Intolerance: Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Tool’s alt-metal debut, “Undertow”

Despite not having released an album in 12 years (and counting), Tool’s influence on modern progressive rock and metal can not be overstated. Having turned the magical age of 25 years old just a few short days ago, join us as we take a look back at Tool’s debut full-length, Undertow.

Released at the height of grunge and right before pop-punk bands like Green Day and The Offspring gained strong mainstream relevance, Undertow is a decidedly rawer and different beast than any of their later work. Challenging both religious and cultural norms of the time on tracks like “Prison Sex” and the excellent opener “Intolerance”, Undertow is a more alt-metal affair than anything they’ve done before or since – especially when you consider the band cut their teeth alongside other influential bands like Quicksand and Helmet. Instantly memorable tracks like “Sober” are here, as well – who can forget the distorted, bottom-heavy guitar riff on that track?

While Maynard, Adam Jones, and drummer Danny Carey were all at a near-creative peak here, special attention has to be paid to the unique bass playing of Paul D’Amour. Though only with the band for this full-length, there’s a reason Tool seems very in sync on tracks like the album highlight “Bottom” – and that’s the intricate, aggressive tone from Paul that provides the highly important backbone. He’s the spine of Undertow, as it were.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. If you’re a Tool fan, you probably rank Undertow as your least favorite album from the band. But it’s an important snapshot of where alternative metal was at in the early 90’s – and where it (and the band) eventually went, too. Don’t believe us? Listen to the last 2 minutes of “Bottom” – Maynard James Keenan’s voice will envelop you.