12 bands who wouldn’t be here without Tool
Tool are a band whose influence far outweighs their rate of output. With five albums released since 1993 (and 2019’s Fear Inoculum following a 13-year gap) they could hardly be called prolific, but even that Chinese Democracy-style wait only added to their mystique. No-one else ever really managed to fill that gap, although there are plenty of bands who have taken elements of Tool’s dark, brooding pulse and incorporated it into their own identities.
They’ve been called the thinking person’s metal band – mainly by people who neither like nor understand metal – but there is something distinctly cerebral about Tool’s complex, twisting soundscapes and oblique lyrics. Maynard James Keenan has described the band as ‘research-oriented and esoteric’ compared to the Tool-adjacent supergroup A Perfect Circle who are ‘far more emotional and intuitive’. APC’s more direct and melodic approach would also have a major impact but Tool remain the daddies of fearlessly progressive and atmospheric art-metal.
Here are a dozen bands who might not be here without them…
Mastodon’s mix of mind-bending concepts and sludge-dipped prog-metal is a unique flavour in itself, but they also owe a lot to Tool. The Atlanta leviathans were hand-picked to support the LA band on a European tour in 2006 and last year drummer Brann Dailor told Revolver that Mastodon had taken a lot of early inspiration from Tool. “How you present yourself aesthetically, reaching for the combination of visual art with music, I think that they’ve been a huge influence on us just to try to be more thoughtful in your whole approach to writing and recording music in general,” he said.
Chevelle have also cited the likes of Helmet and The Cure as influences but Tool are the ones that really shine through. They’ve developed their own sound over the years but listen to their debut album Point #1 and check out the entirely stop-motion animation video for Mia to find out where they copped most of their best early moves.
Dead Letter Circus
In recent years Australia has excelled in producing explosive metalcore bands (see Parkway Drive, Northlane and more) but there was a time when every other band seemed to mix the layered aggression of Deftones with the sinuous proggy lines of Tool. Dead Letter Circus are one of the most prominent and they’re unabashed in their Tool worship. Frontman Kim Benzie told Prog that Ænima was the album that “changed everything” for him. “And I can do a pretty mean Maynard impression, if required,” he added.
Staying Down Under we also have Perth’s Karnivool, who offer a familiar-yet-distinct offering filled with crushing riffs, soaring melodies and expansive sonic soundscapes. Asked about the influence of Tool and Deftones on his own band, frontman Ian Kenny told Hysteria Mag: “Those are the bands who made it into our isolated worlds and they made a mark and, quite thankfully, I’m glad for it.” Another unfortunate similarity is their lack of productivity; since 1999 Karnivool have managed just three full-length albums and as many EPs.
Gojira excel in drilling precision metal, but there are parallels to be drawn with Tool’s more primal moments and trance-inducing rhythms. Both bands are able to blend punishing dynamics with dark atmospherics and frontman Joe DuPlantier credits Tool with writing his favourite album. “10,000 Days’ is my favorite record,” he told Artist Direct. “The first time I heard it, I didn’t get it. I forced myself to listen to it two times in a row. Then, I fell asleep with the album repeating, and I spent the whole night with the album in my ears. Maybe that’s why I got addicted!”
Soen have their own pedigree, with founder member Martin Lopez having provided the beat in Swedish prog-deathsters Opeth on some of their most iconic albums, including Blackwater Park and Deliverance. Strands of the Swedish legends do bleed through into Soen but Tool are the presence that loom largest. They’re not hiding from the obvious comparisons either. Asked whether he saw them as a complement, Martin told The Grim Tower: “Yes in both cases. Tool is one of my favourite bands and a band we all like in Soen. And Opeth is where I developed as a musician and played the music I love for almost ten years, something I’m really proud of.”
This is one of the less obvious ones, perhaps. Those crunching riffs and hard rock vibes are generally filed under ‘post-grunge’ but mainman Benjamin Burnley is known to be a huge Tool fan. Breaking Benjamin have covered Tool live, playing the likes of Ænema and Prison Sex and rolling Schism into a medley that also contained Nirvana, Pantera and The Imperial March from Star Wars, with Burnley describing the medley as “a homage to the people that made it that we’re even up there to begin with”.
Okay so sadly Isis might not be fully extant any more but we live in hope of another appearance in the future, whether under the guise of Isis or Celestial. They might have taken more initial inspiration from Neurosis in a purely sonic sense but there are certainly elements of Tool in their sprawling post-metal. Tool’s influence also goes beyond just their sound to the way they operate. On tour together in 2007, Isis interviewed Tool for Revolver. Frontman Aaron Turner explained that they were just as inspirational in the way they exercised creative control. “You guys put a great amount of effort and attention to detail in everything you do,” he told Maynard and guitarist Adam Jones. “And when you look and listen to the results, it’s very obvious that it’s four individuals that’s comprising a whole that’s moving wholeheartedly in one direction.”
TesseracT are another band for whom Tool are a vital cog but still just one of a diverse melting pot of influences. The big one for anyone who could have the term djent thrown their way is Meshuggah of course, but Tool’s dense riffery and tightly-coiled rhythms also play their part. Asked by Metal Injection who they would still love to tour or record with, vocalist Daniel Tompkins said, “I think a tour with Tool would cross one off my bucket list. That’d be the tour that’d make me think, ‘Shit, we’re doing alright’.”
Pretty much every band with hard riffs, a dark atmosphere and proggy tendencies will draw the occasional comparison but some bands are just inherently more Tool-like than others. Seattle’s Rishloo are one such band. They’re not clones by any stretch, with a more upbeat vibe and tendency to shred or showboat. It’s difficult to hear them without thinking of the Los Angelenos however and the elephant in the room might just be Maynard in another bizzaro costume.
Socionic are another band who haven’t just borrowed sonically from Tool. It’s true that there are similarities to be found between the two LA bands but Socionic also take inspiration from the holistic approach of Tool, where music and artwork and videos and concepts are all meticulously constructed and often interlinked. Socionic might be someway behind a band whose cult long ago spilled into the mainstream but their own developing universe is an immersive one in its own right.
The UK’s own rising proggy post-rock outfit Black Peaks have been busy carving out their own niche and identity over the past few years but again, there’s no denying the hand of the masters in there. As frontman Will Gardner told Clash, “I think their attention to detail, their ethos and the mystery surrounding the band and how they do their artwork is very inspiring. Musically we take a hell of a lot from them; both rhythmically and with the artwork concepts that we try to go for.”
Read this next:
Khal Drogo / Aquaman / all-round dude Jason Momoa reveals his passion for bass “exploded” when he learned to play Tool’s Sober.
On International Women’s Day, Bloodstock head honcho Vicky Hungerford shares her experiences of the music industry, why you should always back yourself and the importance of Sophie Lancaster’s legacy.