Tool is a world-renowned metal band that’s known for its ridiculously complex and ambiguous songs, difficult (to say the least) relationship with the music industry and censorship, and incredible musical experimentation. They aren’t afraid of anything so long as it fits their artistic expression, and in this article, we’ll go over 25 of the best Tool songs of all time.
There’s going to be plenty of argument I’m sure about the order of these songs, so I’ll explain this now. The first two get their place because they’re amazing Tool songs but are also some of the band’s best-known songs for listeners outside of their fanbase. Don’t take the order too seriously on this one.
Anyway, Sober is not Tool’s most complex song, it’s not their longest, and to many, it might not be their best. However, Sober is one of the songs that transcended the metal community and found play on mainstream rock stations, delivers incredibly emotional vocals from Maynard, and is a song that represents the essence of Tool as a band.
Again, Schism is one of Tool’s songs that most non-fans have heard if they listen to any kind of rock music. It also won them a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2002 and was their only Billboard Hot 100 hit prior to 2019. Serving as the lead single from the Lateralus album, Schism dives into the same math and science metaphors the album is based around. It showcases Tool’s creativity in rhythms and meters, constantly shifting through uncommon time signatures and including one of the greatest basslines of all time.
Lateralus draws on the fabled Fibonacci sequence and, like the math behind the scenes, spirals outward in a 10-minute upward trend that displays the sheer mastery of Tool as a band. It’s one of those songs that exquisitely showcases the band’s talent while also capturing the essence of their creative minds and serves as the title track of one of Tool’s greatest albums.
Parabolas are shapes in mathematics that show an even curve, ascending and descending at the same pace. Tool used the parabola as an inspiration for the song, discussing the importance of self-reflection and looking back on yourself the way you could as a parabola. Ultimately, we’re all just consciousness in human form, but the song builds to a penultimate spiritual release. This one is best listened to as the second part of the song Parabol, though they are two separate tracks, and Parabola certainly stands out on its own.
5. Forty Six & 2
Tool took the ideas of Carl Jung and ran with them for this song. Using the facts of human genomes containing 46 chromosomes, with Jung’s idea that we would develop an additional pair, Tool delves into how our base instincts could be what is holding us back from making the great leap forward as a species. Enhanced by unmatched dynamic flows, Eastern sounds, and hard riffs, make it one of their best singles.
6. 10,000 Days (Wings Part 2)
So, these are separate album tracks. However, they should be played together. The 17-minute-long, two-part experience is incredibly personal for Maynard. It describes the struggles of his mother, who was left paralyzed after an aneurysm when he was 11, with the 10,000 days representing a rounded estimate of the time she spent in a wheelchair. It’s gut-wrenching, heartfelt, and full of grief. The songs are also lighter than Tool’s usual style but make for one of the best songs in all of progressive metal, not just one of the best Tool songs.
7. Third Eye
Third Eye references the mind’s eye, the spiritual power of the human body and the sixth chakra location on the body. Generally, opening your third eye refers to becoming more aware and seeing things clearly, but the song describes how hard it is to try and open people’s eyes.
8. Prison Sex
Abuse of any kind is generally considered a hot topic and it’s difficult to discuss it with any kind of class. Tool, however, has never shied away from those difficulties, and Prison Sex is a prime example of that. The song dives into how traumatic abuse is for children and how most of those kids eventually become abusive adults, thus creating a cycle of abuse that’s hard to escape.
9. The Pot
The Pot became Tool’s first number-one single, reaching the top spot of the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart in 2007 and earning a Grammy nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance in 2008. The name is derived from the old saying “the pot calling the kettle black,” and its general theme was to call out hypocrisy in society
10. Rosetta Stoned
Rosetta Stoned is about aggressive guitar riffs and insane drumming skills, going through eight different time signatures. Written in the stream-of-consciousness style, the song references the Rosetta Stone but lyrically tells the thought of a man dealing with alien encounters and spiritual understandings during and after a DMT trip.
The line “Remember I will always love you, As I claw your fucking throat away” is the perfect representation of what many abuse victims face. It’s another example of Tool taking on some incredibly difficult subject matter and describing it with eloquence in this song. Going over the contradictory feelings of love and discussing how you feel when you deserve more than the violence you receive in a relationship, but not being able to reconcile it with your love of the person.
Intolerance is the first track on Tool’s Undertow album and argued that intolerance results from people standing by on the sidelines while others commit malicious acts. It paints the silent witness as just as guilty as the offender and puts it plainly out there that apathy should not be tolerated.
The second track of the Ænema album and one of the singles that was actually released from it, Eulogy, is one of the more ambiguous Tool songs. Who it’s for is entirely up for debate, but the song is a bit of a slow burn that eventually builds into an incredible music composition.
Tool looked to the Karl Marx quote that said, “religion is opium for the masses” on this one. Opiate is the title track from their first EP, painting religion as a cult and mocking those who would follow religious leaders blindly. Well, it does that, but it’s more of an applaud of freethinkers and people who ask questions than a declaration of war against faith.
15. The Grudge
The Grudge stands as one of Tool’s most complex creations and one that the band members have never confirmed the meaning behind. It opens fast, like the heartbeat speed of a panic attack, before exploding into a veritable wall of sound before lowering itself down in the finale. Overall, the lyrics read almost like a map to enlightenment, full of lines that can be interpreted in numerous ways and would probably have you scratching your head trying to discover the truth behind the riddle.
“Pneuma” was another song off their 2019 album Fear Inoculum that rose to number 15 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. It’s one of the standout songs on the album because not only is it fantastic, it steps away from Tool’s self-indulgent nature on the album. It was also one of the first times Tool’s complex musical information got out since a guitar tutorial and a drummer cam were released alongside the song, which almost never happened with Tool music.
7empest is not for those without time, clocking in at nearly 16 minutes in length. It served as the final song from the band’s fifth album, Fear Inoculum, in 2019, climbing to number six on the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. Fans and critics alike saw it as a standout song from the album, and it went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. Even after fans waited 13 years for a new Tool album, nobody was left disappointed in this track.
Tool tends to be ahead of the game, even in progressive metal, always innovating and combining their music and artistic style to create some of the most complex rock. Vicarious touches on those themes, discussing how today, so many people are glued to a screen and getting their life experiences through the lives of others instead of going out and doing things themselves.
Tool is not afraid to talk about anything for anyone out there who isn’t aware. The sheer gall it took to open a very serious and complex album with a song about anal fisting is quite frankly remarkable. Tool absolutely does not care and is there to have fun, no matter what the censors, media, or anyone else thinks about it.
Jambi is named after the genie from Pee-wee’s Playhouse and sees Maynard James Keenan bargaining with the auspicious genie for one more day with his deceased mother. It truly pulls at the heartstrings and is something relatable for so many listeners that it’s hard not to understand the emotions in the song.
Invincible is one of those supposedly self-centric songs that was released from Tool’s Fear Inoculum album in 2019. It discusses the band and the trials of producing an album at their advancing age. It’s also a tongue-in-cheek reference to the band’s mortality and how the members are coming to grips with their own.
22. Right in Two
Right in Two almost seems to be written from Jesus Christ’s perspective, discussing all the gifts God gave humanity and how it’s a shame that they can’t share them because they’re constantly arguing and dividing themselves. It seems that we waste our ability to be great, preferring to conquer and destroy instead of building things up. Right in Two is likely referencing an Old Testament story that sees King Solomon decide to cut a baby in half to satisfy two women who both claim to be the mother, with the true mother relenting to make sure the baby is safe.
Ænema is an epic rage against absolutely everyone and everything. The name is a combination of the words “anima,” meaning soul, and “enema,” a rectal medical therapy. The name is meant to toe the line between being high-minded and as stupid as a poop joke, which is essentially the exact thing the song is calling out in society.
After becoming a father, it was hard for Maynard to deal with the effects of the abuse done to him by his own father. He tries to get advice from the people around him about how exactly he should go about being a parent but is haunted by the memories and experiences of his own life. H. could also entirely be about drug addiction and the problems stemming from that. Like a lot of great Tool songs, the true meaning is up in the air due to ambiguity. Regardless, the song takes the listener on a ride from a low to an epic high and back down again.
25. Hooker With A Penis
What do you do when confronted by a longtime fan that thinks you’re a sell-out? Apparently, the answer is to make an absolutely crazy song that rebukes the fake fans and mindless cronies of your fanbase. Tool was experimenting with new sounds at the time, evolving like any good band, and not everyone was happy about it. Hooker With A Penis was Maynard James Keenan’s response to all of those sentiments, and it doesn’t hold back.
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