On Tuesday, the progressive-metal band Tool announced that their new record, the first since 2006’s 10,000 Days, will be released on August 30. In typical Tool fashion, the announcement was initially cryptic: a date, flashed in large font, across the large screen hanging behind them at their show in Birmingham, Alabama. They soon followed by posting the date on their Twitter feed.
Tool is often referred to as a “cult band” or even the “biggest cult band”, due to their esoteric lyrics, mysterious aesthetic aura, and rabid online community of fans who’ve spent more than two decades digging into the band’s extensive mythos. There’s a “reading list” on the band’s site that formerly included an arguably fake occult book The Joyful Guide to Lachrymology, and talk of sacred geometry and the Fibonacci sequence in the band’s time signatures. The band never prints its lyrics, leading fans to guess for themselves. Tool themselves have advocated for the use of their music beyond music, calling the band a “big dick,” a “wrench,” or a “blotter of acid” to be put to use for self-betterment. The average Tool fan can be found constantly advocating for psychedelic drug usage, touting conspiracy theories about the government or any authoritative entity, and living their lives based on the mantra “question everything” (except for their personal interpretation of and dedication to Tool’s lyrical meanings, of course).
My own indoctrination into the Tool cult came in high school. During summers, I worked at a countertop manufacturing and installation company. Driving around all day in a van, delivering and installing countertops with one other guy who was normally old enough to be my young father (or hip uncle), could get tedious at times; the radio or, if we were lucky enough to have one, a CD player would serve as our only entertainment. My partner was often Matt (name changed), a middle-aged bald guy with gold earrings and a goatee. He was cool — a former heavy drug user and metalhead who was often goofy, and unpretentious. One day, Matt asked me if I liked Tool. He then turned up the radio, as the a capella opening of “The Pot,” a song from 10,000 Days, began. When the complexly funky bassline from player Justin Chancellor scooted in, and Maynard James Keenan started singing about Kangaroo courts and reefer, I was somehow hooked.
I devoured the band’s albums, listening to them constantly. I would read and reread the forums on the Toolshed forum, where one could explore various interpretations of song and album meanings, and discuss live shows with other fans. The band’s references — to homebrew philosophers like Carl Jung, Timothy Leary, and Bill Hicks — and the fans of the band’s references pointed me down a path of cosmic, hazily weed-stenched discovery.
At the same time, Keenan wore fake breasts and absurd outfits on stage; they were obviously indebted to freak musicians like Frank Zappa; they seemed, at times, painfully awkward. They were a weird band, making music for other weirdos. They seemed faintly ridiculous, or at least difficult to explain to other people who weren’t fans, but there was something admirable in their creativity — their complete resistance to parallel creative trends in the mainstream and complete devotion to their process, hence the long wait in between albums. (The band even resisted putting its catalog on streaming services for years, until finally creating an artist profile page on Spotify and Apple Music last week.)
Then, obviously, I grew up, and developed tastes more refined than the teenager blown away by the vague concept of “thinking for oneself” or Keenan leg sweeping an overenthusiastic fan onstage in 2011. Listening to them every once in a while was enjoyable but not nearly as obsessive as it had been, and I liked it that way. I had had my fun discovering the band, listening to Lateralus a few times alone in the dark, or discovering the hidden track called “The Gaping Lotus Experience” on vinyl pressings of Opiate about a friend who took some acid and thinks he’s a fire engine. Thinking about the band made me feel like a suburban housewife looking fondly at photos of her teenaged punk haircut. Was I ever so young and idealistic?
But without warning, my Tool fandom returned from orbit and crash-landed in my consciousness. In March, I was at a record store near my childhood home in New Jersey, flipping through CDs, when I looked up at the shelves. Between box sets from Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead was a dark rectangular box with “TOOL” etched across the front: a copy of Salival, a rare CD + DVD set issued in 2000. It had long been out of print, and was something I’d only hear about during my days of earnest fandom, in the allusive way that your stoner friend Kyle talks about his stoner friend Rick’s giant bong. After some hesitation, and a surge of fondness, I carried it up to the counter. “I’m surprised we still have this,” the clerk told me. “Normally when we get Tool CDs, they’re stolen within the day.”
“Tool fans are the worst,” the customer beside me chimed in.
“The WORST,” the clerk added for emphasis. I stood there, without comment and then handed over my credit card.
There’s a disapproving Urban Dictionary entry for “Tool fan” referring to the band’s fans as obsessive conspiracy theorists. There are also plenty of Reddit threads started with questions like “What’s with the cult of tool?” or “Why are Tool fans considered by many to be such a group of, well, tools?” Keenan himself has dismissed the superfandom, telling people to lighten up. Tool means dick — it isn’t meant to be taken seriously, he said, so stop obsessing and move on with your lives.
I thought I had. But with Salival, and the album announcement, I think I’ve been sucked back in. I hope I’m not let down, but either way, I can always talk about it back on the message boards.