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Tool - Opiate (EP) CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

2.85 | 242 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars I may not know much (my wife would agree enthusiastically with that statement of fact) but I do know a unique sound when I hear it and Tool positively has it. While they may not make it into the upper half of my list of my favorite musical entities I have a lot of admiration for them due to their stubborn refusal to conform and be like every other metallic-hued band out there and for being able to present a fresh motif that's unlike anyone else's. I bought, intently listened to and favorably reviewed 'Lateralus' several years ago but the older I get the less I'm able to handle their intensity on a regular basis so I sort of respect them from afar if you catch my drift. However, I aim to eventually indulge in every album they've made out of principle so it only made sense for me to start from the raw beginning. I've found over the years that you can discover a lot about a group by reading about and hearing how they got started so I recently investigated their first foray into the music biz, their '92 EP called 'Opiate.'

As we all know, that early 90s era in rock & roll was dominated overwhelmingly for better or worse by the grunge movement so I was curious to see how much of that phenomenon fertilized their roots. Within seconds of the opening song, 'Sweat,' I could tell that the effect was minimal because Tool seemed to have no intention of being trendy or hip. The tune sports an extremely menacing metal riff stuffed into a 6/8 time signature pocket (with a few variations thrown in) and is strikingly invigorating. The crispness of Danny Carey's drumming is instantly noticeable and really stands out but, alas, one can't overlook the demo quality of the recording for long. The whole thing is rather mid-rangey and that common tenderfoot scout malady detracts from all of the numbers' potential. With 'Hush' the tightness of the band is on full display, testifying to their innate ability to meld and their dedication to their craft. I give singer Maynard James Keenan mucho kudos for not resorting to unintelligible growling or primordial screams to get his point across, as well. My motto is: If you can sing, SING! 'Part of Me' is next, a strong riff-based rocker. These kinds of songs can grow tedious in a hurry in the hands of untalented amateurs but Tool makes it intriguing by steering the tune through a series of unorthodox patterns. They dare to be progressive, in other words. Nonetheless, despite their commendable audacity, their youthful inexperience as songwriters bleeds through the track's tough veneer and they never take it to the next level. Having said that, though, it's plain to see and hear that they had something brand new to offer the world. The seeds were germinating.

The two live cuts that follow were, according to my brief research, recorded at only their second public show and, as such, are more than passable considering. The atmosphere surrounding 'Cold and Ugly' suggests that there was a plethora of headbanging going on in the room at the time. The band's inherent power is evident and, for an in-club taping, their smoldering ferocity was captured quite well. What sticks out most is the group's remarkable cohesiveness even if the number itself is less than memorable. 'Jerk-Off' is a straight-ahead pile-driving metal sledgehammer and it's finally at this late juncture that I do detect a grungy slant in the song's presentation, very understandable in light of what was happening on planet Earth in '92. Unfortunately, this track doesn't age well because of that particular taint. I know all too well that guitar solos were not welcome in that time frame but I would've enjoyed hearing what Adam Jones could've produced by vamping freely in the venue's supercharged environment. 'Opiate' marks a return to the studio enclave and, in contrast, I find the dynamics involved in this tune to be much more engaging and the song offers subtle hints about what is to come in their budding career. The number has a score of imaginative facets and changes of focus to pique a progger's interest and the wild ending is a fury. After a long pause you encounter a weird hidden track, 'The Gaping Lotus of Experience,' a short piece that's slightly psychedelic in a Doors sort of way and starkly different from the rest of the disc's contents. No harm, no foul.

I've read that this is one of the more successful EPs in history in that, to date, it has sold over 1.5 million copies in the USA alone. Yowza! That's astounding and I'm sure can be directly tied to their huge, dedicated fan base. I'm a bit of a musical archaeologist and it's always fun for me to hear how artists and/or bands started out even if what I dig up is either bland, ordinary or downright awful. In the case of Tool it's blatantly apparent that they were onto something special from the get go. Their rather quick mastery of recording techniques (that showed up on their first full-length album only a year later) propelled them into the limelight in short order and the rest is history. 'Opiate' is better than many debuts but I can't recommend it to anyone except the most fanatic of followers. It shows them to be a diamond in the rough. 2.2 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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