We Ranked Every Tool Song From Worst To Best
Because not everything can be as good as 'The Pot'.
What modern American band has carved out a discography as distinct as Tool?
Finding the exact midpoint between the arch intelligence of prog and the sheer might of metal, the band make music that is at once clean as a scalpel, and dirty as a shit-covered truncheon. A Tool song is a thousand contradictions; a Tool album a myriad of things all happening at once. No other band sounds like them — maybe because no other band has even tried to.
So, ahead of their long-awaited Australian tour, we’ve ranked every Tool song, from the excellent to the transcendent.
#66. ‘(-) Ions’
I mean, where else was this one gonna go but in last place?
#65. ‘Useful Idiot’
The only reason this weird interlude is in here is because I am a completist who can’t stand to write a ranking of every Tool song and not include something that once appeared on a Tool album.
Try falling asleep to this one — you’ll infest yourself with sleep paralysis demons for a week.
#63. ‘Litanie Contre la Peur’
Imagine if we put this somewhere towards the top of the list though.
#62. ‘Eon Blue Apocalypse’
It feels like something of a cheat to include ‘Eon Blue Apocalypse’ in this list at all. It’s not even a song, technically, as much as it is a tiny pocket of breathing room tucked into an album that otherwise just doesn’t stop. In the context of the record it makes a lotta sense — taken on its own, it’s a sweet little nothing.
Ever think about how Spotify and digital streaming straight-up killed the art of the album structure?
#60. ‘Cesaro Summability’
The sound of two generators warming up and/or trying to murder one another.
#59. ‘Hooker With A Penis’
Maynard James Keenan has spent his career successfully avoiding his most puerile instincts — that is, with the exception of ‘Hooker With A Penis’. While the best Tool songs shock in a way that’s considered and intelligent, ‘Hooker’ sees the band at their most base and knee-jerk. It’s a case of a subversive act dipping briefly into shock tactics, making it the rare bum note in a career filled with masterpieces.
#58. ‘Legion Inoculant’
All filler, no killer.
#57. ‘Faaip de Oiad’
I mean, sure.
In which Tool actively try to piss off their listeners.
#55. ‘Viginti Tres’
Like a shadow run through a vocoder.
#54. ‘Ticks & Leeches’
Understatement has always been the Tool prerogative — the band are at their best when switching between great pillars of noise and great pillars of silence. On ‘Ticks & Leeches’, however, the ratio between the two is frustratingly bungled. It’s just too slight and then just too much. Tool have never been boring, exactly, but this sure comes close.
#53. ‘Message to Harry Manback’
Maybe the most insidious of all of Tool’s little inter-album skits, ‘Message to Harry Manback’ is a noirish, gilded threat. It’ll get under your skin, and do terrible things there.
Like Tool tried to write a showtune from a musical about rot. It’s not bad, exactly, but it certainly feels like it ever-so-slightly overstates itself, particularly with that ornate, flowery chorus.
Smart, but slight.
#50. ‘Die Eier von Satan’
Not much more than an elaborate prank, ‘Die Eier von Satan’ is a weed cookie recipe translated into German and made to sound as comically threatening as possible. It’s kinda funny, I guess, but it’s the kind of punchline that’s less and less appealing the more you think about it.
#49. ‘Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)’
#48. ‘Lipan Conjuring’
The gentle muzak that you hear piped through a massage parlour, as re-recorded by Satan.
#47. ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’
Do you think those are Maynard’s wind chimes at the beginning there?
Now we’re cooking with gas. One of the longest tracks on Tool’s long-awaited and surprisingly good Fear Inoculum, ‘Descending’ has all the complexity and wry meanness that you’d expect from the band. It does have pockets that feel ever so slightly rote, none of which are helped by the bloated length — there’s a ten minute version of this song out there somewhere that’s about ten times better.
But still, even Keenan at his least concise has a power other musicians could only dream of.
The favourite song of high school maths teachers the world over.
“Two times in I’ve been struck dumb by a voice that / Speaks from deep beneath the endless water,” might be the most stereotypical burst of Tool-branded surrealism that’s come out of Manyard’s mouth yet. But whatever the words mean, the way he sings them will imprint them on the back of your brain.
The closest Tool have ever come to writing a by-the-numbers metal song, ‘Bottom’ is a sturdy, handsome piece of work. Sure, it’s a far cry from their weirdest output. But still — the thing goddamn rips.
Only Maynard could write a five-minute song dedicated to the art of being a colossal shithead.
Tool are usually the masters of the slow build, but ‘Triad’ starts dialled up to 11 and remains there for the next seven-odd minutes. Punishing.
#40. ‘Cold and Ugly’
Imagine being that “Bob Marley wannabe motherfucker” that gets thrown out of the concert at the start of ‘Cold and Ugly’. How’d you ever live it down?
Tool’s melancholic side is always the one most neglected by the press — their reputation is as a band of sickos, not mournful poets. But ‘Disposition’ sees the band at their most reflective, flirting with a conclusion they never reach while repeating the same chorus over and over again, like a koan.
The most baroque single that the band ever released, ‘Pushit’ is as ornate as a skull studded with jewels — this deadly, beautiful thing. Maynard might be the only man in rock who can make the words ‘push it’ sound quite so intoxicating.
What other band takes the first four long minutes of their song to get going? And what other band goes this hard when they do?
#35. ‘Culling Voices’
The Fear Inoculum track that most obviously apes past glories, ‘Culling Voices’ is as throwback as they come. It’s an itemised list of Tool tropes that slowly buckles under its own weight. Maybe that sounds intolerable. But in actual fact, in its elegant simplicity, ‘Culling Voices’ is proof that bands do not need to reinvent their own wheel in order to stay great.
In which Tool stray into nu-metal, if only in the space of the first thirty seconds or so.
Stand on one side of a regular room. Walk half the distance of the room. Then walk half that first distance. Then walk half that next distance. Then half again. Keep halving the distance, and you’ll never reach the other side of the room. That’s what ‘4°’ sounds like.
#32. ‘Fear Inoculum’
Tool have always opened their records with a whisper rather than a bang, but ‘Fear Inoculum’ takes the slow-burn start to the next level. Ten minutes of vicious lullaby, it only really becomes a regular Tool song in its final five minutes. Which is the joke, really. After all, what other band would end almost a decade of recorded silence with a deliberate understatement?
Maynard’s tongue has never been so firmly in her cheek as it is here. ‘Opiate’ quakes with irony, as the singer circles what could almost be described as the upbeat, before revealing that the tone is just a sick replication of the highs of drug-use — or religion.
#30. ‘Crawl Away’
A spear of pure noise, ‘Crawl Away’ is Tool’s most personal song. Trading in the mythic for specific, highly-detailed complaints, it’s the sound of a band breaking down an entire way of living and exposing it for what it is. Imagine being the poor unfortunate sod that irritates Maynard.
#29. ‘Wings For Marie, Pt. 1’
A love song that hates itself for being a love song.
#28. ‘10,000 Days (Wings, Pt 2)’
Tool have always flirted with the crushing intensity of stoner metal, but on ‘10,000 Days’ they go all in, delivering a series of riffs that would make even the toes of psych doom purveyors Sleep curl.
#27. ‘Forty Six & 2’
Effects pedals might have gone thoroughly out of style somewhere around 2006, but ‘Forty Six & 2’ is one long argument for their defence. Tool have never quite sounded this much like they want to hurt the listener — as though they’re playing their instruments with one hand and sharpening a knife with the other.
The first real hint at the band that Tool would become, ‘Disgustipated’ folds the rantings of a preacher into a series of barked curses into what sounds like an entire dresser full of cutlery being pushed down the stairs.
For its detractors, Fear Inoculum was just too self-obsessed; too interested in the band’s own mythos. ‘Pneuma’ is the riposte to those claims. Rather than simply gesturing towards why the band still matter, it emphatically proves it anew. It’s so alive, so full of modern charm and wit, that it sounds like the work of a band thirty years Tool’s junior.
#24. ‘The Patient’
That climax some two and a half minutes in is the sound of a thousand guillotine blades dropping at once — a great, terrible thing coming slicing through the air.
#23. ‘Part of Me’
A brief, demented testament to a co-dependent relationship. Although, think more hideous symbiosis than like, calling each other up on the phone a fair bit.
#22. ‘Right In Two’
A chess game conducted between two psychopaths, ‘Right In Two’ is this gleaming piece of alien intelligence — a mean, uncompromising work of great beauty.
Sometimes, Tool get called a one-trick pony band. ‘Reflection’ is proof that there’s more than enough room in their sound for entire universes of nuance, a weirdo piece of true subversion.
Not so much a song as it is a series of linked curses, ‘Lateralus’ seems to constantly teeter on the verge of utter madness. That it holds together at all feels like a miracle — when the whole thing turns into the gentle tapping of a cymbal, it’s like the band are trying to will themselves to stay as one. Monumental.
No contemporary American rock band uses drum parts like Tool, and on ‘H.’ that knack for intelligent, complex percussion reaches its peak, all without ever drawing attention to itself.
#18. ‘Swamp Song’
A hundred litres of dirty water dropped into a church, ‘Swamp Song’ is this ornate, soaked thing that starts ugly and gets only more so.
This thing could be two and a half hours long and it still wouldn’t explore every single inch of its own potential. It’s just so big — so joyously, unashamedly gargantuan. If there was any worry that Fear Inoculum would see the band shy away from their own sense of grandiosity, this is the track that soothed it.
#16. ‘The Grudge’
One of the most unbearable weapons that Tool have in their live arsenal, ‘The Grudge’ is an all-out sonic assault, alternating between periods of unbearable build and shrieked horrors. Every moment of it hurts.
#15. ‘Third Eye’
Ten miles of bad road.
Proof that when it comes to Tool, longer doesn’t have to mean better, ‘Sweat’ is a mere three minutes of sweetly-sung horror. It might be the band’s most underrated track to boot — in a perfect world, this thing would have its praises sung from the heavens.
Listen, nobody’s saying that Tool provide the ideal soundtrack for the bedroom. But ‘Intension’ might the group’s most seductive song, the sound of velvet and leather being draped slowly across a microphone. Maynard’s voice has never been so inviting.
Perhaps the most prog-indebted song in the entire Tool back catalogue, ‘Parabola’ lifts the multi-layered frenzy of Genesis and coats it in a layer of lead paint. The thing doesn’t end, it just kinda falls apart, pulling itself into whirring pieces.
Maynard’s penchant for wormy, uncomfortably nihilistic poetry often gets understated. But on ‘jimmy’, his words and his music align perfectly, creating this complete, glinting package of form and function.
A tidal wave of razor blades.
Tool are too gnostic to be heralded as one of those bands that predicted the current wave of American politics. But in its unusual directness, ‘Vicarious’ feels like a terrible reckoning against all of the self-involvement and obsession with entertainment that led to our uniquely hideous current moment. “Eye on the TV / ‘Cause tragedy thrills me,” might be one of the most cutting opening lines of the last few decades.
When it first dropped, ‘7empest’ was hailed as Fear Inoclum‘s crown jewel, and the standout of guitarist Adam Jones’ long time with the band. In retrospect, that almost seems like an understatement. ‘7empest’ is this towering work of genius, and Jones’ playing on it is some of the most magnificent guitar-work of the last few decades. It just never stops, even when it does — so powerful is the thing that it lives in your head for hours after it’s done.
#7. ‘Rosetta Stoned’
Sure, it might be a dorky pun, but the title of ‘Rosetta Stoned’ is more telling than it first appears. This really is Tool’s Rosetta Stone, a summation of all of their fetishes and obsessions, from the towering chorus, to the jabbering lyrics. Rarely does a band lay out their entire project — or do it with such a giddy sense of joy.
Tool have always been obsessed with Old Testament-style punishment, a fascination with the apocalypse that starts on ‘Flood’, one of the highlights of their very first record. When this thing starts to deconstruct itself, as in the second half, it feels like the whole world is coming crashing down.
Proof that you can construct a great work of art from the simplest riff imaginable, ‘Schism’ takes an emotional moment and beats you over the head with it again and again. No band uses repetition the way that these guys do — not to simplify things, but to make them more complex, worrying over the same problems like a demented mathematician trying to crack the one single code, over and over.
#4. ‘Prison Sex’
Listen, I’m aware that suggesting that any Tool song is even adjacent to the world of disco and dance is a kind of blasphemy. But how else to explain what goes on across the staccato five minutes of ‘Prison Sex’, a wormy work of unsettled art. It might be the only Tool song that wouldn’t clear a dancefloor — and is all the better for that.
#3. ‘The Pot’
‘Fun’ isn’t exactly the word that you’d apply to most Tool tracks. But ‘The Pot’ shimmers with such invention and originality that it comes to feel oddly joyful — the sound of a demented emperor playing his fiddle while around him Rome burns.
Of course the closest thing that Tool ever wrote to a pop single is a paean to the joys of fisting. Short, compact, and surprisingly direct, ‘Stinkfist’ is this little work of anti-art that lays its pleasures right at your feet. If you need to get someone into Tool, this is the place to start them off — a glorious, gaping entry point.
All of the delights of Tool as a band are contained within the first minute of this, their very greatest work of art. The hushed threats. The sudden stab of the guitar. The rolling, bubbling bass work. The wry, obsidian-black joke of the lyrics. Name me a band that can attempt to do even half of what Tool achieve across this masterpiece, and I’ll call you a goddamn liar.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee and Tool obsessive who tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.