Who Sounds like Tool?

Shrouded in mystery through myths made up by the reclusive band members themselves, Tool is known for their eccentric, esoteric composition and delivery of music. Initially classified as a heavy metal group, the band eventually fell under the alternative metal label and now draws comparisons to progressive metal bands as well as art and psychedelic rock.

With three records certified platinum, the cryptic group is recognized worldwide for their pivotal contribution to the alternative metal and progressive metal genres.

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Embracing a broad range of sounds and ideas, the group derives their distinct nature from many influences, including King Crimson, The Melvins, and Pink Floyd. Growing during the reign of popular 90s-era grunge, Tool generated an unconventional sound outside of the mainstream.

Alternative metal combines traditional metal elements like heavy guitar riffs and complex drum patterns with alternative rock’s rejection of mainstream commercialization. Though very few bands sound like Tool, groups representing the same genre align with similar fundamentals. Bands like Tool include:

  • A Perfect Circle
  • Deftones
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • Opeth
  • Rage Against the Machine

Also similar to Tool are the bands Rishloo, Isis, and System of a Down. Some of the band’s members are featured in Pigmy Love Circus, Peach, and Puscifer. Additionally, Keenan, Jones, and Carey contributed to and drew influence from Green Jellÿ.


Tool formed in 1990 and has released a grand total of four albums over a 25-year period. Signing with a record label after playing a small number of shows, the band enjoyed instant popularity attributed to both their unique approach to music and their honed musicianship.

The band is known for artfully crafted records and taking extended time off between releases. Shows usually consist of visually striking and bizarre stage antics accompanied by flashy multi-colored lights and lasers. The group has not recorded an album since 2006.


Living in Los Angeles, lead vocalist Maynard James Keenan began collaborating with guitarist Adam Jones in 1989 at the suggestion of neighbor and future drummer Danny Carey. Wishing to see the band reach its potential, Jones left a promising career in cinema after working as a special effects designer for movies such as Jurassic Park and Terminator 2. His skills would later benefit the band’s music video ideas.

During their formative days, the group added Paul D’Amour on bass and released their first demo, 72826, in 1991. A result of signing a contract with Zoo Entertainment, the EP Opiate reached platinum certification 13 years after its 1992 release. As popularity began to swell, the band appeared on the Lollapalooza Tour in support of their first full-length release Undertow. The album eventually gained platinum certification from the RIAA and cemented the future of the band.

D’Amour left in 1995 to explore creative interests elsewhere and was replaced by English bassist Justin Chancellor. By this time, Tool had begun recording Ænima and enlisted producer David Botrill, who previously worked with King Crimson. According to Botrill, impressive musicianship allowed Tool to record each song in just a few takes, including the Grammy Award-winning title track.

Subsequent legal battles and side projects delayed possible follow-up albums and contributed to the rumor that the band had broken up. Tool settled their legal issues and finally released the chart topper Lateralus in 2001, but not before they would mislead the public with the fake title Systema Encephale. The 2001 record features the group’s second Grammy Award-winning track, “Schism.” The band partnered with artist Alex Grey to generate album art ideas in addition to music videos, which laid the groundwork for further collaboration on the next album.

Four years later, Tool announced that Keenan had found Jesus and would abandon the new album. Eventually realized to be an April Fool’s joke, the statement joins a list of deceptions which the band is now infamous for. Late in 2000, the band released 10,000 days at the number one spot on the Billboard 200, with more than 500,000 records sold in the first week. Working yet again with Grey, the band’s end product visually and audibly captured cosmic mystery. The album met with both commercial and critical success, though it did not garner as much attention as their previous effort.

Since 2008, the California-based group has toured a handful of times. Yet to release a fifth full-length studio album, Tool continued their history of maddening pranks in 2014 after Jones teased a complete album release. An official statement by the band surfaced a day later stating that Jones was only joking.

One year later, Jones claimed that the legal issues stifling the band’s creativity and drive to record the new album were over and indicated a hopeful, though not concrete, album completion date by the end of 2015. Aware of the band’s shady track record of insincere claims, fans warily await new music, suspended in an uncertain musical purgatory.


First described as heavy metal, Tool has evolved to draw comparisons to a plethora of genres. Some songs are characterized by spoken word or the lack of lyrics, while the lyrics often reference themes pertaining to the band’s thoughts and experiences in life. Filled with metaphor, allusion, and mystical references to the subconscious and metaphysical ideas, the band’s music, lyrics, videos, and album art contribute to the idea of Tool as a vessel for the group’s ideology.

Their guitar riffs remain distorted and heavy in nature, but often vary in tone and pitch. The tempo of their songs generally hovers on the slow side with few exceptions. Avant-garde elements, such as abstract and minimalist guitar, abnormal percussion, changing, complex time signatures, and unique vocal direction are found throughout the band’s discography, distinguishing their sound from a majority of similarly classified music.


  • Undertow (1998) – Tool’s first full-length album features popular singles “Sober” and “Prison Sex.” The band cites the late comedian Bill Hicks as an inspiration for the album.
  • Ænima (1996) – The album’s title track won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. The record is certified triple platinum by the RIAA, with notable singles “Stinkfist” and “H.”
  • Lateralus (2001) – The album reached the number one position in its first week, while the single “Schism” won the for Best Metal Performance at the Grammy Awards.
  • 10,000 Days (2006) – Certified platinum, the album boasts popular singles such as “The Pot,” “Vicarious,” and “Jambi.”

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