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Friday, 11 January 2013

Tool – Ænima (1996)

When I was in my final year at Keele University, I was housemates with a singer. He was unlike anybody I had ever met: he was intensely serious, and an incredibly talented musician. He had a deep passion for philosophy, and we would spend hours debating the finer points of Marx and Nietzsche. We also spent much of our time talking about and writing music together. He had one of those voices that shocked you: it was powerful and unique, and his vocal range was phenomenal. He was diabetic, and he once told me that he would sometimes mess with his blood-sugar levels in order to reach a particularly intense headspace – I’m not sure if this is recommended, but the results of his song-writing were completely unique.

I had been into Tool since about 1994, but they’d only really hovered around the periphery of my musical taste, but during this final year at Keele, they became a big part of my musical life. And to a large extent, this enthusiasm for Tool was no doubt bolstered by my housemate’s enthusiasm for the band.

After I finished my MA at Leeds University, I realised just how much I missed some of my old friends from Keele, and suggested to quite a few of them that they should move to Leeds: and three of them did. My old housemate also made a go of it, and asked if he could stay at my place while he raised enough money for a deposit. He managed to get full time work at the Halifax offices in Leeds. After staying with us for a few months, I asked him how things were going raising money for his deposit and he stated that he hadn’t started saving for one yet. Within a couple of days, he packed up his stuff and went to stay with his brother. He was quite averse to technology, and didn’t own a phone or use social media, and sadly, I haven’t heard from him since. Every time I hear this album I wonder what became of him. He was a good friend, and there was no reason for us to lose touch like we did.

Ænima opens with ‘Stinkfist’: beneath its unsavoury title lies a song with undeniably powerful lyrics and instrumentation. When this song was released MTV refused to air the video, assuming the song to be about anal fisting, although some lines can be read as such ("Finger deep within the borderline / Show me that you love me and that we belong together / Relax, turn around and take my hand"), I’m inclined to think that the song is not about that at all:

Something kinda sad about
the way that things have come to be.
Desensitized to everything.
What became of subtlety?

With its understated vocals that seem to embody a calm reflection, it is impossible to read such lines as being in any way sexual.

‘Eulogy’ is a song riddled with imagery of distorted power and oppression. It’s a song built around deliberate rhythmic clicks and unnerving guitar sounds. The vocals are fragile and echoic, sounding distant and cold. The way this song progresses is flawless and filled with subtle moments that take you by surprise. The chorus is loud and aggressive, and gives the song a great feeling of release from the arthropodic sounds of the verse.

‘H’ opens with one of the best intros on the album: a dark, gloomy, undulating guitar riff that builds in tension before being swept away by the gentle creeping guitar work of the verse. This is an incredible piece of music that is again full of subtle surprises. ‘Useful Idiot’ is a short sound-piece that sounds a little like the end of a crackling vinyl record skipping and looping around static.

‘Forty Six and Two’ builds around a shadowy bass-line that seems to swirl around the mix. The song is heavy and intense, and again we see exactly why Tool are the masters of creating a flawless song structure. ‘Message To Harry Manback’ is a creepy musical interlude which features an answer phone message being played over a distant melancholic piano.

‘Hooker With a Penis’ is probably the most straightforward metal song on the album: angry vocals, a salvo of thundering guitars, and obnoxious lyrics make this one of the album’s low-points. ‘Intermission’ is an incongruous piece of jolly organ music that would probably be more fitting being played in a circus or during the intermission of a pantomime than on a prog-metal album – but somehow it works.

‘Jimmy’ is easily one of the most chilling songs on the album. The instrumentation and vocal delivery are creepy and full of dread. ‘Die Eier Von Satan’, which translates literally as ‘The balls of Satan’, is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of German industrial music. Clanging instrumentation and German vocals give the song an incredibly sinister feel, but when you translate the lyrics, you are met with a rather delightful cookie recipe.

‘Pushit’ sounds a little bit like what Talk Talk would have done had they produced metal during their Spirit of Edan days. It’s lengthy and poetic, and swells up from quiet, almost bluesy phrases to ear-splitting guitar noise. A stunning piece of music. The title-track ‘Ænima’ features rolling drum patterns, spiky guitar melodies, and a tremendous vocal performance.

After the dull static of ‘(-) Ions’, the album closes with the fantastic ‘Third Eye’: over thirteen minutes of intense prog metal. It’s a song about the link between drugs and spirituality, and features clips from the late comedian Bill Hicks waxing lyrical on the subject. There’s a strange feeling of cold detachment in this song that manages to send a chill down my spine every time I hear it - a stunning track to close one of the best metal albums ever made.

Ænima is an album full of amazing music that is perfectly produced, and excellently-paced, with carefully crafted songs that fluctuate between sadness, intensity, creepiness and hilarity. There’s this strain of dark humour that runs throughout the lyrics reminiscent of Nietzsche’s laughing hero Zarathustra. Ænima is without doubt a keeper.

If you like what I do, please leave a comment. You can also recommend Keep or Cull on Facebook or share with friends on Twitter/Google+ (use the links below) or anywhere else. You can also follow me on Twitter @Jon_Cronshaw. You can also show your appreciation by purchasing the Keep or Cull ebook for Amazon Kindle. Thank you.



Vicarious Bob said...

Fucking hell mate, you're an excellent writer. If I had a Kindle I'd buy your book, but I don't so tough.
Seriously though, awesome website.

JC said...

Thanks, I appreciate that :) said...

glad to see you're keeping this one, probably my all time favourite record! I wrote about it on my blog a while ago;

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