Tool - Aenima
It’s tough to think about what my life would be like without this record, which stands at number 9 on my list of the greatest albums of all time. Above almost any other, this is pretty responsible for igniting my interest and love for music, and serves as a locus point more specifically for my love of rhythm-driven, intelligent, aggressive music and weird time signatures. I was 10 when Aenima was released, and I think I heard it for the first time when I was 13, save for maybe catching the video for “Stinkfist” on 120 Minutes sometime in the interim. My cousin, who had just earned his honorable discharge from the U.S. Naval Forces, came back from his final tour in Italy with a wedding band and this record, raving about both. I’m not sure if it’s the sentimental attachment I associate with this record, but it’s something I still hold close.
Being a fan of Tool over the age of 18 and in a place that isn’t in the middle of nowhere is something reserved for a very special personality type (and also usually means that at some point prior, you were a Tool fan under the age of 18 who lived in the middle of nowhere). As a band who intentionally baits its audience (I’ve always marveled at the quiet genius of a band who forces their fans to walk around in shirts that proclaim “TOOL” loudly on them), you’re almost required to have a sense of humor about something very serious. Tool is a serious band, and Aenima is a serious record, but live, frontman Maynard James Keenan laces their set with a borderline stand-up routine, and appears frequently in underground anti-comedy vehicles (have you seen Tim & Eric’s interview with him? Incredible!). Even Aenima is peppered with quips from Bill Hicks’ incendiary “Arizona Bay” bit, and lyrics on a song like “Hooker With a Penis” are some of the best pissed-off humor since Black Flag’s Damaged. Even the interludes like “Message to Harry Manback” are seething with absurdity (“Die Eier Von Satan” is a fucking cookie recipe read in German through a megaphone over industrial noise). For a band that purports to take themselves so seriously, they’re willing to be pretty loose about it.
Aenima is a “mature” record; for Tool, for their fans, and for heavy music in general. Few albums are this sophisticated, well-crafted or intelligent, regardless of genre. The introduction of bassist Justin Chancellor on this record was always the missing ingredient. While the raw power and smart compositions are still hiding under the surface on Undertow, Chancellor meshes so well with drummer Danny Carey’s masterful drumwork, it makes Aenima a touchstone for rhythm sections to follow (Jesus Fucking Christ the drumrolls throughout the last minute of “Forty-Six and 2”). It’s the rhythm section that really gives life to these songs. They make what would be a one-dimensional, single-guitar metal record a fully realized, three-dimensional monolith of self-exploration, societal loathing, and near-operatic madness. Keenan is the perfect conduit from band to audience. He’s bombastic without being an attention hog, talented without nearing wankery, his lyrics combine vitriol with tongue-in-cheek humor, and you can hear his live charisma through the speakers. His loud-soft range is second-to-none, and he helps to anchor Adam Jones’ comparatively simple guitar work with his sheer vocal power.
There’s not a half-formed or weak song in the bunch unless you want to count interlude tracks, and even those work expertly in the context of the record. The early songs are great mid-90’s metal single fodder, and the more sprawling tracks on the B-side - “Third Eye” and “Pushit” in particular - can stand alongside songs like “War Pigs” and “The Number of the Beast” as some of the all-time great metal tracks. With Aenima, Tool expanded the acceptable metal palette. Without this album, there’s no Mastodon or Isis; progressive stylings in heavy music would be an unexplored avenue even still. Sure, people had been influenced by King Crimson and Black Sabbath before, but prior to Aenima and Neurosis’ Through Silver in Blood (released the same year), no one had made the leap to really combine the two. There are bits of stoner metal in it (not surprising considering the amount of drugs that went into it), ditto prog, tech-death, even drumbeats that would become trademark of nu-metal (for better or worse). It’s easily one of the most integral records in heavy music, just based on popularity, sheer influence, and staying power, and it continues to mold heavy metal in all of its incarnations to this day.