We desperately needed to raise our IQ by a few points, so we decided to re-listen to Tool’s five full-length albums and deliver a comprehensive ranking of them. If you are intimidated by this musical monolith and are looking to get started, or are just hoping to have your smug sense of superiority that stems from listening to a band that uses the letter “Æ” validated a little, our ranking of every Tool album is here for your convenience.
5. Undertow (1993)
Coming hot off the heels of their edgy, middle-finger-to-the-priest debut EP Opiate, Undertow sounds more like a pissed-off Soundgarden than the holier-than-thou musical mathematicians we know today. Check those sick drop-d riffs and slightly esoteric lyrical themes, though – they hit the ground running. Still, if you’re looking to “spiral out,” as the kids say, this isn’t the best place to start.
Play it again: “Flood,” the only track on here that vaguely resembles the epics Tool would go on to craft that last almost an entire high school geometry period.
Skip it: “Disgustipated,” unless you’re on shrooms with a friend you’re looking to piss off.
4. Fear Inoculum (2019)
This is what people who don’t like Tool think Tool sounds like. The six “main” tracks all run over ten minutes. You get the sense that the shortest of these, the 10:05 “Culling Voices,” was carefully dragged out just to get it over 9:59. The interludes are just ridiculous – they can’t even let their strongest asset, drummer Danny Carey, rip without including an incredibly irritating synthesizer on “Chocolate Chip Trip.” We haven’t even gotten to the level of pretension required to name a song “Pneuma.” This thing wasn’t worth waiting for thirteen months – let alone thirteen years.
Play it again: “7empest” actually twists this album’s weakness (that it sounds like a non-fan’s interpretation of Tool) into its strengths, with moments that recall the band’s history and a kickass guitar solo chucked in for good measure.
Skip it: “Pneuma” and every single crummy interlude they threw in as a “bonus” on the digital version.
3. 10,000 Days (2006)
Ah, now we’re getting into the hotly-contested top three. With a catalog this small, Tool’s fourth album is equally argued as being one of their best and one of their worst. We ranked it exactly in the middle so as not to piss any Tool diehard off, but some stellar moments are on this thing. The emotional climaxes of the title track and “Rosetta Stoned,” the former teary-eyed and the latter tongue-in-cheek, both work. Experiencing the pair might clue you in as to why so many fans of this band willingly walk around with a shirt bearing generic insult meaning ‘douche.’
Play it again: That title track is a genuinely moving song. You don’t need to be a Freemason to appreciate its power.
Skip it: It would be cheating to choose the “Viginti Tres” soundscape or the “Lipan Conjuring” interlude, so we’ll go with “Vicarious” for its lyrics that reek of a parent yelling at you to turn off the television.
2. Ænima (1996)
With muddy, hard-hitting production and songs dealing with everything from hookers with penises to musings on the psychological theories brought forth by the late Carl Jung, this is the reason why Tool fans are so fanatical about this band. It’s annoying to type out the title on an American keyboard, but [ed. note…*sigh* ctrl+c, ctrl+v] Ænima is a bonafide classic.
Play it again: “Third Eye” is a worthy successor to “The End” by The Doors, only without the Oedipus stuff. Hopefully we didn’t give Tool any ideas.
Skip it: How is a track named “Stinkfist” overplayed? Oh well, it is. Basic butt rock by Tool’s standards, pun not intended.
1. Lateralus (2001)
Cries of “spiral out, bro!” notwithstanding, this album is worthy of at least some of the Reddit-honed comparisons to The Dark Side of the Moon that it’s been gifted. From that earth-shattering scream in “The Grudge” to the final jam that is “Triad,” Lateralus is a phenomenal record if viewed in a vacuum devoid of vape clouds and ear gauges. Apart from the last track…
Play it again: Tracks 1-12.
Skip it: Track 13…well, unless you really want to open your third eye and ride the spiral, etc., etc…
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