Friday, May 8, 2015

CD Odyssey Disc 735: Tool

I just finished watching the New York Rangers stay alive for another game. I promised myself I wouldn’t watch the playoffs when the Bruins didn’t get in, but I find myself motivated to watch the Blackhawks, Habs and Rangers all get eliminated. As of tonight, they are all still alive. Damn.

Disc 735 is…. 10,000 Days
Artist: Tool

Year of Release: 2006

What’s up with the Cover?  Tool simply can’t resist freaky covers. Like Pink Floyd’s “The Division Bell,” the cover of “10,000 Days” is a cognitive illusion, where you can see the central face, or you can see the two faces looking away from each other, but it is hard to see both at once.

This cover also comes with a couple of weird lenses that are used when you open up the CD booklet to turn a series of pictures into three dimensional scenes. The scenes are mostly band members sitting in turn of the century style offices or laboratories. However, since this is Tool there are also some ‘freaky as hell’ scenes. These include a skinless corpse impaled by pins, a skinless corpse wielding pinwheels of fire and a human skull with a fetus gestating in it. Thanks, Tool, for keeping it real. Real freaky.

How I Came To Know It: I was already an avowed Tool fan in 2006 so this was just me buying their new album when it came out.

How It Stacks Up:  We have five Tool albums. I would put 10,000 days in dead in the middle at number three. Since this represents the final Tool album in my collection, here’s a recap:

  1. Undertow:  5 stars (reviewed at Disc 131)
  2. Lateralus:  4 stars (reviewed at Disc 622)
  3. 10,000 Days:  4 stars (reviewed right here)
  4. Opiate:  4 stars (reviewed at Disc 425)
  5. Aenima:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 485)

Ratings: 4 stars

“10,000 Days” is yet another master class in creepy brilliance by Tool. Like most of their records, it has the ability to deliver progressive metal riffs that draw you in like a warm bath and yet are so infused with disturbing overtones that you feel like you are taking that bath in the Bates motel.

For the most part I listened to “10,000 Days” on walks to work in the spring sunshine. You might think that this would take away from the creep factor, but it just made it all the more troubling. Seeing the sun all around you while listening to Maynard James Keenan’s dark lyrics and the off-kilter beats of Danny Carey’s drums just made the sunshine ominous. Every dappled shadow seems to hold some ill-portent and it is was delicious fun to indulge the fears that lurked in my lizard brain from the safety of a sunny stroll.

Thinking of how much more interesting Nightwish was to me after dark and with a few drinks in me I had planned to walk home from the pub last night using “10,000 Days” as my soundtrack. I ended up finding a cab right outside the restaurant so I took that home instead. I’d like to think it was simply the convenience, but maybe I was a bit scared to take Tool on that way. When I did get home I looked out on the dark and listened to “Intension” just to see what I had missed.

Intension” is a slow mood piece designed to unnerve you, and it worked well, but I still felt it wasn’t as impactful after dark. I think Tool’s music calls for the juxtaposition of the normal with the abnormal in order to work, and because of that sunshine just draws out the weird factor better.

Musically, the band is in top form. “Vicarious” and “The Pot” are both groove infused tracks that show off the brilliance of drummer Carey, particularly “Vicarious” which half-way through has the most intricate and attention getting drum solo I can remember since the last time I listened to Rush's Neil Peart.

Vicarious” also has quintessential Tool lyrics. The song is an indictment of the human fascination in the suffering of others. It is actually darker than just an indictment. Keenan makes it also about acceptance:

“'cause I need to watch things die
From a distance
Vicariously I, live while the whole world dies
You all need it too, don't lie”

A really messed up acceptance, mind you.

Tool loves to explore the troubled edges of our minds, where the conscious mind and the subconscious mind lap at each other’s shores, and madness lurks where they overlap.

On “Right in Two” Keenan sings about the dark impulse of humanity to always want to divide and to fight. This is the cursed gift of consciousness to Keenan – the gift of realizing we are apart from one another. And how does he see us using that?

“Monkey killing monkey killing monkey.
Over pieces of the ground.
Silly monkeys give them thumbs.
They make a club.
And beat their brother, down.
How they survive so misguided is a mystery.”

This reminded me of Roger Waters’ “Amused to Death” album except it was way less amusing. That’s bad because, “Amused to Death” is not at all amusing.

Songs like “The Pot” are so catchy that they can’t help but define the record, but the real gem on “10,000 Days” is “Rosetta Stoned.” It is about a man abducted by aliens or simply high on LSD and thinking he was abducted by aliens. We are never sure. Ordinarily this might not matter, except the aliens have allegedly told him the secret to avoiding humanities destruction and he was too high to remember it. It is this kind of tragedy of uncertain perception that Tool revels in.

The album drags ever so slightly in places, and at 75 minutes I found it a bit overlong, but the general brilliance of the high points more than make up for it, and the dragging sections are well used to set up the set pieces.

If you are new to Tool, “10,000 Days” is a good gateway album to their music and while it isn’t my favourite that is only because of how consistently brilliant these guys are.

Best tracks: Vicarious, The Pot, Rosetta Stoned, Right in Two

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