Aenima is full of surprises and ingenious, progressive songcraft. It explores progressive rock territory with a tone that sometimes evokes King Crimson, but never sounding like them. AEnima is all very fresh. The hard-hitting opener "Stinkfist" pulls the listener in with a collection of hard rock trappings: mammoth, distorted riffs, devastating drums, and fierce vocals. But the band throws you off when they change gears with "Eulogy," an eight-minute piece blending monstrous heaviness with some compelling, wistfully dreamy textures (that beginning!). The musical sojourn continues with some other difficult tracks, like "Pushit" and the mesmerizing "Third Eye." Contrary to popular opinion, I actually enjoy the "pointless" interludes and think the album is so much more with them included. I find that they add to sense of suspense before a real song rolls in. "Useful Idiot" -- nothing more than 40 seconds of static -- is stupid on its own, but as a precursor to "Forty-Six & Two" it serves as an interesting segue that teases you, leaving you almost begging for a song to start, as it grows louder and stronger, sort of creating a sense of tension with the listener. Especially teasing is the playful organ jam "Intermission" and the spooky "(-) Ions," which slides smoothly into "Third Eye," one of Aenima's most important songs.
Just as the interludes create a sense of expectancy, the songs themselves also possess that quality. "Forty-Six & Two" is a gripping progression of texture, essentially relying on one big riff but gradually upping the intensity by stacking the arrangement with denser sonics as it goes. "Third Eye," lasting more than 13 minutes and spanning enough musical ideas to fill an entire record, similarly summons a sense of tension with surprising tempo changes and long washes of instrumentation. Lengthy, explorative instrumental passages speckle the album thickly, but Tool's impossibly tight instrumental interplay, sense of detail, and precision keeps it from being boring, although it may take a serious listener to really pay attention to depth of each segment.
I must confess I was not initially impressed by the album's lyrical content, being turned off by reams of profanity and what was ostensibly punk-ish vitriol and juvenilia. But, as Keenan writes in "AEnema," "Try and read between the lines," I found that careful attention revealed that Tool possesses as much lyrical intuitivism as musical insight. Some interesting themes include genetics and false martyrs. There are also shades of philosophy that set the tone for Tool's next album Lateralus, where Keenan gets into Eastern philosophies in a big way. Even the lyric in "Hooker with..." is whimsical in its irony (though the song's real merit is just rocking out). Even better than the lyrics is Keenan's incredible voice. It's not his singing ability that impresses me, but his voice possesses such a gamut of qualities that it makes him unforgettable. He can sound broken and weak, ferocious and violent, or anything in between.
I'm new to Tool, but I can tell this is an album that offers enough depth that I'll still be listening regularly in five years...maybe longer. Are you not yet a Tool fan? Buy this and Lateralus and prepare to be blown away.
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