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The 25 Most Important Metal Bands of the ’90s, #5: Tool

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The ’90s: they were the bomb! That’s why MetalSucks will spend the month of March (and the first week of April) giving snaps to the decade that was all that and a bag of chips by counting down The 25 Most Important Metal Bands of the ’90s. These aren’t bands that necessarily formed in the ’90s, nor are they bands that would turn out to be influential somewhere down the road; these are bands that a) were doing their best work in the ’90s, and b) amassed a devout following during the ’90s. These are the bands that we feel truly defined the decade for extreme music. These are the bands that we feel truly defined the decade for yo mama.

Like many folks, my first exposure to Tool was through the creepy claymation music video for “Sober,” from the band’s 1993 debut Undertow. And what a perfect introduction it was, with all the elements that would come to define Tool’s career already in place: a haunting, dark aesthetic, meticulously crafted visuals and an air of mystery surrounding the band (the members didn’t appear in the video, a rarity in those days).

It would be eight years before many of us learned what the band members looked like up-close. And even then, the band’s “big reveal” came in typically frustrating fashion: they appeared on the cover of Spin Magazine in 2001 with a band of white light covering their eyes.

Tool Spin Magazine cover

By the time Ænema came out in 1996, Tool were full-flegded rock stars — except they weren’t. Despite the massive radio play garnered by “Stinkfist,” “Forty-Six & 2” and the album’s title track, the band remained shrouded in mystery. They still didn’t appear in their videos, rarely give interviews and stayed out of public sight. Tool embodied the grunge anti-rock star ethos of the era but brought it to metal, where it was — and still is — most unwelcome.

Ah, the old “are they” or “aren’t they” metal argument. Are we really still having that discussion? Who the fuck cares? This much is certain: they were heavier than anything else on the radio at the time, and they were better musicians, too. If Tool hadn’t existed, would we have progressive metal as we know it today? Surely not. And even if their music was never the heaviest thing in existence, their ethos and imagery were always certainly dark as fuck.

Back to that “Sober” video — has anyone been able to figure out what the fuck it’s about yet? Even re-watching it to prepare for this piece, I still don’t fucking know. A mysterious box, the gyrating arm, the lifting chair, the intestines in the pipe… these are images that are burned into the collective unconscious of metal, yet here we are some 25 years later still discussing their meaning. But why would Tool make anything easy for us?

THE LIST SO FAR
#25: Morbid Angel
#24: Melvins

#23: Meshuggah
#22: Emperor

#21: Cave In
#20: Botch
#19: Cradle of Filth
#18: Sepultura
#17: Napalm Death

#16: Rage Against the Machine
#15: Type O Negative

#14: Dream Theater
#13: Alice in Chains
#12: Nine Inch Nails
#11: Carcass
#10: Death
#9: Deftones
#8: Cannibal Corpse
#7: Fear Factory
#6: Metallica

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