Creating a ranking list of TOOL albums is one of the most strange undertakings in music. TOOL’s upcoming album, the first in 13 years, ‘Fear Inoculum’ is to be released later this month. And after such a long absence, a retrospective on TOOL’s collective quality is needed.
However, as many music journalists have pointed out in their retrospection's, TOOL has no bad releases. Each of their four albums, and one EP, are as close to perfect alternative metal albums as one band could get.
With songs ranging from juvenile to transcendental, TOOL are not only a very special band, they are one of the few bands to come out of the post-grunge era with a legitimate level of prestige. I have been a TOOL fan ever since early middle school, and they are one of the few bands that have gotten better as I've gotten older.
With their recent release on streaming platforms and the unveiling of their new album on Aug. 30, I can only hope a newer generation can see what I see. So come ride the spiral to the end and learn to swim with the best the band has to offer.
4. ‘Undertow’ (1993)
TOOL’s debut record is not where most people start in the discography. Personally, I think the reason for that is this album was when the band was still very much connected to the alternative metal scene of the early ‘90s. The contributions of people like Henry Rollins, of Black Flag and Rollins band, are just one example of the influence the scene had on this album. That being said, this is not a copycat album. There is originality all over it, with the length of the songs being one original aspect. This album is for those looking for a very straightforward rock album with little in the way of frills and is more groovy, dark and hard than most released the same year. However, it would not be until the sophomore album that TOOL came into what would make them legends.
Favorite tracks: “Prison Sex,” “Bottom,” “4o”
3. ‘10,000 Days’ (2006)
I have a lot more respect and admiration for this album than most TOOL fans. TOOL’s last full length album is a deeply personal record that deals directly in the death and suffering of lead singer Maynard James Kennan’s mother, the passive enjoyment of real life violence, hypocrisy in the church and religion, among other things. Despite the dark theme, some of the band’s catchiest songs and most daring vocals land on this album, The one-two punch of “Vicarious” and “Jambi” at the start of the album are enough to get anyone to jump in the pit. However, the album is still very personal and slows down quite a bit. All of TOOL’s releases are over an hour long, but “10,000 Days” is one that feels the lengthiest. The only thing separating this album from the top two is the lack of balance that seemed very much present on the next two albums. I am also a giant Alex Grey fan, which may explain why I adore this album.
Favorite tracks: “Vicarious,” “Wings for Marie,” “Right in Two”
2. ‘Ænima’ (1996)
Like choosing between two of my children, TOOL’s 1996 sophomore record Ænima grabs this spot. The critical turning point in the band's career, this time around they have kept part of their grunge-influenced sound but also picked up much more interesting takes on songwriting and have incorporated more experimental structure. The lyrics range from very direct and literal to almost impossible to get a reading on and are some of the bands most iconic. Songs like “Stinkfist” and the title track are impossible to get out of the head of any TOOL fan. This album is also when the guitar tone becomes much more in line with something the band would be identified with. A kind of dark and wobbly tone that is almost gothic psychedelia. It is the band’s most consistent album and is basically perfect as metal albums go. And as much as I adore this record, there's obviously one better. Just by a hair, though.
Favorite tracks: Literally the entire album
1. ‘Lateralus’ (2001)
“Lateralus” is the obvious pick, but I really couldn't bring myself to pick any other. There’s no other album in TOOL’s discography that encapsulates their sound better than their third album. Dealing directly with transcending human thought and going beyond, “Lateralus” sounded nothing like any other metal album at the time. Beautifully blending progressive rock, metal, ambient and psychedelic rock, “Lateralus” is what makes TOOL who they are. It is the only record in their discography that has a cohesive vision through its hour-and-16-minute run time. While the others have very much concrete feelings, there is still one or two songs that break the mold. “Lateralus” is a deliberate psychedelic ride through the human psyche. Ride the spiral to the end, everyone.
Favorite tracks: “Lateralus,” “Disposition,” “Ticks and Leeches,” “Schism,” “Parabol/Parabola,” “The Grudge”