yet relatively light on distortion. By the end of the song the amount of layering on this originally simplistic riff provides something great. The increased aggression of the other components of the band are also extremely clear, especially the vocals, which start off as quite pleasant and clean, and ends with what sound like desperate yells.

Prison Sex:
This is definitely my favourite song on the album. From the moment that amazing, groovy intro goes on, the song makes it apparent that you are about to listen to something great. The riff and amazing bass are instantly the 2 biggest standouts of the song, they are both extremely memorable and a blast to listen to. The second half of the song is really what seals the deal though, slowing it down and changing the riff makes Maynard's amazing vocals as he sings "I have found some temporary sanity" that must more evocative. The slow increase of what feels like hopelessness throughout the song really makes this song even better when taking the lyrical content into account.

First of all, this song is frustratingly catchy to me. As a more vocal based track for the most part, Sober sets itself apart from the previous 2 songs. While I personally don't find Maynard anything amazing in terms of vocal skill, the amount of emotion he puts into singing is what makes him shine. There are no extravagant changes in the song or major progression, but the mix of anger and sadness coursing through the song give a different kind of experience. All in all, it's still an amazing song, even if it's mainly the vocals that are memorable.

This one once again sounds different completely different to the previous songs, as more of a fast paced, less emotion driven track. The drumming is particularly good here, it has both the physical skill of playing fairly quickly, with the technical skill of a couple of interesting drum beats. The riffs throughout the entire song are probably the best on the album, with the more hectic playing of the fast ones creating a great contrast to the slower, more focused ones. The middle part full of speaking was genuinely cool, as the riff behind it made it hard to be bored. The outro where everything came back around full circle topped off an already great song.

Crawl Away:
The intro riff totally sounds like something by Pantera, except, it's a somewhat lackluster riff compared to both Pantera and the previous 4 songs. I kind of find the first portion of the song to be extremely mediocre, without any great moments. When the song speeds up mid way through, the quality increase is definitely noticeable, but the song still feels lacklustre to me. I also find it too repetitive. Nothing particularly bad, but nothing that good either

Swamp Song:
I really enjoy the slow riff in this one. The song in general is a lot more slow and plodding, rather than being another fairly fast paced song. The instrumental section near the end is really cool with that riff, I find the first half to be somewhat boring, but the second half almost completely makes up for it, with great riffs, decent vocal performance, and a good solo.

I don't know what it is about this song, but I find it to be equal parts great and a mess. The transitions between the various parts of the song feel jarring and somewhat unnecessary, but at the same time, some of the riffs are really good. The last couple of minutes really what make the song, but I find the rest of it to be quite boring due to the fact that it can feel way too much like a combination of various drum beats and riffs that have little to do with each other.

4 Degrees:
The intro heavily reminds me of Home by Dream Theater. Other than that, I really don't find much that's interesting within the song. Despite the fact that it is quite heavy and the vocals are still emotive, the song sounds strangely subdued, especially the chorus, which has a riff that feels extremely out of place in the song. The drumming is pretty great though.

There is a strange eeriness to this song. The opening minute of the low bass notes and the guitar which just doesn't sound quite right make this an unusually atmospheric beginning to an album that for the most part has been lacking any sort of atmosphere, instead going more for the approach of loud, intense instrumentals and vocals to match. After the intro that goes on for slightly too long, the main portion of the song begins, and what a great song it is, as well as having a killer riff and amazing bassline, the structure of the song itself is cool. I really like the couple of parts where everything goes silent for a second before starting up again. This is where I feel like Tool is in their element, with great riffs, not too much pretentious stuff going on, and a very raw sound to them.

I know that it doesn't technically count as a song, but this minute of useless silence really gets on my nerves. There is literally no point in breaking up the album with a minute of silence, at least when Korn did a similar thing in Follow the Leader, it had some sort of purpose, and happened at the start of the album, not this close to the end. I won't bash it too much because it's only a minute long, but it annoys me a lot.

This song on the other hand won't get the same kind of free pass as the previous one and can also serve as the perfect example of my major complaint I have with the band in general, stupid/pretentious padding of their albums with pointless noise or concepts that don't really go anywhere. That said, the beat on this track is genuinely my favourite on the album, I don't know what exactly is the reason for this, but I think it sounds absolutely awesome. The unfortunate thing is that the first half of the song is very repetitive, even if it is pretty damn cool. The part about my major complaint however, comes from the second half of this song, which is literally nothing more than about 9 and a half minutes of chirping crickets, can someone please tell me the purpose of this? It won't affect my thoughts on the song, but if anyone knows a genuine reason to end the album with 9 minutes of what is essentially white noise, I would be glad. Either way, a cool first half is ruined by the end containing so much pointlessness.

3*6 + 2*7 + 8 + 5*10 = 84/100

if you don't count blank as an actual song, then 88/100

Final Thoughts:
I really don't believe the hype that Tool receives, this is one of the most enjoyable albums that they have released in my opinion, as it's more simplistic and less stupid and pretentious (I genuinely don't believe that most of the weird ideas they have are anywhere near as intelligent as everyone else seems to think). The riffs through most of the album are absolutely killer, and I find the vocal control to be amazing. That said, I found a few of the songs to be boring and I found the dumb noise to be beyond obnoxious. All in all, I think that the album is fairly decent, but vastly overrated.


Good to see someone else’s agrees with me on the pointless noise and filler, although I have another major complaint, maybe I’ll do a review of one of their albums and talk about the major problem I have with the band. - visitor

Sounds great, I'll make sure to read it - kempokid

Good review, will you do their other albums as well? - cjWriter1997

I'll be writing one for Aenima soon, the others will come after that - kempokid