A glimpse into the psyche of Tool

By Peter Nordstrom
May 27, 2004

Whoever heard of using music to advance the human consciousness? Well not many, but there is one band that, through music, makes it a point to help our species evolve on emotional and intellectual levels.

Why should you be listening to Tool? There are three groups of people that find meaning in their music. There are the musicians who find beauty in Tool’s artistic talent to write and play music. Then there are those who focus on the lyrics and emotion in Maynard James Keenan’s vocals. And, finally, there is the spiritual level of Tool, which has gained the following of those interested in a world of evolving consciousness.

Tool is a band that is very popular, yet not entirely known because of their detachment from the mainstream. Tool seldom allows interviews. They refuse to perform on talk shows and will not allow their music to be used on movie soundtracks. In their few statements, they despise artists who “sell out” by making one good song that’s able to sell their face. Lead singer Keenan constantly changes his appearance so people don’t recognize or follow him. They claim their music is not deep or meaningful, and discredit fans who try to analyze their songs. They do this for two reasons: one is to avoid interaction with individuals’ thought processes (they must think for themselves), and two is because they enjoy messing with people’s minds.

What do those who listen to Tool gain? The majority of their fan base is very serious about the music, and listening to Tool is an activity on an entirely different level of consciousness. There is a unique bond between the music and the listener, like no other band out there. Each album takes the listener on a journey, a subconscious voyage to the inner self. Their music is a trigger for emotional and spiritual growth. To some listeners, their music is very dark, harsh and disturbing, but when this level of music is understood, it becomes a step in the understanding of all life.

To best explain this process, I will take a step into the meanings and ideas of their latest two albums, “Ænima” and “Lateralus.” The translations of the titles and directions they take define the intent of each album, as each is a personal experience to the listener. “Ænima” was released in 1996, followed by “Lateralus” in 2001.

“Ænima” was a breakthrough album, though the majority of the population could not understand its complexity and spiritual meaning. The album’s title is a word Tool created by combining two other words, “anima” and “enema.” Anima is a word psychologist Carl Jung used to define the dual sexual personalities in each person. His theory is that everyone is born with a male and female side. As a male grows up, he is taught to be a boy and to suppress his female side (subconsciously); the same goes for females and their male side. An enema is the flushing of the bowels with water, a kind of forced cleansing. Putting the two words together to create “Ænima” combines the definitions. The definition of the word “Ænima” would be the forcing of the alter-gender to the surface. In males, it would be to find the female side, and in females to find the male side. It is important for everyone to understand both personalities, for without them we are not complete. The rest of the “Ænima” album is a journey through understanding the self, from initiating the process, understanding the individual’s position in society, understanding the conscious and the subconscious, a push towards spiritual evolution, and to the outlook on physical evolution through shamanistic processes.

The album “Lateralus” is an extension of the ideas in “Ænima” plus a step deeper into the subconscious. The word “lateralus” refers to a lateral train of thought, as opposed to the normal linear thought. A linear thought is straightforward: no detours or questions or reasons to think otherwise. It is how most people function. From the day a person is born, it is taught to function according to social norms. We are raised to behave a certain way, go to school, go to college, work a 9-5 job, retire and die. There are only a few points in life when one may try to break out of this path. Yet it is much easier to stay on the path, so we simply do what we are told. It usually takes a reason, or an external source that opens a door to new ideas, for someone to venture outside this linear path.

“Lateralus” is a break against the norm. It questions integrity, society and normality, and takes listeners deeper into their individual minds. It reflects on the flow of the belief system, like how it has been structured over time. Then it digs deep into the inner workings of one’s psyche to understand who the individual listener really is. The music is beautiful, the emotion and lyrics absolutely amazing. A lot of time and patience is necessary to fully understand the intent and complexity of the music. Patience is something Tool pushes us to understand, for it is not something most music strives for.

If any of these ideas appeal to you, maybe you should pick up “Ænima” or “Lateralus” the next time you’re at the music store. You may find a lot of others who are interested in Tool by wearing a Tool T-shirt or approaching someone wearing one. Always feel free to open up to someone about Tool and ask them what the band’s music means to them.

Related link: Tool's official site

Related YouthQuake article:
A Perfect Circle: Maynard James Keenan's other band