“Undertow” turns 22

By Declan Hertel
 Staff Writer

Fans of the band Tool have been waiting nine years for a new album. A year after their progressive epic “10,000 Days” was released, the band found themselves embroiled in a long and costly series of lawsuits with their insurance company over the company’s refusal to take care of an artwork dispute.

The resulting eight-year legal circus finally concluded last month, allowing the band members to get back to writing and recording music. There’s no projected release date for the new album, but according to guitarist Adam Jones in an interview with Yahoo Music, the band has 10 songs currently in the works and one already in the can. The band hopes to have the album finished by the end of the year, but won’t rush production just to meet an arbitrary deadline.

I say, good on them: we Tool fans have been waiting a long time for a new record; we’re willing to wait a little longer for something truly worth it.

The news of Tool getting back in the studio for real came just before the 22nd anniversary of their debut LP, 1993’s “Undertow.” I decided to revisit the record to share how it holds up two decades later and perhaps draw new ears to it, though to be honest it was also just a really good excuse to listen to it again (as I write this parenthetical, I am about halfway through my second listen today).

One aspect of “Undertow” that stands out immediately is that Tool’s sound has a subtle similarity to funk. The band has a masterful grasp of “groove.” For a hard progressive/metal band like Tool, a comparison to funk might seem strange, but there are few bands today that rely so much on having a real groove as Tool.

The syncopated rhythms present throughout the entire record would not be out of place on a Parliament/Funkadelic release. Another similarity shared is the prominence of the bass guitar. The aggressive, sharp attack of Paul D’Amour’s basslines gives all the songs a solid bottom line, a sound and technique that would be continued and improved upon by Justin Chancellor after D’Amour’s departure in 1995.

On a similar note to the album’s “grooviness,” “Undertow” is a record that makes me want to get up and move. Not to dance in the way that a radio pop song might inspire, but just to stand up and move around to the music to prove that I’m alive.

The pounding, varied rhythms resonate in the bones, and the deep sound of the instrumentation of Maynard James Keenan’s honest and deeply emotional lyrics resonate in the heart and mind. Keenan is one of the most open and honest lyricists in recent rock music, and his lyrics get under the skin and dare you to open up.

Twenty-two years later, “Undertow” still holds up. Tool’s sound would become more refined and complex on later releases, but “Undertow” is dripping with primal energy and feeling, pulling the listener into this dark world much in the way the title suggests.