Transformation. This is the word that best sums up the feeling of my personal encounter with Tool’s Ænima , originally released on vinyl on September 17, 1996. The album sits at the chronological fulcrum on which my life in the 1990s pivots, from dark days to brighter. Whether by coincidence in time or as the root cause of change I cannot say; nevertheless the album now has a catalytic feel to it when I reminisce on decades past.
Tool’s previous album, Undertow (1993), sadly provides some of the soundtrack to the dark days. Living in a share house with surfer friends, on a visit to a record store I helpfully suggested the album to a housemate looking for new music. “I’ve heard good things about this one”, I remarked, pointing it out. Months later, working midnight shifts and trying to sleep during the day while ‘Prison Sex’ was belting out in the room beside at 100dB, I had developed a certain hate for Tool’s music.
The emptiness of the soul at 11pm, stumbling into a subordination-signifying uniform, as others disappear to their beds for the night, is difficult to describe. A miasma of anger, fatigue and hopelessness permeated the air, and Undertow was – for me – the distorted, grinding noise of those emotions. “This is necessary. Life feeds on life, feeds on life, feeds on life…”
By ’96, I had moved house, but negativity lingered. And then, the pivot – springing up through multiple events in different aspects of my life. I am given a managerial job with more sensible hours. On a work-related tour of a Coke factory, I spot a pretty girl who worked for the same company as me. Nothing happens, but the moment lingers. A friend’s house is burgled; he claims insurance on his treasured CD collection, but later realises that one CD he had repurchased with the payout had not in fact been stolen. He offers me the spare…Tool’s Ænima .
Given my history with the band’s music, it’s surprising to me now that I even played the CD. Perhaps it was the air-play that ‘Stinkfist’ was getting on TripleJ; a kind of updated ‘Sober’, sharing a hypnotic deep bass pulse, but seemingly different in tone. Less angry, more introspective. “Something kind of sad about, the way that things have come to be…desensitised to everything, what became of subtlety”.
That’s not to say there wasn’t anger on the album. “I’ve got some advice for you little buddy!” And so it wasn’t love at first sight, but rather a journey into the music, falling through cracks in the seemingly brutalist architecture of the album. To find it was all a facade. Thus it was ever so; the best albums often turn out to be the ones you have to work your way into.
The genius bass riff of ’46&2′. The hypnotic percussion at the beginning of ’Eulogy’. The Bill Hicks’ monologue over the heart-beat kick drum that initiates ‘Third Eye’. Gateway drugs to the rest of each song, pulling me in for repeat listens. Head cocked in fascination at every newly discovered treasure: Danny Carey’s drum solo four and a half minutes into ’46&2′; Justin Chancellor’s bass rolling in like waves beneath Adam Jones’ slide guitar in ‘Aenema’; Maynard’s lyrics touching deeper than expected. “Rest your trigger on my finger.”
Poly-rhythms between vocals, guitars and drums almost seven minutes into ‘Eulogy’. The dynamics from whisper to roar across ‘Third Eye’. The more I listened, the more I heard, the more I felt. Agape at the craftmanship, from individual musicianship and lyricism, to the overall work of art created by those individuals as the single entity of Tool. The lyrics, the music, seeping deep into your bones. Rearranging your mind, re-aligning your soul. “Feel the metamorphosis”.
It was, in actuality, *too* good. There was a Luciferian smell about the whole thing; Robert Johnson recently returned from a visit to the crossroads. Not helped by the liner notes discussing Ritual Magik, and a disc emblazoned with a sigil and the name of Asteroth, duke of hell itself.
Those same liner notes – a collage of thoughts jumping from drug effects to Leary and magik and belief – have cold water to pour as well however. “No true ritual magician has ever sacrificed life, drank goat’s blood, or taken part in any other stupid urban legend ritual”. Rather, “beliefs are dangerous…allow the mind to stop functioning”, and magik is about “activating parts of the mind we might normally never use”. Crumbs thrown at least to explain the magik being spun off that disc into my mind.
And yet…those themes of transformation that permeate the album, from the very first line you hear (“Something has to change”) and the lyrics of ’46&2′ (“Change is coming, now is my time.”) and ‘Third Eye’ (“Prying open my third eye”), to the liner notes mention of Leary’s Futants, start seeping out into the real world. I get a better job with regular hours. That cute girl I saw at the Coke factory is transferred to my location; the flirting begins. She will become my wife, now of 16 years. Through her, I make wonderful new friends, for life. I start a webpage, which will lead to a new career. “Now is my time.”
It is not all smooth sailing. My father is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. I continue to work mind-numbing jobs for bad pay. But ‘angry’ songs like ‘Aenema’ and ‘Hooker with a Penis’ become tools of catharsis, rather than reinforcing the darkness. I am no longer wallowing.
Remnants of Ænima -related magik continue to swirl through the air of subsequent years, incendiary particles landing in my life periodically. Heavily interested in ‘alternative history’, I am bemused to find my concert ticket for Tool’s 1997 Australian tour has a familiar, esoteric phrase printed upon it: ’Et in Arcadia Ego’. A shared interest; I check out the band’s website looking for more information. A few years later, now running a website devoted to these topics, I off-handedly email Tool’s webmaster when he posts on this same subject, not particularly expecting a reply. Instead, a new friendship forms.
Another few years on, and in between meetings with a Hollywood producer in Los Angeles, and a flight to London to visit alternative history author Graham Hancock, I find myself – through my new friend – sitting down to dinner with Danny Carey himself. Somehow a strange path has formed through time and space, from that first record store encounter with Undertow, to the transformational magik of Ænima falling into my hands by chance , to a moment almost a decade on, where I – surreally – am now casually chatting with one of the creators of these albums that have been so significant in my life.
Now another ten years on – twenty in total – and the album remains an all-time favourite. A few rivals persist; Led Zeppelin IV; Neil Young’s Ragged Glory; Prince’s Sign o’ the Times. But none come close to the latent power I feel that still resides in Ænima to this day, waiting for someone to press play and release it into this world once more.
There’s serious magik woven into the fabric of the songs on that album.
Lightning in a bottle.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of Tool’s Ænima on CD (on October 1), I’m going to give away a signed copy of the original lenticular cover CD – signed by Danny Carey himself -, the original release date for the CD. Stay tuned for details on how to enter by liking The Daily Grail on Facebook.