Still in the phase of getting to grips with a bands sound, Undertow, the debut full length record of American Rock band Tool, has revealed some magics of which I am growing fond of. Bringing one song from their demo 72826, they already sound like a ripening group with that early 90s Alternative scene sound brimming. On this record the songs take a measured step forward, increasing complexity and finding strengths. Singer Maynard performs with an earnest vulnerability in his singing, extending his range upwards, feeling more involved with his lyrics as his wording comes with surges of aggression when he shouts and emotive inflections in softer sections.
The instrumentals behind him show an intelligence as intensities and atmospheres shift with a unique energy that feels like the core appeal of Tool. Guitar rifts meander with a steady pacing that has many of the songs refraining obvious aggression and letting it brood in the tracks tone, leading one unsuspectingly into big bursts of energy. The album really gets going with Bottom. The song disperses its build up for a scenic mid section of slow, sleepy drums, hypnotic guitars and a wonderfully intense reciting of poetry by the one and only Henry Rollins. After this recital the track explodes into life and tense riffs shift into a prowling pinch harmonic groove that gets me every time.
The distinctions of the following tracks are talking points of there own. The dynamism and cohesion is fiery, each instrument finds its measure of involvement that varies, setting stage for Maynard to wail his pains away. Its here that the musical structures start to find complexity led by vision as the unraveling of guitar licks ques up with a rotating arsenal of grooves and aggression. They flirt with odd time signatures, pull of the odd extra beat and title track Undertow exemplifies this exquisitely as its rotation of riffs dismantles itself in a whirl of choppy guitar thrashing that starts shuffling the momentum off beat and evolves the music into a mammoth groove.
I am still digesting this record, soaking it in, basking in its ambience. Much of the charm is still mysterious but the spark is there and on a song like Flood it is all laid rather bare. They build a dark, grisly, brooding setting out of chunks of tribal drum striking and reverberated voices drifting in and out of focus behind dizzying guitars. Their vision is stunning. It gets a little grimmer on the closer as the band make an unforgiving mockery of religion, pairing a preacher and his crowd with the baas of sheep. Its another brooding song and its in these surges of atmosphere that I am led onto the magic of their music. I'm sure ill grow fonder with more exposure.
Favorite Tracks: Intolerance, Bottom, Undertow, Flood