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Tool's second full-length album released in 1996.

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A modern milestone.

  • Jul 31, 2001
Tool is one of the few bands that can indulge in artistic excesses and still retain tremendous commercial success, which I think is kind of strange. And while I say "excesses," a term usually chained to denigrating interpretations, I must emphasize that Tool's artistic nature is perhaps their most striking quality. Combining an alterna-metal aesthetic with more progressive, explorative tendencies, they are decidedly unique. And they aren't just being esoteric and weird. For music fans who like a challenge, Tool presents a worthwhile package. Before discovering Tool, I was among the many who disdainfully rejected them as a lame "grunge" or "alternative metal" band, but their mosaic of musical textures creates something that dodges pigeonholing. I strongly encourage those with a liking for heavy music to check them out, because they probably aren't what you expect.

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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More Tool: Ænima reviews
review by . July 11, 2012
posted in Music Matters
If you went back into the late 90's/early 00's and asked me what my favorite bands were, I would have gladly answered Tool and Rage Against the Machine. Back then, I thought both bands were such musically-brilliant, insightful bands because of the fact that they were marketed as bands that were heavy metal yet were insightful and thought-provoking, and being the gullable kid I was due to my lack of knowledge of underground music at the time, I ate them both up like hotcakes. For the last …
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Clayton Reeder ()
Rogue capitalist in search of all that is interesting, weird, or beautiful.      Collected here are my hundreds of reviews from, covering mostly music that is offensive … more
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With its heavy-duty distortion, weighty rhythms, and cynical lyrics, Tool is a heavy metal band for the '90s. Rather like Metallica circa...And Justice for All, the sound is focused heavily on texture, with vocals and guitars layered one atop the other, and heart-pounding drums underlying everything. There's not a whole lot of variety on Tool's second full-length album--most of the songs start off fairly low-key, kicking into high gear for the chorus, and repeat--but Maynard James Keenan's distinctive voice, the prog-rock stylings over a heavy metal base, and a supremely unhealthy dose of vitriol make this the perfect album to bang your head to.--Genevieve Williams
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Label: Volcano, Zoo Entertainment, Tool Dissectional
Artist: Tool
Genre: Hard Rock & Metal
Release Date: October 1, 1996
First to Review

"A modern milestone."
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