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Tool - Ænima CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

4.09 | 906 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Aenima' is a force of nature, a relentless sequence of hammerblows nailing the credibility of progressive metal up for all to see, an expression of passion allied with intelligence, sardonic wit, technical ability and a unique vision to give us something seldom approached since the heady days of the 1970s.

The TOOL sound bursts forth here full-formed. Crushing bass and guitar riffs backed by superb drumming (for example, the instrumental break in 'Pushit'), all topped off by James Maynard Keenan's raw power. The secret, however, is the beast that it TOOL's sound is kept on a leash, let free only when the song demands it. 'Stinkfist' is a superior but standard rocker, but the pyrotechnics begin with the next track, 'Eulogy'. The vocals are concealed by distortion until the song has built, then Keenan yells: 'Don't you step out of line!' and the beast breaks loose, until the raw power eviscerates the listener in the last few seconds of the song.

Every song here earns its place. 'H' is a frightening song about trying to stop the cycle of abuse. Keenan was abused by his own father, and the 'snake behind [him] hisses', encouraging him to abuse his own son (the H of the title). Listen to how the music saves itself for those moments of terror as he contemplates what he might become.

Well, after that we need a break, and one of the things TOOL do so well here is let us come down when we need it. A few seconds' pause and we're into '46 and 2'. TOOL raises the bar again with an utterly compelling song so representative of the sound they've pioneered. An ambiguous lyric, it traverses the territory around the idea that humanity is evolving into something better (46 and 2 chromosomes) - yet change comes through the shadow. With TOOL even such abstract ideas come down to the personal: 'I've been wallowing in my own chaotic and insecure delusions'. Great stuff for a prog rock album! And the music is relentless; hammer hammer hammer at you. Don't think for a moment you're going to escape...

Every song is a highlight. The anger and scorn in the fragment 'Message to Harry Manback' is exceeded in the truly monstrous 'Hooker With A Penis,' surely the ultimate rebuttal to anyone accusing their favourite band of selling out. After 'Intermission/Jimmy' comes the curious and brilliant 'Die Eier Von Satan', a chilling representation of the Third Reich - or is it? No, it's a recipe, and our preconceptions are challenged once again. 'Pushit' lumbers along like a brontosaurus, guitars like dentist's drills, unpleasant lyrics canvassing dominant/submissive love through the metaphor of a blowjob, then after another brief respite comes the absolute highlight, the (almost) title track. Six minutes of unparalleled profanity-laced vitriol spewed out against the California Movie Machine and associated west coast lifestyle using Bill Hicks' old Arizona Bay comedy routine to invoke an earthquake and the destruction of it all. 'Learn to swim!' This track deservedly (and not without some irony) won TOOL a Grammy.

See, this is what prog is all about. Not just unusual time signatures and symphonic arrangements - yes, TOOL has some of this - but an attitude, a political stance, a sense of humour, technical ability, and above all something to say. TOOL are not my favourite band - not by any stretch of the imagination - but I fail to see how this enormous slab of musical relevance can be ignored by anyone.

There's one more song of consequence, a track that some might call the most proggy ('Third Eye', a song examining the possibilities of a way forward through drugs) but in my view 'Aenima' is such a finely crafted work the tracks become indivisible. There are few albums that transcend music and become works of art in their own right. This is one of them, an album without a moment of weakness, and it will still be relevant in a century's time. Not their most progressive work (that's reserved for their next work) but in my opinion far and away their most important.

russellk | 5/5 |


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