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Tool Undertow album cover
3.25 | 683 ratings | 57 reviews | 14% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1993

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Intolerance (4:54)
2. Prison Sex (4:56)
3. Sober (5:06)
4. Bottom (7:13)
5. Crawl Away (5:29)
6. Swamp Song (5:31)
7. Undertow (5:21)
8. 4° (6:02)
9. Flood (7:45)
10. Disgustipated (15:47)

Total Time 68:04

Line-up / Musicians

- Maynard James Keenan / lead vocals
- Adam Jones / guitar, sitar (4)
- Paul D'Amour / bass
- Danny Carey / drums

- Henry Rollins / vocals (4)

Releases information

Artwork: Adam Jones with Tool (concept)

CD Zoo Entertainment ‎- 72445-11052-2 (1993, US)
CD Zoo Entertainment ‎- 72445-11073-2 (1993, US) Censored Artwork barcode cover

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
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TOOL Undertow ratings distribution

(683 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(14%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(35%)
Good, but non-essential (41%)
Collectors/fans only (8%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

TOOL Undertow reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by frenchie
4 stars Undertow is tool's first full length album after 1992's debut "Opiate" EP. The album shows a clear improvement in sound and production. The band started to settle for lengthier pieces and more epic soundscapes. Maynard James Keenan's vocals are excellent on this album and show sorrow and anger as he switched between agonising screams and beautiful melodies. Adam Jones is able to show off his excellent guitar skills and the drumming here is flawless.

The opening track is a good way of kicking things off and easily pulls you into the album. "Prisonsex" has a funky siberian khatru style intro that leads into revolting lyrics "sh!t, blood and cum on my hands", and shows a more energetic yet melodic side to the band. "Sober" is a masterpiece and the best song on the album, lyrics about Jesus are told by some of Maynards most powerful vocals and this is musically incredible.

"Bottom" features Henry Rollins to help out on vocals and is an interesting and lengthy song. The title track is a real wonder on this album along with "flood" and "four degrees". These tracks continue to show off the faultless musicianship that the band have built up. "Disgustipated" is a lengthy tag along which includes sounds of crickets and recitals from the bible and is a percular track. It doesn't drag down the album or make it better really. Undertow is more for tool fans but for those starting off to listen to them i would recommend "aenima" and "lateralus" first.

Review by James Lee
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The early 90s were a time in music when the long-dismissed threads of punk and metal finally achieved a more accepted prominence in the popular music scene. From the Seattle bands to SMASHING PUMPKINS to NINE INCH NAILS, heavy and often angry songs could be seen at the top of the charts- a welcome relief for many who during the 80s had to settle for metal and/ or go underground for music with a little more bite. "Undertow" came to me when I was doing college radio, and I first played "Sober" in a heavy set that also featured PRIMUS, JANE'S ADDICTION, SOUNDGARDEN, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, and NOMEANSNO- pretty serious competition. Each band did different things with heavy guitars, tight and tricky rhythm sections, and immediately identifiable vocal qualities. "Sober" got my interest (and a lot of airplay), and the album became a minor sensation. A number of my hardcore punk friends liked the lyrics, which made sense- a lot of the punk bands survived solely on their shouted message rather than any distinctiveness of the music, and Maynard took his cue from the 'smartpunk' school (no coincidence that there's a Rollins connection). Many of my metal friends liked it too, which surprised me as they were generally suspicious of anything with the slightest hint of 'artsy-ness'. Personally, after listening to the album several times in its entirety, I felt a bit let down. It seemed quite similar from song to song, the vocals seemed lacking in variety, and the playing- while well beyond reproach- didn't really give me anything I hadn't heard other bands do with better results.

So then ten years passed, and the 'nu-metal' movement increasingly claimed the territory that the 'alternative' music had cleared. KORN and LIMP BIZKIT (and several hundred other bands) took the heaviness straight from METALLICA's unexpected MTV popularity and threw in a smattering of suburban white hip-hop. TOOL (along with fellow creepers RADIOHEAD) successfully rode the wake of this current, refining and exploring their more individual sound; new fans flocked to the sound while old fans almost never had cause to lose faith. Meanwhile, I was rediscovering my teenage love for progressive rock, and was surprised to discover that many prog fans considered TOOL to be, if not an official prog band, at least a decent modern simile. Being in a constant state of self-doubt, I decided to dust off ol' "Undertow" and see what the passage of a decade had done to my impression of the album.

Predictably, it sounds a little more dated than it did in '93 but also a lot more raw than I remembered. Nobody else really sounds like them, and they are not obviously derivative, which logically should result in a unique sound. Unfortunately (for me, if not for TOOL fans) that specific sound is really all there is to the band- it's an old cliche, but if you've heard one of their songs, you know exactly what to expect from every other song. I can discern more shades of expression now in Maynard's voice, but it is still mainly a one-trick pony, going from a flat almost-speaking tone to a ragged, swooping yell in a similar fashion on most songs. The often highly-regarded lyrics have a self- consumed, tortured poetic pose- peppered with some naughty words to prove that he's 'raw'- but little in the way of thought-provoking concepts or meaningful depth (hey kids, and critics: "deep" and "weird" are not always interchangeable). The individual tracks do have more distinctiveness than I once gave them credit for; however, I still believe that a lot of the sections could be swapped between songs with little appreciable difference. I still think that "Disgustipated" is more of a 'messing around in the studio' throw-away track than a bit of conceptual genius. I'll testify firsthand TOOL puts on a great live show, but somehow a significant amount of that energy isn't forthcoming when listening to their recordings.

Ultimately, I respect the band and wish them all the success they've earned, but "Undertow" is still not enough to get me excited. I can't really consider the album progressive rock (or even prog-metal) despite their occasional use of unusual rhythms, but they are undoubtedly 'progressive' for the modern heavy scene. A lukewarm but objective, aprreciative three stars from me; you don't have to go too far to hear them, and you'll know from the first few seconds whether TOOL is your kind of band or not. Maybe in another decade I'll pull the album out again.

Review by Zitro
3 stars This is the first Tool album that excites me (Opiate is just Metal with only one good track). This album creates a very dark album of pain, anguish, and hate. The lyrics are really good, and you should pay attention to them. For example, Prison Sex tells a story about abuse. This album is not progressive rock! It is a mixture of Alt.Rock, Heavy Metal, and a new dark sound.

Intolerance begins the album as a solid alternative rock/metal song with good guitar riffing. Prison Sex is an early classic from the band. It contains good guitar riffing, nice bass playing, and a very dark tone. Sober is another solid alt. rock track that anyone can like. Bottom is a longer song, and has a mellow section which of course is amazing (Tool never fails in making interesting mellow sections). This song has a similar style and structure as the better 'Push It'. Crawl Away is not very good unfortunately, and fails to make interesting riffs/melodies. Swamp Song is a typical angry Tool song and it is good. The Title Track is worth of being the song with the name of the album, and in my opinion is the strongest song of the album. The one and only reason is because of that led-zeppelin-like soaring guitar riff. 4 Degrees has brilliant musicianship, and shows hints of mastery on musical compositions. Flood is a long and slightly progressive heavy track, but unfortunately is not very impressive. Disgustipated is interesting but incredibly flawed! It starts promising with the political attack (or religious attack), the mesmerizing drumming, and the repetitive whispering of 'this is necessary' 'life feeds on life ... feeds on life ... feeds on life ... feeds on' 'this is necessary' and so on. I really love that section, but when it finishes, there is about 8 minutes of silence until you hear a recorded message.

1. Intolerance (6/10) 2. Prison Sex (7/10) 3. Sober (6.5/10) 4. Bottom - Henry Rollins (7/10) 5. Crawl Away (3.5/10) 6. Swamp Song (6/10) 7. Undertow (7.5/10) 8. 4° (7/10) 9. Flood (5/10) 10. Disgustipated (8.5/10) 8-minute silence (0/10)

My score : C

Review by OpethGuitarist
2 stars Tool's more or less "breakthrough" album. This got them on the board and made them a recognizeable band. That being said, this album is very unpolished and not the masterpiece that Aenima and Lateralus are.

The sounds here are very heavy, and there are a lot of very dark sounds. This is more or less an album with a depressing sound to it. That being said, the album is very dull to me. Sober is one of the most overrated and uninteresting songs in the metal genre, right up there with Enter Sandman as down right dull. This album helped Tool gain an audience for what was to be their magnum opus, Aenima.

This album has a few strong points, but overall it lacks the "it" factor of a good prog album and later Tool albums.

Review by NJprogfan
3 stars Tool's first proper album starts out with three awesome tracks, the aggressive "Intolerence" which has a catchy refrain, "Prison Sex" which grooves and the monster hit "Sober" which showcases Maynard's vocal range. The middle section of the album reminds me of Pantera, a kind of swampy, southern style metal. Maynard's voice has a twang to it if you listen hard, and on this album his voice is more upfront as compared to the following three. Things pick up with "4 Degrees" and especially "Flood" with hints of the sounds we'll hear on the next albums. The album ends with a 15 minute track that bores the heck out of me, it's more of an experiment of spoken word, noise and a bit of chest- beating pontificating, not the greatest way to end it but at least they dare to try something different. I enjoy this disc, but compared to the following two album, it pales. It's more grunge/metal with a bit of progginess splashed willie-nillie. 3 stars for effort though.
Review by 1800iareyay
3 stars Undertow is Tool's first full-length album, and the band wasted no time setting themselves apart from every other band on the planet. "Intolerance" opens the album recalling Keenan's experiences at Westpoint. "Prison Sex" is distilled genius and the catchy music belies the disturbing imagery. "Sober" is probably Tool's most recognizable song, and it's catchy chorus and riff make this their most accessible track. "Bottom" features renaissance punk Henry Rollins. "Crawl Away" is a bit emotional, though not as much as on later efforts. "Swamp Song"is incfedibly heavy, and the title track deals with addiction. "4 Degrees" is rather funny, describing how one orifice is warmer than the other. "Flood" is the most progreesive piece on the album, but it's mainly good alt. metal. After this, we get to listen to a massive number of seconds-long tracks of near-silence simply to bump up the number of tracks to 69. "Disgustipated" closes the album with an attack on oraganized religion.

Tool is ever bit as socially aware as their alternative metal contemporaries Rage Against the Machine, but they bring a level of experimentation to the mix. The band sounds like King Crimson meets Black Sabbath, and the similarities to existing bands end there. Aenima is the place to start for Tool, but fans must own this release.

Grade: C+

Review by Certif1ed
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Tool's first studio album presents a very serious sounding collection of riff-based songs, polished up with pristine production, and a tight focus on textural and rhythmic development that hints at a generation of Nu-Metal bands that were to follow in their wake. Lyrically, Tool show a social awareness of the darker side with

"Intolerance" - somewhere between Black Sabbath and Placebo, there is a definite air of progression about the riffing, which is broken down and built up through the verse chorus structure, with a new AC/DC inspired idea kicking off a return to the main riff for an interesting bridge that features a repeated chant and Barrett-esque plectrum slides up and down the guitar neck. The concentration on a single riff idea with interesting jammed ideas arising from it gives it the feel of psychedelic rock.

A sound effect starts "Prison Sex", which then launches into a funked-up Sabbath style riff. The repetition in this song cements its metal roots - and again, Tool use the trick of breaking down the riff for the bridge.

"Sober" kicks off with a fullsome bass, and Radiohead-esque guitar work - but all centers around a rythmic idea on a single chord.

We get to "Bottom", and, as expected, it's more of the same - the main "problem" I have is that every song is in the same tonal area, so that once you've heard one song, you've pretty much heard everything they have to offer.

"Flood" is where things start to get more interesting - but a song it remains.

"Disgustipated", the closest thing to Prog on the entire album, begins with some very interesting rhythmic and ambient ideas that accompany an apparently comical preacher. Once the preacher has finished, the next section of the piece seems to be based on the crowd rain chant from "Woodstock". A rhythmic bridge leads to a texturally enhanced re- iteration of the chant before the crickets start up, preceeding a spoken section - the words to which don't really grab me, but that's a personal thing.

However, from a progressive point of view, there are no "exotic" instrumentations, (even counting the quasi-Sitar sound at the beginning of, and the Tabla and other somewhat vaguely Eastern sounds in 4 Degrees - the only really different song on here), no big surprises, and no development of musical form, especially compared to more adventurous bands like, say, Radiohead. There is, in fact, closer comparison to grunge bands, particularly Kurt Cobain's Nirvana - especially in the 5 minutes of crickets chirping included in "Disgustipated", which reminds me of the silence before the "hidden track" on "Nevermind" - and Rage Against the Machine.

Hence my marking is, as ever, based on the Prog Rock quotient - as a work of Progressive anything, this offers little interest. This might well be your bag - and the riffs that Tool write rock very hard, and the breakdowns and use of plectrum sliding and feedback creates nice effects that accentuate tempo changes. This is [i]a[/i] way that metal developed, with easily traceable roots, not a sea-change in the genre.

Any fan of post 1990s metal should find something to like in here, but fans of Prog Rock may wonder what the fuss is about. "Disgustipated" shows potential for later albums, however.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is the last album that I purchased from TOOL and in fact this is the band's debut album. Luckily, I listened to other albums prior to having this one. My favorite albums from TOOL are "10000 Days" and "Lateralus". This debut album is not as strong as the follow-up albums but it still show 80% of the band's identity. Even, I would say that TOOL is the band that never changed much on the music style they produce. I can see clear similarity of this album with what came out later with "Aenima", "Lateralus" and "10,000 Days". The main characteristics of TOOL are: music with heavy grooves and beats, screaming vocal with heavy rhythms showcasting a tight combination of bass guitar and drum.

In terms of composition, it's good to know that the band has strong songwriting with musical approach that put emphasize on heavy groove, distorted guitar and heavy rhythm section through dynamic bass lines and dazzling drum work. Take example of track 3 "Sober" where the band tries to craft the ambient of spacey music overlaid with distorted guitar effects, screaming vocal and variation of tone ups and downs that stir your emotions. The guitar solo in the ending part of the track is quite interesting especially when it is followed with excellent music riffs demonstrating bass guitar work. Even when the next track "Bottom" where Henry Rollins takes vocal job, the ambient is being continued with further guitar solo that sounds a bit like U2 guitar style. I think in this track Rollins doing his job quite well even though I prefer Maynard James Keenan's voice. Again, through this track the bass lines are quite dominant.

Overall, this is a good album with good composition especially in songwriting. The key for this album is not on melody but it's much more to do with groove and textures. As the band has progressed, this album seems like the strong foundation for them to move forward because the music composed here is what the band use as reference for their follow-up albums. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Review by Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars At least they got out of that grumbly metal undertow eventually.

Tool's first album is a far cry from what they would eventually become. It is, in fact, a fairly good metal album, but that's not what we prog heads are after. Here is a collection of fairly straightforward metal tunes, all quite basic and unremarkable. There are a couple longer songs, but apparently they haven't figured out how to master it yet. In the end this is a fairly forgettable album that's at it's best while it's not in your cd player.

While it would be fairly redundant to remark upon every song on this album, there are some high and some (especially) low points.

The album's highest points revolve around the sound that would eventually become the band's main sound. The title track UNDERTOW is a good example of this, but hey, Tool's title tracks are usually the best songs off the albums, as is INTOLERANCE (even if it is a very basic metal song). SOBER is a good example of Keenan's vocals as a leading force in the band, and shows a good range in his voice while proving that there's a lot of emotion to be had there. There's a couple other fairly okay songs, but these are the standouts.

Low points...

DISGUSTIPATED was expected to be the highpoint on this one, showing up at 15 minutes. This is a track which is actually just some chanting followed by minutes of silence. This is especiialy mean to do to prog fans who love to hear long stuff, especially from this band. Those of us who now have the ability of hindsight would look forward to this track with all kinds of anticipation after hearing songs like 10,000 Days and Third Eye. While it's not fair to attack a band for not producing the caliber of work that they would make a decade later this track is still a disappointment to prog fans. PRISON SEX, the single off this album is another song that's not especially great. Metal. Early 90s Metal at that. Nothing good or progressive there.

In the end this is an album that simply does not have much to offer. It's few good points are quite good, however, and that's what saves this album a bit and gives it 2 stars. However, as stated before, if you're not a huge Tool fan, just skip this one. Only recommended for metal-heads and Tool fans. This is definately (thank god) not a sign of things to come.

Review by JLocke
3 stars Tool is my favorite band. They have also made my favorite album of all time, but in order to truly enjoy the progressive masterpieces that their last three albums have been, one must admit that UNDERTOW is in no way, shape or form, a prog rock album. It is grunge. While the Tool guys would later produce some of the most original music since Pink Floyd, this era of their career was what got them recognized, nothing more. Maynard James Keenan has always been an amazing vocalist, and he displays some of his rawest, angriest work to date. These were the years when Tool's music was very garage in it's tone and production qualities (Which Dave Bottrill would remedy on the album following this), when the songs were shorter on the average, and the lyrics were very hatefull and bitter in subject matter, often eluding to potential bouts of abuse in Keenan's past, though it hasn't been confirmed.

Most of the songs on UNDERTOW are straightforward. A little too straightforward, quite honestly, as the lyrics have yet to become as intelligent and obscure as they are on the following albums. Yet, this is also a clear transitional period for the band, as we do get a taste of some ''proggy'' tracks on the record (Most notably the title track and the epic ''Disgustipated'', which features nearly seven minutes of nothing but distant cricket chirps), but not enough to really make this a progressive album as a whole.

So, is this album recommended? No, not really. I think any prog fan who wants to get into Tool should definately steer clear of this one, as well as the previous EP ''Opiate'', simply because it may confuse them as to why Tool is even on this website. If you want to experience Tool for the first time, I would suggest either of the following two albums, because what came to pass after UNDERTOW would change the lives of listeners (Including myself) forever. I am so glad that Tool changed their direction after this effort, as they are the reason I am a prog fan today. This album is good, but it isn't really a good prog album, so three stars should suffice.

Review by The Pessimist
2 stars I really do not like this album for a number of reasons really, but the main two reasons are because it's not melodic and it's definitely NOT prog. Intolerance is merely a metal song with pretentious vision; Prison Sex, despite the curiously disgusting lyrics, is an OK song, just listenable; Sober is the only song worth buying this album for, as it is very good; Bottom is too lengthy and not to my tastes; Crawl Away is aweful; Swamp is OK; Undertow is aweful; 4° I have no opinion on; Flood is the most interesting song, nevertheless, still not prog; Disgustipated is a waste o space and time. I cannot listen to this song at all, it boring and really really unmelodic and tasteless. The only thing promising about this album is the drumming, which demonstrates greater drumming to be expected. As mentioned above, the only real good song is Sober, as it's a very famous Tool song. 2stars for being not prog at all, but having a pinch of original and decent material.
Review by obiter
4 stars Oh come on this is great!!! This is a bit of a retrospective. It's all there. What is there not to like about this album if you are into the genre? For the uninitiated we're in a Soundgarden ballpark (but way out on left field)

Intolerance introduces the listener to a sound which will become characteristic of this impressive outfit. The lyrics are still a bit unrefined and unsubtle but then we're hardly expecting Seamus Heaney here are we? After all Seamus

Prison Sex. A big one to captivate the audience. GROAN (sorry couldn't resist that one)

Sober: measured, forceful, liberally sprinkled with expletives. For me this is where Tool leave the oppo in their wake. Top notch music and thoughtful non-patronising lyrics:(I am just a worthless liar/I am just an imbecile/I will only complicate you/Trust in me and fall as well/I will find a centre in you/I will chew it up and leave/I will work to elevate you/just enough to bring you down)

Unfortunately Bottom is not quite in the same league (My piss and moans are fuel/I set my head on fire/And smell my soul is burning). And, to be honest musically it is a little bit more

I really like Crawl Away. Difficult break up? Get bit messed up, angry and p****d off. understandable, and a lot easier and cathartic than listening to Steve Wilson whining on for 5 albums.

Oh baby, for the bass players out there (and I don't mean the Hadrien Feraud types) the intro to Swamp Song is sweet. Simple, easy to play but it just oozes and drips sex. Nothing to do with the lyrics or the song but all you bass players will know exactly what I'm talking about. This line just has IT. Can't remember anything about the rest of the song except the rest of the band have to do some stops and a wee middle 8 type thing (turns into a bit of a middle 48) to prove they're still there, but we all know that everyone is just waiting for the line to come back. And like all good things it comes to those who wait. Gorgeous.

Undertow itself is a great Rollin track. Guitar more to the fore. Slightly edgier sound and vocal attack. Percussion is in there rolling crescendos. There's the obligatory chugging grunge guitar although amusingly there's a little play with timing that takes it out of the cliché.

4 degrees interesting nice rhythm. there's just that tad more going on here than the standard grunge to set it apart.

Flood ... sorry nah disappointingly heavy end to an otherwise excellent debut.

not quite the end because of the very weird Disgutipated. Yes, well pity the carrots I say. there's a several minute cricket song with a spoken vocal at the end: sort of the hidden track type thing. I can't really be bothered with that.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Toolīs debut album Undertow really started a lavine in the alternative rock/ metal circles. Itīs a highly influential album and lots of bands cite Undertow as a big influence. For me it wasnīt that big of an experience at first. I listened to Undertow a couple of years after itīs release and discarded it as grunge without melody. The problem was that I was not very sensitive to rythm at the time and I didnīt understand that a big part of Toolsīs appeal lies in their rythm section. A couple of years later I was curious and listened to Undertow again and this time everything fell into place. The complex rythms, the subdued melodies, and the overall depressive mood just made sense to me this time. Today I think this is one of Toolīs finest and most memorable moments and I think Undertow is an excellent album.

The music is grunge inspired but with a lot more emphazis on rythm. Tool is a very dynamic band and can go from almost silence to noisy escapades. This would develop more on subsequent releases but here on Undertow it is used most effectively. The songs are some of the most accessible in Toolīs discography and you can even sing along to some of them. The first three songs are all killer tracks that I enjoy very much. Bottom is one of those highly dynamic songs and Crawl Away and Swamp song are also great songs. Itīs with the title track that you hear the grunge influence most clearly and Iīm thinking Badmoterfinger by Soundgarden but donīt worry itīs only hints. The next song is also very good but with Flood I think they make an error when the intro to that song is drawn out and it becomes boring. The last song Disgustipated isnīt to my liking either and if you ask me they should have ended the album before Flood.

The musicianship is excellent and itīs great to hear that rock music can be played with such depth and compexity without losing itīs commercial appeal. In that respect Tool is pretty unique.

The production is not as heavy as on their later albums but I really enjoy this sound.

Iīm one of those Tool fans that thinks their two first album were the best and that they became a bit too experimental on Lateralus so after Ænima this is my favorite Tool album. There are so many emotions at play and with a singer like Maynard James Keenan both anger and despair is released upon the world in healthy doses. Undertow is a unique album and even though it has flaws itīs still excellent and deserves 4 stars.

Review by The Crow
3 stars The first real Tool album, after the good Opiate EP... And this is an excellent metal album! But a prog one? Let's see...

The style is similar than this previous EP, but of course with a better production and sound... And with more memorable songs, of course. The tracks are short, and far from the experimentation of later albums. The music is very riff oriented, and the style of the riffs reminds me to some nu-metal band of the beginning of the 90's, like Rage Against the Machine. Of course, Maynard James Keenan's personal voice is not rap... But the style of Undertow, in my opinion, is closer than nu-metal than progressive or experimental metal.

This special way of making music Tool has, was not really developed in Undertow... Except from some parts of songs like 4 Degrees, Bottom and the beginning of Flood, there are not too many experimental moments, just this amount of heavy riffing mixed with the wonderful Keenan's voice. This personal way of playing Adam Jones has, the experimentation, the crazy sounds... Are almost imposible to hear in Undertow. Just his typical riffing and thick sound. All these imaginative facts would come later, in Aenima and of course in the great Lateralus. The Danny Carey drums are also not so spectacular like in these albums...

But Undertow is an excellent metal album anyway... All the songs are good, and every one of them has something special. The great riffing of Intolerance, the whole Prison Sex track, the brilliant chorus of Sober, the extreme metal influenced Crawl Away, the carchy lyrics of Swamp Song... A bunch of really enjoyable metal tracks. But maybe not too interesting from the progressive point of view.

Best tracks: really, except the weird Disgustipated, I find good all the songs included in Undertow!

Conclusion: if you like the nu-metal style, but without the typical rap singing, and with bit more experimentation... Then Undertow is your album. But this is not the genuine Tool's style yet. The true original and innovative ideas would come later. But Undertow is a great metal album anyway... But if you are searching for something truly progressive or experimental, you'll hardly find it here.

ProgArchives rating:***1/2

Review by ProgBagel
2 stars Tool - 'Undertow' 2 stars

Comparing this to Opiate is superfluous, but I must.

This is a serious step-down from the debut EP. There is more of a grunge sound to this album then an alternative metal one, alternative is a genre still going strong where as grunge was born and died so quickly like disco. Regardless, Adam Jones and Maynard, the more critically claimed musicians of this band, really take a step down.

Adam Jones struck me as a pretty decent guitarist in some Tool songs, but his creative path had the shortest light of almost any guitarist I know of. Unlike on 'Opiate', he doesn't throw down some nice guitar riffs, but instead now creates one for the verse, and change the rhythm and dynamics on the same exact chord for the verse.come on now, is that progressive at all?

Maynard once again shows how he has such a limited range in his *supposed* perfect voice and singing talents. I'm surprised the band didn't make Maynard redo certain parts on the album. The end of 'Sober', parts in 'Crawl Away' and various other spots on the album.

Overall this album is really weak. The band does not develop their ideas and songs well like the archetypical prog band. Even the songs start to begin sounding the same. The only thing worthy on this album to listen to is 'Sober' which even has a 'Kashmir' like rhythm to it.

'Disgustipated' is one song that would carry on with Tool for the rest of their careers. That is, a useless song that just takes up space. Guess I just don't understand the higher artistic vision behind it (sarcasm).

Since I really don't bother listening to this band besides 'Aenima' or 'Lateralus' I noticed in 'Swamp Song', that they have the same exact riff in my favorite song by Tool called 'Third Eye'. Just what is going on with this band anyway?

After 'Sober' became a hit, Tool just needed a good marketing scheme and a 'troubled' targeted audience.

Review by jampa17
1 stars mmm... not even prog...

I buy this album on a discount in a cd store... I thought it would be interesting, so many people was talking about this mainsteam "prog" band., so I go and spin it like 3 times, then I get the picture why it was in discount... sure no one buy such a bad album... yes, this is not for a prog fan, mantain as far as you can of this album, please...

OK, I don't have any other experience with the rest of the productions of this band, but it's because of this album, that really let me down... I promise to never buy an album without check some songs before or something like that... so, what is wrong about it... let's see...

One, there's no sense at all in the music direction, you know, the songs are filled with little noises and post production efects that really do not bring nothing to the mix... The sound is horrible, seems a little low budget to me, but the problem is that it is intentional... you know, they seem to be too much under Grunge influential at that time, and I like Grunge, but this guys seem to not fit on that mood...

Two, there's no melody at all... the quality of the voice of this guy is horrible -at least in this album, because I like his work on A Perfect Circle-... and the band in general sound too much a "garage band"... Like they were just plugged in and record it below effects of a strange substance...

and last... because the atmosphere is so freaking though... everytime I tried to give the album a chance I always wanted to be out of all that low self estime, axious, dark moods that feel so dense and that don't take you to anywhere, just leave you there feeling pathetic about everything...

So, maybe I give them a shot sometime, but deffenitely not in this album... WARNING, stay away from it... maybe you can contaminain yourself if you stand near to it... one star...

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Back in the early 90's on a summer festival, I saw an amazing live show of a then unknown band named Tool. They started their show with the opening riff from Rush's Passage To Bangkok and obviously I've had a soft spot for them ever since.

Not really for this album though. After the festival, I systematically foraged record stores till this debut was finally available. I couldn't be more disappointed. None of the live energy of this band had been captured in the recording of this album. All songs sound like each others clone and the performance is so lifeless that things rarely get off the ground. Apart from the opener, only Sober and Swamp Song rise out above the unremarkable murk that surrounds them. Sober especially manages to build up quite a tension. Other material like Prison Sex may have become a hit but around the time of its release this had been done 100 times before by bands like Soundgarden and especially Mindfunk.

It always amazed me how Tool managed to become so popular. Not that they are not welcome to it, they are sincere musicians who always followed their heart. But I always thought them not really catchy enough for mainstream and not original and innovative enough for prog crowds. But as it turned out I'm very glad they introduced many youngsters to more challenging music and won many over to prog rock. But it would take Tool a few more years till they managed to record an album that sounded really convincing to me.

Review by JJLehto
3 stars Talk about a 180! Released just a year after their EP "Opiate" which was a very straightforward alternative metal work, "Undertow" is a pretty drastic change. While this album may always be compared, (unfavorably) to Tool's next 2 works...that is unfair since this came first. I won't review it in retrospect

While this work may not be prog metal, (alt metal? art rock? metal? We're still not sure) it is not your standard metal album. The album is heavy, but minimal. Gone are the lavish riffs of the 80's instead replaced with mainly chords, simple palm muted picking, and strange noises. Do not be fooled though. The 90's saw the birth of nu metal with its drop A, simplistic heavy riffs. That is not Tool. They are far too great musicians for that.

The guitar work is heavy, simple and sometimes minimalistic but it is atmospheric. That is what sets Tool apart. The bass work D'Amour is great. It has a heavy pick sound and really adds to the atmosphere, especially in quieter sections without guitar. Danny Carey is great as you'd expect. His drum work is not nearly as brilliant as his later works, but it is pretty good. He can still lay down some powerful metal drumming, (the second half of Crawl Away has a pretty intense part in it!).

This leaves us with Maynard. His vocals are wonderful. Melodic, hard edged, yelling, whatever fits the mood. His lyrics are brilliant, and this is of course one of the selling point of Tool. His vocals are not as diverse as we'll hear on later albums however.

Sober is my favorite song on the album. Dark, powerful stuff that runs the gambit from heavy, post-grunge to minimalist. Crawl Away and Undertow are other high point. Undertow is particularly gripping over the second half and especially towards to end.

Flood is a pretty minimalist song, but it picks up over the second half. The crescendo is amazing, as it seems so powerful when it gets there, (for a second I just thought of a John Cage metal song....) er, anyway there is some technical stuff over the second half with a great metal ending.

However, there are some low points. Disgustipated. An almost 16 minute song. To a newcomer of Tool, or prog-metal in general, you may expect a prog epic. Don't. The entire song is noise. Literally. Yup, one of those famous Tool songs. Part of the reason I like Tool, is also the reason I dislike them at times, their artsy tendencies. Their art for art sakes, if I may. Such as disgustipated or their segues on later albums of just noise. I believe the drummer more or less admitted to, (on a later album) using this filler to stretch the length of the album just to do so, (or to give the produces 2 seconds of breathing room). Anyway, if you're into cool, but I'm not!

None of the other songs are "bad" but often they can get dull, or at least slow, for parts. So, this albums has the heaviness of metal, but eschews most else. Perhaps not to levels we'll see later, but it's not later right it? Decent album, good for a metal fan, prog metal fan, or progger who is more tolerable, (or any stoners that can just chill to it). Good stuff, not great.

Three Stars

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars TOOL's first full length album at least got them on the map and certainly their grungy style with lots of bottom end made a lot of bands and music fans take notice.You have to agree though don't you that this is just a step to what would gain them world wide attention in "Aenima" and "Lateralus".

"Intolerance" has a really good sound to it instrumentally, especially the bass and drums.This is one of my favourites and shows the direction and style the band would develope more in the future. "Prison Sex" is a fan favourite but for me the title and music is "meh". Whatever. "Sober" starts off great with the bass and especially the guitar that comes in quickly. Reserved vocals a minute in. It kicks in with some f-bombs as contrasts continue. "Bottom" again has some killer bass on it. A calm before 2 1/2 minutes with atmosphere. Great section. Henry Rollins comes in with spoken words during this passage. It kicks back in after 4 1/2 minutes. "Crawl Away" sounds so cool when it kicks in with guitar, bass and drums. Vocals as it settles 1 1/2 minutes in. Not for long though. Good song.

"Swamp Song" opens with bass as drums and guitar join in. Vocals too. Catchy tune. "Undertow" sounds great to open with that guitar. It kicks in quickly. Some excellent bottom end here and guitar. I like this one a lot. "4" opens with strummed guitar. It turns heavy with vocals. "Flood" is dark to start out, kind of haunting. It kicks in heavily but slowly before a minute. I like the drumming here. It's 4 1/2 minutes in before the tempo picks up and vocals follow. Nice. "Disgustipated" has lots of silence then some sounds come in and spoken words. A waste.

If not for the last song a solid 3 stars, but i'll give it the third star (barely). Never quite understood why they put disturbing pictures in the liner notes and why they use raunchy lyrics. I guess this impressed the teens back in the day. Gimmicks.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars The first time I heard Tool was when I seen their first video. It was from the Opiate EP and I can't remember the song's name but it had the band members walking around naked with 'Parental Advisory' signs on their naughty parts. I didn't think much of the song itself. About a year later I seen the videos for "Sober" and "Prison Sex". Loved both songs and bought this album. "Prison Sex" is still my favourite Tool song. The lyrics are about child molestation and the claymation video for it is disturbing. But honestly I just like the music and the way Maynard sings; that's why it's my fave.

At the time these guys didn't have a completely unique sound but, nonetheless, didn't sound like most metal bands then. With 2010 ears this sounds to me like a mix of early 80s Crimson mixed with late 80s Voivod. At the time I just thought they were a cool sounding metal band. I think the press referred to bands who sounded like this as "sludge metal" back then. Even on this album you can tell Danny Carey is a great drummer. "Intolerance" is a pretty weak opener. Never really cared for the song. "Bottom" features Henry Rollins doing a spoken word section.

The title track is one of the better songs here. I cannot type the symbol for "degrees", so...."4 [degrees]" is interesting. It starts with electric sitar and in the middle has some tabla. Nice. "Flood" has a really boring start; it takes forever to get going. "Disgustipated" is the most interesting song on the whole album. It starts with what sounds like wood being chopped and Maynard imitating a preacher. He talks about the "cries of the carrots" and whatnot. Then you hear some guitar noises and a loud percussion section where you hear: "This is feeds on life" over and over. At the end you hear somebody talking on a telephone or something.

Tool would get proggier over the next two albums. I still have never heard all of Aenima yet. When it was released I was in my classic rock phase where I accidentally discovered prog. This album deserves 2.5, but compared to Lateralus I have to knock it down to 2 stars.

Review by russellk
3 stars TOOL have rightly become one of the most notorious bands in the whole rock pantheon, occupying a similar (but lesser, I hasten to add) position than LED ZEPPELIN, and for similar reasons. A vocalist who oozes something hard-edged but honey-wrapped, a superb rhythm section, searing guitar, original and consistent compositions and a certain mystique. They bring something extra to the table, a passion that out-enthuses almost any other band. As exemplified by their throat-ripping vocalist, they always give everything to their task, and it is this last quality more than anything else that has won me over.

'Undertow' is their debut full-length album. As many reviewers have pointed out, this is far simpler and less proggy than they would become, but on its own terms 'Undertow' works very well indeed. Its outstanding moments include standard heavy rocker 'Intolerance', the hit 'Sober', the sludgy 'Bottom', 'Crawl Away' and the more complex 'Flood.'

What do I hear when I listen to this album? A band pulling itself out of the swamp of early '90s grunge, owing a debt to NIRVANA and JANE'S ADDICTION but determined to find its own voice. A lyricist with a determination to expose the darkness within himself and others, with no subject too sacred to stir - 'Prison Sex' being the obvious example. Brutality leavened with gentleness, anger with compassion, lyrics matched with music that hammers home the message. But I also hear a band not yet confident enough to let go and beggar the consequences: that will come on the next, earth-shattering album.

After 'Undertow' TOOL was already being heralded as being great. Not quite, in my opinion, but that was soon to come.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars After hearing and reading so much about this band, with all the people raving about their prog sound, I had to check them out. Luckily, I found this CD used, at a very favorable price.

What I hear on this album is mostly a blend of alternative rock and metal. Occasionally there are a few prog riffs thrown in, and some nonstandard time signatures, but nothing too complex. Although not terribly progressive, I find that the album does stand up as an excellent form of hard rock. I presume fans will tell me that I have to get their later albums to fully appreciate the band. And if I can find the albums at a good price, I probably will do that.

Review by Warthur
3 stars Tool's first full album to showcase their fusion of prog metal and alternative metal leans a little harder on the alt-metal side of the equation and goes easy on the prog. At points the album reminds me a lot of the sound Kyuss attained on Blues For the Red Sun - a fusion of the best of current alternative metal and grunge with older metal traditions. It's a reasonably competently composed and performed album, but at the same time it feels rather bland compared to the more distinctive work the band would come out with later on, and to my ears it doesn't really stand out from other alternative metal pieces from the same era.
Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars "Undertow" is a raw edgey album showing the potential for Tool.

Tool's debut "Undertow" is little rough around the edges but still boasts some of the band's finest material. It is inconsistent in terms of quality but has some shining moments. The wonderful raucous 'Bottom' certainly contains the trademark pentatonic scale guitar playing of Adam Jones, in downtuned D distortion. The vocals on this are by guest Henry Rollins, but overall the vocals are well executed on the album by Maynard Keenan that range from screams to quiet low groans.

'Crawl Away' builds with some speedy riffs and some innovative time sig changes, as well as a pulsating bassline from Paul D'Amour. The percussion is sporadic and strong from Danny Carey, blending jazz fills to metal blastbeats in turn.

'Swamp Song' features a mesmirising riff with bass and guitar modulations. There are a lot of expletives and rage on the album that I tire of, but the musicianship is always a drawcard for Tool. 'Undertow' is a good example of the effective riffing and has an innovative structure. The way it slows at the end is inspiring for other upcoming metal artists; Tool show that time sigs can be manipulated with metal distortion.

'4°' has that nice layered vocal that would permeate every Tool album that sings along with the repetitive polyrhythms of Jones' guitar. It is not as intricate and fascinating as the Tool to come but it is a good start in the right direction. 'Flood' has a cool slow riff that crawls menacingly along with cymbal splashes and an everpresent bass. As the vocals come in an angular riff locks in and it sounds very much like the more progressive Tool to come.

As with all Tool albums this ends with an oddity that is basically an attack on organised religion with a preacher lighting up the pulpit with a lengthy rant. This leads into the percussive rain chant from "Woodstock", or at least it sounds like it, before it runs out of steam. Worth hearing at least once, this ending is one of the worst dullest Tool album closers, at 15:47. It is easy to get excited seeing an epic on the album cover but this repetitive mumbo jumbo is a total waste, and even moves into an elongated silence with distant crickets chirping that goes on and on and on until after about 6 minutes of maddening crickets a voice spouts some nonsense. Tool missed the perfect opportunity to scare us witless with an ear piercing scream, anything would have been better than that effect. It signifies the more experimental side of Tool and thankfully they improved dramatically with "Aenima".

Overall a solid debut showing what Tool were capable of, featuring the angular polyrhythms and downtuned D pentatonic scale, the layered aggressive vocals and time sig changes are all here. As we all know now the best was yet to come with the next 3 albums, but this debut is worth checking out.

Review by Chicapah
4 stars It must be human nature to draw lines of demarcation between decades because each generation seems to claim theirs as being distinct from the previous ones. Admit it, we all do it. The counter-culture kids of the 60s (I'm a charter member of that clan of rascals) alienated those who grew up in the 50s by gravitating first towards the rebellious, shaggy-haired British Invasion adherents and then towards progressive rock and psychedelia. The children of the 70s separated themselves by embracing a wild potpourri of musical styles along with the disco and punk movements. The youth of the 80s adopted the New Wave-tinted, MTV-led video phenomenon as their own while nurturing the rise in metal and techno pop in their cultural outlook. Then came the early 90s wherein the grunge and the alternative rock sensations became king of the realm, all but shutting down progressive metal and relegating it to the status of passé. From that stagnant atmosphere arose the band known as Tool.

Most of us got our first exposure to the group via their disturbing but fascinating stop-action videos that effectively set them apart from the glut of flannel-garbed sheep herders. Yet it was, of necessity, their music that really grabbed our collective attention. They had their own individual sound that disassociated their persona from the still-dominant Seattle scene altogether while lyrically they presented their scathing views on late 20th century civilization in a brutally honest and undisguised manner that fit right in with what was going on in music at the time. History has proven that nothing has more impact than originality and there's scarcely an artist or group of musicians that have made a lasting impression without that important characteristic being foremost. Tool was the huge yellow sunflower growing up amidst a field of same-colored daisies that grabbed your eye from the word go and made you take notice whether you wanted to or not. "Undertow" was definitely not your parents' rock & roll. A new spin had been spun.

The opener, "Intolerance," revealed that these guys had discovered a totally unique take on riff-driven heavy rock, one that was very dark and massively intense. The song has a tribal appeal rhythmically and avoids the stereotypical structure that was predominant in that era. "Prison Sex" has a more staccato edge to it yet it's not as unorthodox as the previous cut. What becomes apparent is that instead of relying on the tried-and-true hot guitar solo they depend more on melodic interludes to keep things interesting while never ignoring the essential ingredient of dynamics. On "Sober" guitarist Adam Jones uses distortion and dissonance to create gut-wrenching tension while vocalist Maynard James Keenan emphasizes emotion over unintelligible screaming to express his angst. "Bottom" follows and it's a tune built upon a tricky riff but one that drummer Danny Carey expertly tames enough to make it feel completely natural and unforced. I really like how they allow the middle movement of the song to contain open spaces that let the spoken lines create the desired impact. Keenan's armor-piercing, long-held high note will rattle your spine. "Crawl Away" is next. A gritty riff sets the stage for a strong dose of what I'd term more traditional hard rock fare that turns extremely metallic during the mid section.

A hypnotic 6/4 time signature identifies "Swamp Song" as being special and the band constructs a musty, mysterious air to surround it. Jones' enormous guitar tone fills up a large tract of territory all by itself. I especially admire how they always find intriguing alleys to go traipsing down without sacrificing one iota of momentum. "Undertow" is an example of how the group allows Paul D'Amour's bass guitar to play a major part in the presentation instead of just being relegated to the basic foundation. His contributions give all their compositions a cohesiveness that's rarely encountered. The abrupt changes in direction encountered during this number demonstrate their willingness to go outside of their own, self-imposed parameters. A more subtle intro for "4*" offers a nice respite from the weighty density of their music for a moment but, at the same time, I love how they maintain an other-worldly ambience and avoid falling into a restrictive rut of predictability. In particular Maynard makes his vocal be more of an essential instrument in their sound than just a prerequisite addition on top. The beginning strains of "Flood" sneak in covertly before the band explodes into a hellish soundscape so palpable that you can almost smell the burning pools of sulfur. Halfway through the piece another one of Adam's stringent guitar riffs appears, then Keenan jumps in to take the song hurtling over the brink into a red oblivion. This is one of the most ferocious tunes you'll ever hear. The final cut is way off the reservation, an almost 16-minute-long abstract, experimental collage of noises and beats layered over a salesman-slick tirade entitled "Disgustipated." Shy is not an adjective that should be used within several hundred miles of Tool.

Released in April of 1993, "Undertow" only rose to #50 on the album charts but its main significance was that it figuratively broke up the logjam that grunge had created in the stream of modern popular music. Metal, it turned out, wasn't dead in the water at all. It just needed a progressive attitude adjustment in order for it to resurface and make its presence known again. Tool was just beginning to make big ripples, it turned out, and they never wavered from their we'll-let-our-music-do-all-the-talking-thank-you-very-much stance that continues to grant them immense respect from proggers worldwide. 3.5 stars.

Review by Prog Leviathan
3 stars I first heard about Tool when I was in high school. I wasn't a fan then. They were very popular, and after listening to Undertow, it's easy to see why. The band is punchy, sonically and lyrically, with a nuanced metal vibe that supercharges the alt-rock approachability that permeated the mid-90's. Mostly though, Tool was popular because Maynard's passionate vocals and very, very angry lyrics. This is probably where the band lost me. I wasn't nearly so jaded back in those days! This album is a like ball of pent up rage, disgust, and spite just waiting to be let out; for most 15 year-olds trapped in high school, it's easy to see the appeal.

Fortunately for prog fans, Tool has a lot of musical appeal, too, even on this early album where the band is still working out their identity and sound. For an alt-rock album, it's amazingly ambitious and effective; for a prog-metal record, it's somewhat light-weight. The song writing isn't as creative or gripping as we'll hear on their later works, though still great when compared to the sort of standard FM fare we still hear on modern rock radio stations. For me the biggest attraction is the band's playing, which is undeniably great. Each member of Tool is like a dark magician, creating evil spells alone in a corner with their instruments. There's no member of the group that steals the spotlight, with solo moments, for example; instead, the band are consummately focused on the effect that each of their evil spells contributes to the experience. The rhythm section is one of the best in modern rock, and Adam Jones' guitar single-handily creates an astounding amount of noise and effects.

Of course, one can't talk about a Tool album without touching on Maynard Keenan. The guy's a master performer. His emotion and phrasing are well above his peers, though in this early album his lyrics are so focused on frustration and anger that they sort of lose me in the end. The songs have messages, but they're usually about how much the narrator wants the listener to die. Being the listener, I sort of have a problem with that! So for this early outing, Maynard's vocals get a pass.

The album as a whole should definitely be picked up by fans of the band, who on Prog Archives are probably coming from the group's more diverse, experimental, and enjoyable later albums. If you enjoy dark, fuzz-heavy, and menacing metal, Undertow could become a go-to release for you; for me, it's an every once and a while enjoyment.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars "Undertow", as most proggers know, was Tool's first full length album. Previously, Tool had released "Opiate" which was an EP of short, loud and heavy songs. Now their music had matured and improved quite a bit, and it was time to put a full album out into the public. This first album shows a few lengthier songs, but nothing really surpassing 8 minutes (the last track that shows being over 15 minutes doesn't really count unless you can count crickets singing after the 6:45 mark).

The first album was also less progressive than later albums. The songs are good, heavy rockers, but less complex than what was to follow. However, the album and the band was very influential in taking heavier rock and metal away from the pop metal fad that was blossoming at the time. That is a great thing. The fact that the music only got better in subsequent albums even makes everything sweeter. So, don't discount the importance of this album, even though it is not as complex. There are still some prog elements, and the album is still very enjoyable, just not so much in a progressive vein.

There really isn't anything different to say about the album other than what has already been said in the many reviews of the album. Pretty much everyone knows the trivia surrounding the album, including the picture that was hidden under the black CD tray, the fact that "Disgustapated" feature the use of shotguns and pianos being destroyed by a sledgehammer, that Henry Rollins is a guest vocalist on "Bottom" and that the music is inspired by the comedy of Bill Hicks.

Suffice it to say that this was an influential album and it is also a great album seeing as it was the first by the band. Just know that it isn't as progressive as their music would become, but it is still full of great, heavy and technically sound music. Not their best, but still excellent.

Review by Kempokid
3 stars While Tool would later develop their sound to have a far more distinctly proggy nature to it, early on with Undertow, there was a lot more alternative metal and grunge in the mix. That's not to discredit this album, as I do find it quite enjoyable however, full of powerful riffs and such an overbearing sense of utter contempt that you can't help but enjoy it on those merits of rawness alone, which is good, since those are the main qualities this has for the most part. What this album lacks in variety and complexity, it makes up for in how filthy and angry everything sounds, Maynard being able to convey such hatred in his excellent vocal delivery. While having some weaker moments here, that's also not to say that the material here is worth nothing, as many of the songs here are enjoyable at the least, especially when taking into account the quality of the riffs, which manage to hit hard and be exceptionally memorable for the most part.

One other smaller issue I have with the album is that it's very top loaded, as it kicks off with 3 of the best tracks, Intolerance, Prison Sex and Sober. The main draw of Intolerance, other than the amazing transition between riffs in the chorus and verse, is the way that the song progressively becomes more frustrated sounding as it goes on, the chorus that once was a moment of particular reprieve and melody becoming more scream filled and echoey, providing a disorienting atmosphere, further accentuating the almost blind rage that Maynard seems to be in by the end of the song. Prison Sex is far and away the best song here however, while far moer traditionally hard rock in approach, the bass and riffs are nothing short of incredible, and the disturbing imagery really lends itself to the gradually more unsettling tone conveyed. Sober is the Tool song that a person is most likely to know when the band is mentioned (other than possibly Schism) and for good reason, the vocal melody being absolutely amazing, with the guitar work being able to display a great amount of emotion. The song in general is just an extremely good alternative metal song, full of passion and a considerably cleaner sound all around, which is a nice bit of change after the previous two songs. This is where the album unfortunately begins to lose steam, as Bottom, while having an awesome first couple of minutes, gradually becomes less interesting as it goes on, the faster pace of it eventually settling back down to sound similar to the other tracks, at which point there's just not too much of interest going on, the vocal performance, while being good, simply not matching up to previous songs, the spoken word section in the middle adding absolutely nothing of substance.

Unfortunately, the album continues going down hill with what is what consider to be the weakest track on this album, Crawl Away, which even after countless listens to this album over the last couple of years, I still can remember absolutely nothing about other than heavy, groovy riff near the start of the song, which is admittedly pretty great, shame that the rest of the song is so insignificant and inconsequential. Swamp Song is thankfully able to allow the album to go back to being highly enjoyable, as I find this to be a very underrated track, being quite a fan of the mid paced, yet driving beat of the song, the chorus continuing along this same tempo and simply sounding absolutely monstrous, highlighting that rawness that makes this album so entertaining in a lot of ways. The next two songs go back to being fairly unremarkable, the title track having some pretty cool riffs, but not too much else going for it, and 4 Degrees feeling as if it's really not going anywhere at all, despite the cool sitar-esque sounds in the intro. Flood, , while not incredible, manages to still end up being really enjoyable due to being able to reinvoke the insanity unleashed in the earlier tracks with the awesome chorus. The rest of the song isn't anything amazing, but still, far from a bad one. Disgustipated, while generally considered to be the worst thing that Tool has ever done, is actually a fairly interesting song in my opinion, far darker and more harrowing than anything else in their discography, the slow, almost primal beats combined with the repetition of the vocals provides a ritualistic image that is nothing short of great, sure, the song then devolves into cricket noises, but I treat this the same way I treat those song with a good 10 minutes of silence at the end of them for no reason, that ending part just doesn't exist, and now we've got ourselves a great song.

On the whole, despite having some downright incredible moments, the album from a holistic standpoint really doesn't hold up the best, the sound between tracks often being incredibly similar to the point where they can tend to blend with one another, not to mention that quite a few of these songs are very forgettable. When this album is good, it's really good however, so I can't judge this too harshly, especially since I do find myself listening to this quite frequently whenever I feel like listening to Tool. Definitely rough, but nonetheless decent, despite some flaws, and having a Tool album that isn't filled with pointless interludes is definitely a massive positive aspect of this.

Best songs: Intolerance, Prison Sex, Sober

Weakest songs: Bottom, Crawl Away, 4 Degrees

Verdict: Definitely leans much more heavily on the grunge and alternative metal side of things, but is definitely decent despite teh relative roughness. I'd recommend giving this a listen if you're in the mood for an angry, dirty sounding alt metal album, because on that front, this album rarely falters.

Review by siLLy puPPy
3 stars While TOOL gets much of the credit for keeping the metal universe relevant during the early 90s at least in commercial terms, the truth is that the band was simply riding the wave of the harder edged alternative rock bands like Jane's Addiction, Alice In Chains and Faith No More that were finding commercial success however as the glam metal world experienced a sudden upheaval and suddenly grunge was the dominate commercial force with Nirvana and Soundgarden suddenly becoming household names, TOOL was right there beside them. The band of Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar, sitar), Pal D'Amour (bass) and Danny Carey (drums) gained momentum on the 1992 debut EP 'Opiate' with a fiery aggressive brand of alternative metal that focused on lengthy progressive cyclical grooves but on the band's full-length debut UNDERTOW the progressiveness had really blossomed into a totally unique sound that implemented crazy time signatures that once taken further on future albums like ''nima' and 'Lateralus' would make TOOL one of the hottest bands of the entire 90s.

Love em or hate em, one thing is is for sure. When TOOL debuted with UNDERTOW there was nothing that sounded like the dark, angry and lengthy complex sprawling soundscapes that TOOL had crafted. While bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were still reliant on blues rock constructs for the compositions, TOOL completely eschewed the familiarities of what came before and crafted a mysterious mix of metal, grunge and even post-rock however the music itself sounds like none of those genres but usually gets lumped into progressive metal or in the case of UNDERTOW simply alternative metal. Having settled on Zoo Records, where both Keenan and Carey experienced a surprise gold album as a part of the comedy metal act Green Jell', the album struck a nerve with the public with the creepy stop-animated videos for 'Sober' and 'Prison Sex' and shot up to the top 20 albums in no time. As of 2010, the album has been certified double platinum which shows TOOL's

Unlike 'Opiate,' a hard hitting more straight forward slice of alternative metal, UNDERTOW displayed a more focused sprawled out series of guitar and bass riffs augmented by Carey's percussive delineations that often took on the characteristics of an African drum circle or an Indian tabla session. Eastern elements occasionally creep in as heard with the sitar addition on 'Bottom' (Henry Rollins also appeared as a guest vocalist on this one).There is a resolute industrial grittiness to the music as well coming to full roost on the album's closer 'Disgustipated' which included Henry Rollins' guitarist Chris Haskett playing sledge hammers. The final track 'Disgustipated' displayed another factor that would make TOOL standout from the pack namely social commentary in the form of spoken narration, extended noise effects, darkened whispered singing styles and a propensity to end an album with a series of noises and silence before a final musical statement which nixed the main guitar and bass sounds. In this case at 6:45 the sounds of crickets are heard for just over seven minutes. This was actually a popular but annoying trend of 90s alternative music.

While UNDERTOW was somewhat of a rough draft for the more artistic statements that followed, the band's basic stylistic approach had been laid out here. The rhythm section had already developed the crazy polyrhythms, Carey's drumming style had already adopted the tabla percussive style at certain points and although the musical flow is a more nonchalant shuffle, the time signatures offbeats have awoken to realize the far reaching potentials. Another proclivity of TOOL's albums is that they insist on lengthy albums that take up as much playing time as possible. UNDERTOW clocks in at 69:13 and even subtracting the final several minutes of cricket chirping time is still over an hour's run. While steeped in the experimental elements that would continue to expand their horizons into the stratosphere, UNDERTOW is still firmly planted in the world of alternative metal without all the crazy artsy extras that decorate ''nima,' therefore the album becomes a bit tedious to experience in a single listening session. Overall not a bad debut at all but in the end UNDERTOW lacks the excitement of what was to come and i didn't discover this debut until after the rest so i've never been blown away by it.

3.5 rounded down

Review by Dapper~Blueberries
4 stars Metal is a genre I am fairly familiar with. Hard basses, slamming drums, shredding and hard guitars. However Metal and Rock co-exist together. One can balance itself onto another if so desired. Hard Rock - Hard Metal, Post Rock - Post Metal, Jazz Rock - Jazz Metal, the list goes on and on. This also applies to Prog Rock. There is Prog Rock bands and so there will be Prog Metal bands. One of the most inspiring and interesting of these Prog Metal bands is TOOL. Most people at least know TOOL for their albums 'Ænima' and 'Lateralus' but their first LP is also fairly well know and beloved, and for good reasons.

Undertow, released in 1993 is an album that I feel can be best described as a living, breathing, nightmare. The first track, Intolerance, showcases the band's sound. A sort of mix of No Wave, Metal, and Prog. It holds a lot of merits and details and textures within themselves. It's slow, rising, patient, but it is dark, horrifying, and grim. I think the best track on this album has to be Sober. It is the best track to introduce someone who hasn't heard this band. That guitar riff at the beginning of the song that goes around for most of the song. It's almost like it's own beat. It is incredibly calming but nightmare fuel, especially with the guitars, almost sounding like screams. This album keeps these nightmarish sounds until the last song, Disgustipated. This song is way different from anything else. It is more experimental, and kinda difficult too get through. It uses less guitars and more drums and has a sort of war song feeling, especially with the radio at the beginning sounding like a news caster talking about a war that is about too go down. Until the song devolves into this drone pitch that goes on for like 7 or 8 minutes. It's weird, it's creepy, it's almost like you are in the bottom of Hell kinda?and I think that is a big reason why this album is so beloved for me.

It's awesome how nightmarish and hellish these songs sound with their abrasive guitars and vocals and their complexities. It is like listening to those paintings of what the deadly sins represent. It's Satan on earth, and if Satan sounds this good, I am not complaining. I really really like this album.

Review by DangHeck
3 stars Their first LP, Undertow (1993) is the album that put Tool on the map, featuring one of their biggest hits, "Sober". Certainly then, by enough accounts, a highly successful debut. My problems start here, as the Tool Problem starts here: too long, not enough substance for me. At least this is my feeling going in. [And coming out.] Last time I listened through their discography, it was my first time, and I listened through their discography. Absolutely exhausting haha.

"Intolerance" starts off the affair with their style, now well-known, put firmly and pretty strongly in place. A lot of good things here. Not super, though. One of the other better-known songs is next, the awfully Tool-entitled "Prison Sex". This'n honestly has a very cool main riff, starting us out from the void. Keenan has a pretty interesting melody here in the verse. But in that, its potential is lost by just being plain flat, static. This is the mode Tool takes unto themselves that I find most unappealing. Our song's bridge begins right around minute 3, a very cool, ominous shift in tone. Then it's back to meh.

On we are to what always felt like the main event, the not-surprising radio hit "Sober", a song I genuinely enjoy and have of course known for as long as I can remember. A winning melody, eerie lyrical content and plenty of Alt Metal beef. The most progressive this one goes, though, is with loud-quiet dynamics. Next is the heavier... and I did not try this... the heavier "Bottom" haha. Unlike Opiate before it, Undertow is the start of more longform material for the band, everything falling right around 5 minutes or more. "Bottom" comes in around 7 minutes. I frankly don't recall this one. There is a classic slowing, reminiscent honestly to me of some of the earliest Heavy Metal, to early Black Sabbath. And with this change in feel comes a very-Tool section of ambience, fitted honestly very well with a still-surprise Henry Rollins feature. This will be familiar tonally to certain tracks from his Rollins Band, in my opinion one of the best Alt Metal has to offer, and at times equally as progressive and daring (my favorite has always been End of Silence). Anyways, pretty good. Still not much in the way of a Proggy wow-factor, though.

Slowly exiting the first half, our next track is "Crawl Away". This has some of the best guitar work yet. Sort of gives me early Stone Temple Pilots feelings. Which is a good thing. I love Core, frankly. But I was curious, coming off of Opiate, how much post-Grunge would come out of this one with my second listen-through. In other ways, through and through, this track is a new favorite. Of course Carey is on fire. But everyone here is working impeccably together. Progginess maybe still wanting for some. But I'll gladly take a good track regardless. Entering into a far-less-than-favorite, we have "Swamp Song". Just boring; another track that just couldn't possibly be saved by a more-than-decent bridge. Onto the title track, "Undertow" has some spunk. And a lot of Tool. But this one also, on a positive note, has some of the more unique guitar work as well. Another breakdown bridge here, which has some positive results.

On the backend, we have a track I remember pretty well, one of the sure highlights in my opinion, "4°". Eastern influence clear at the start. The majority of the track is nearly played clean, and Keenan sings more melodically here than most tracks. This near-instrumental bridge certainly has nothing to save haha. Features some, again, Eastern percussion. It's not a wildly experimental track or anything, end of the day, but it is good. Next we have "Flood". Low and slow start... and pretty much nothing happens for about 4 minutes. Yawn. Shifts around then in its second half, but I'm just not enthused. Finally, we have the otherwise only ~7 minute-long "Disgustipated"... Great name, guys. We love it.../s This is the most experimental track by far, featuring sort of Industrial and other various, nontraditional sounds. It's not really doing it for me though. I'd rather listen to "Revolution 9". Also, the lyrics I can hear just strike me as cheesy. It's not really a hidden track to follow, just 7 more minutes of crickets. Interesting choice. In general, I can get behind it.

A rarely rounded-up True Rate of 2.5/5.0.

Latest members reviews

3 stars Undertow is Tool's first full studio album. I find it surprising that Tool had written most of these songs by the time they released Opiate because this album's material seems drastically more mature. While Opiate was based on immature aggression and heaviness, Undertow better distinguishes Tool ... (read more)

Report this review (#2245944) | Posted by mental_hygiene | Friday, August 23, 2019 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This is not Tool's debut album but its their first studio album and also a big improvement from "Opiate" "Undertow" combines this raw sounding with very strong upbeat and heavy songs. For a first studio album it is superb, you can hear the sounding of the music turning more and more progressive w ... (read more)

Report this review (#1598088) | Posted by Rodrigo Andrade7 | Tuesday, August 16, 2016 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Tool-Undertow 'Undertow' is the debut studio album by progressive/alt metal band Tool. Tool made a great start with their debut EP 'Opiate', it was unique, heavy, and a bit experimental on the last track. A year later they released their debut studio album, and it expanded upon everything the ... (read more)

Report this review (#1354918) | Posted by Pastmaster | Tuesday, January 27, 2015 | Review Permanlink

4 stars "Undertow" is the debut album by the American progressive/alternative metal band, Tool. The full - length debut album is said to have kept the life of all heavy metal in the mainstream media due to it's success. "Undertow" is also the cause of Tool's undeniable later success, being that thei ... (read more)

Report this review (#1261821) | Posted by aglasshouse | Wednesday, August 27, 2014 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Tool's "Undertow" is the album that I've listened to more times than anything else. In fact, I probably spun this thing up every day for close to three years after I first heard it circa 1993. But it wasn't an immediate love affair. There are albums that you hear once, and which you instantly ... (read more)

Report this review (#959260) | Posted by bonestorm | Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars 7.5/10 I know. I know. This here not remember the Tool that would later be hailed as a major force in metal today, but one has to say that Undertow is very different sound grunge / alternative from the early 90s. Although the band is listed as "alternative metal", I believe they are bold enou ... (read more)

Report this review (#929865) | Posted by voliveira | Thursday, March 14, 2013 | Review Permanlink

2 stars The band is not down to earth: Undertow is once more another highly reflective album. The example in reference is for example to listen to your parents for a life long lived. This group has done so much wrong--meaning drugs, divining, etc they reflect this unto their audience. And so the exp ... (read more)

Report this review (#305240) | Posted by thewickedfall | Monday, October 18, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars It doesn't matter how "proggy" Undertow is...what makes it so good is it's sheer poetic darkness. It may be one of the darkest albums I've ever heard. It's not any typical "I was bullied in high school and I'm so damn metal" type of album, no, this is real despair here. Every song is full of ha ... (read more)

Report this review (#278766) | Posted by CinemaZebra | Tuesday, April 20, 2010 | Review Permanlink

3 stars First album by this american band called Tool, in 1993 they made this good work, i was amazed by the great voice of james keenard and his dramatic style, giving one of the great forces on the band, and the tune presented in this album by tool consist in the bass line, we are talking about good mu ... (read more)

Report this review (#269201) | Posted by JgX 5 | Monday, March 1, 2010 | Review Permanlink

3 stars The First Step TOOL's first album is somewhat different from the typical TOOL album: it's still progressive metal, but with a great deal of weirdness. Undertow is their most ''straightforward'' album to date. There is more emphasis on a metal sound, (hey they got Henry Rollins of BLACK FLAG fa ... (read more)

Report this review (#260404) | Posted by ZeroDreamPlasMaximus | Monday, January 11, 2010 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Tool's first album is a good debut, but does not achive the same amount of greatness the latter albums have gotten. Undertow is not a prog album, there may be hints of prog here and there but it's mostly a alternative rock/ metal album. There are some great songs on this album like Sober, Pris ... (read more)

Report this review (#255804) | Posted by Mitch17 | Saturday, December 12, 2009 | Review Permanlink

3 stars No One is Innocent!!!!!! Very nice album, even not prog at all. Amazing songwriting, but the music is a bit dull and repeating. Nothing comparable to the rest of theiy career, of course. The musicians' skills are excellent, in particular about Maynard's voice, but I think that the album is too ... (read more)

Report this review (#209485) | Posted by Progghettaro | Wednesday, April 1, 2009 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I bought this album in Dunedin, New Zealand. I printed the lyrics. And you know I was so amazed. This is a great debut in my opinion. Songs like Sober, Prison sex and flood are just splendid. Maynard's voice in prison sex is brilliant. Although the album is not so progressive I recommend it for Tool ... (read more)

Report this review (#189876) | Posted by Lopolik | Wednesday, November 19, 2008 | Review Permanlink

2 stars SFECLĂ DE SARE I tried, not once, but several times to enjoy this album. In spite my efforts of blaming only myself of being narrow minded or addicted to modern sounds I simply couldn't enjoy Undertow. And it's no wonder since the album is poor. After a total disaster, entitled Opiate, Too ... (read more)

Report this review (#176269) | Posted by Zarec | Monday, July 7, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Tool's first album Undertow is not really prog but the band shows some signs of what is to come in future Tool albums. I pretty much like this album from start to finish. A very metal grungy feel to this album. Maynard's lyrics are very dark and angry most of the time and guitarist Adam Jones disp ... (read more)

Report this review (#150625) | Posted by JROCHA | Wednesday, November 14, 2007 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Tools debut album and its more alt metal then prog then thiere later albums, and yeah its good but not great for me i liked the album very much when i first got it but it grow old pretty fast for me and i hardly lisen to it now days while thiere other album still sounds fresh. It got some realy ... (read more)

Report this review (#146131) | Posted by Zargus | Saturday, October 20, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I am completely sickened that 'Undertow' got the review it recieved. The ONLY other 15 year old album in my stereo played consistantly is the original 'RATM' album. Tool can't be classified as metal,grunge,alternative or pop. Undertow was as new and original as 'Badmotorfinger' or ooohhh aahhh ... (read more)

Report this review (#82631) | Posted by | Tuesday, July 4, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars A difficult album to review for me, cause there are some days when I think it is excellent, and others a subpar piece of work. Right now I feel it falls short of a masterpiece. Its definitely not on the Level of AEnima or Lateralus, and certainly a vast improvement over the Opiate EP. The w ... (read more)

Report this review (#80910) | Posted by int_2375 | Sunday, June 11, 2006 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Undertow is an improvement over Opiate and yet, not. I agree with most of the above reviews on the main points: - Not overly proggy - First nine are fairly to very good, finale is crap - near a three star rating The only real difference I have is that I believe Prison Sex is the best track ... (read more)

Report this review (#77363) | Posted by dagrush | Saturday, May 6, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I was 17 when this album first surfaced on a largely unsuspecting world. The music industry had all but put the breaks on heavy metal with the sudden thrust of Seattle bands into the limelight. However, somehow Tool with their strange poetry and dark sentiments managed to break through the demi ... (read more)

Report this review (#75904) | Posted by | Saturday, April 22, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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