Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Tool Shed

The American rock outfit Tool is one of the most enigmatic and challenging bands to gain widespread commercial success over the course of the past two decades. The music itself is hard to classify -despite normally being described as a heavy metal band I've found Tool's fan base are just as likely to be die hard Pink Floyd, Radiohead or Flaming Lips fans as they are to follow Sabbath, Metallica, or Korn. Despite the layers of distortion on Adam Jones' guitar many of the leads are quite psychedelic and atmospheric. In the era of file sharing Tool is one of the few bands left that rigorously sticks to a 70s-style album rock format that consists of long, extended tunes that often bleed into one and other. Despite being phenomenal individual musicians a typical Tool song normally employees a few basic chords which the band plays endless variations on in terms of the time signature and so forth. All in all their sound is darkly atmospheric, hypnotic and supremely druggy.

Despite these challenges Tool has built one of the most loyal followings of any group in the 'post-rock' era -Perhaps to loyal. Outsiders, baffled by the dedication Tool inspires, often view their fan base as over zealous and overly sensitive to any criticism of the group. I shall direct my readers toward online music reviewer Mark Prindle's somewhat overly critical Tool page for some fine examples of the kind passion this group invokes in their supporters and detractors alike.

On account of the zealous fan base in addition to other factors Tool is considered a 'cult band', one in theory outside of the mainstream despite enormous commercial success and countless establishment props, such as winning two Grammy Awards. To those of us that deal in the esoteric, the tag 'cult band' is far more apt than many could possibly imagine -The artwork of a typical Tool album alone could initiate an individual that knows what to look for. The symbolism and philosophy Tool has worked into their music puts them at the forefront of occult culture. Despite their enigmatic reputation Tool is much more blatant about their occult aspects than most other artists until relatively recently. For instance, while the age of Lady Gaga has made ceremonial live performances rather common place, Tool has incorporated heavily ritualistic aspects into their live performances for decades and has made little attempt to hide their meaning.

The background's of several band members should raise major red flags amongst veteran researchers, yet the bluntness of Tool's approach is strangely refreshing. Unlike the typical pop tart diva Tool at least encourages their fans to seek out the significance of their symbols. But to what purpose is so much revealed?

The band members themselves seem a logical place to start in this examination. Lead singer Maynard James Keenan, like many 'anti-establishment' rockers before him, comes from a military background. He was also born in Ohio, an area of the country that's seen more than its fair share of High Weirdness and covert military projects over the years. I've recounted some of those events, mainly in relation to the neighboring state of West Virginia, here. He lived in Ohio with his mother until 10th grade, when he moved to Michigan to be with his father.

Keenan has generally described the time he spent with his mother, a devout Baptist, as intolerant and suffocating. When Keenan was 11 his mother suffered a paralyzing cerebral aneurysm which left a deep impression upon him. He would reference his experiences living with his mother several times in lyrics for both Tool, and his side project, A Perfect Circle. Consider the opening lines from the song "jimmy" off of AEnima.

"What was it like to see,
The face of your own stability,
Suddenly look away,
Leaving you with the dead and hopeless?

"Eleven and she was gone.
Eleven is when we waved good-bye.
Eleven is standing still,
Waiting for me to free him,
By coming home."
I find Keenan's association with the number 11 fascinating. While undeniably drawn to it because of his mother's paralysis, 11 also happens to be the number of magic. Of it, Aleister Crowley writes in 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings, "The great magical number, as uniting the antitheses of 5 and 6 etc. AVD the magic force itself." I've speculated before that certain numbers can have odd ties to each individual. I myself have had a lot of odd coincidences in my life revolving around the number 17. Keenan, incidentally, was born on April 17th, 1964. For more on 17 and my synchs with it, check here.

Anyway, back to Keenan. After bouncing around the country for a few years after completing high school, he joined the US Army in 1982. By his own admission, Keenan was a standout soldier. In this old interview with The San Diego Union-Tribute he states:
"At the end of basic training, I received a 'distinguished graduate award,' " Keenan recalled. "Out of 3,000 guys, I was apparently the best. Then, the same thing happened in advanced training, and they singled me out to go to West Point's prep school. I received my appointment and declined it to pursue this career (in music)."

Born simply James Keenan, it was during his time at West Point that the singer adopted the name Maynard on what he described as a 'whim' in this interview. Was the Maynard handle also a way of adopting a new identity? Maynard would hardly be the first individual to emerge from the Service changed -Consider the escapades of two soldiers already chronicled on this blog here and here.

Interestingly, West Point may have partly inspired the Tool name as well. According to this website, a tool is:

"A term used to describe a cadet who operates by the book; someone who sees everything in black and white. Usually, a tool is a cadet who appears to make decisions that please senior leadership, instead of making decisions that appease other cadets."
In other words, someone that follows orders without question. Tool can also be slang for the phallus as well, something that appears time and again in the occult in the form of the obelisk. In this guise the phallus, or tool, represents the generative force in nature.

As to the other members of Tool, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor don't have the same kind of deep backgrounds, at least based on the biographies of them I've been able to find. Jones did get around, however -an Illinois high school band named Electric Sheep that he belonged to also featured future Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. Upon arriving in L.A. he began working in special effects, eventually finding employment with legendary FX man Stan Winston. Jones would go on to work on such films as Ghostbusters 2, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and Dances with Wolves before Tool became his regular thing. Jones' rather rapid rise from high school garage rocker to Hollywood special effects to rock star is typical of Tool as whole: They signed their first record contract with Zoo Entertainment a mere three months into the group's career.

Drummer Danny Carey surely must have the most interesting bio. From the biography of Carey on Tool's official website:

"Danny grew up in Paola, KS. Relatively normal, an element of mystery was added to Danny's childhood when one day he spied his father with a large sword conducting a Masonic ritual. Danny would later notice himself performing similar movements when he began playing drums at the age of thirteen. As Danny progressed through high school and then college at the University of Missouri in Kansas City he began supplementing his studies in percussion with speculation into the principles of geometry, science, and metaphysics. A commitment to life as an artist brought Danny to LA where he was able to perform as a studio drummer with projects like Carole King and play around town with Pygmy Love Circus. He would later find an outlet for addressing a fuller scope of his potentials in Tool and another project operating under the title of Zaum. Despite not becoming a Mason or aligning himself with any other school of religion, Danny has maintained his heritages interest in occult studies. Endeavors into this realm have manifested periodically, such as the time he achieved insight into a hidden aspect of the unicursal hexagram utilizing an astral journey initiated through meditation and DMT. Danny then set up his drums into proportions utilizing the circle and square of the New Jerusalem and uttered a short prayer relating to the principles of the ace of swords from the book of Thoth. He then performed a ritual utilizing his new found knowledge of the unicursal hexagram to generate a pattern of movement in space relating to Fuller's vector equilibrium model. The resulting rhythm and gateway summoned a daemon he has contained within "the Lodge" that has been delivering short parables similar to passages within the Book of Lies. Danny recommends as a device of protection and containment a thorough study and utilization of the underlying geometry of the Temple of Solomon for anyone purchasing their next record."

'The Lodge' itself seems to be some kind of recording studio. It's mentioned in the credits of Lateralus as being located in North Hollywood. I've found listings online for several recording studios dubbed 'the Lodge', but none in California, so I suspect it's a home studio. Essentially some kind of macrobe is being invited through the gateway by Carey in his home studio -I suppose it gives the recordings that extra something. More on these beings, as well as the folly of contacting them, can be read here, here, and here.

If Carey's ritual magick leaves little doubt the band's occult posturing is more than just image, the lyrics drive home this point with a sledge hammer. Carey's daimonic ritual seems to have been partly referenced in the AEnima closing track, "Third Eye."

"Dreaming of that face again.
It's bright and blue and shimmering.
Grinning wide
And comforting me with it's three warm and wild eyes...

"Shroud-ing all the ground around me
Is this holy crow above me.
Black as holes within a memory
And blue as our new second sun.
I stick my hand into his shadow
To pull the pieces from the sand.
Which I attempt to reassemble
To see just who I might have been.
I do not recognize the vessel,
But the eyes seem so familiar.
Like phosphorescent desert buttons
Singing one familiar song...

"'So good to see you.
I've missed you so much.
So glad it's over.
I've missed you so much.
Came out to watch you play.
Why are you running away?'

"Prying open my third eye.
So good to see you once again.
I thought that you were hiding.
And you thought that I had run away.
Chasing the tail of dogma.
I opened my eye and there we were."

The entire album Lateralus seems to be conceptually dedicated to initiation into the occult.

The album opens with "The Grudge" in which the would-be magician has just seen his latest attempts at initiation defeated. Initially he has no response other than to curse the macrocosm, to harbor the grudge at the divine for refusing to reveal itself to him:

"Wear the grudge like a crown of negativity.
Calculate what we will or will not tolerate.
Desperate to control all and everything.
Unable to forgive your scarlet lettermen.

"Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down.
Justify denials and grip 'em to the lonesome end.
Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down.
Terrified of being wrong. Ultimatum prison cell.

"Saturn ascends, choose one or ten. Hang on or be humbled again."
Freemason's always begin their temples with a cornerstone placed during a ritual. In alchemy Saturn is the planet that rules nigredo, the blackness that symbolizes the first step toward the philosopher's stone. Nigredo is putrefaction and decomposition, the death of the old self so that the new can be born. Saturn is the god of death and putrefaction with his scythe and hourglass. In alchemy, Saturn also represents chaos from which order will be built. In the Qabala the number one represents unity, the positive and the divine being. Ten represents the divine end, the return of the positive (1) with negative (0). In "The Grudge" the magician cannot advance because his cornerstone is one of negativity. Thus the chaos of Saturn continues to brush aside his house of cards until he can achieve divine unity. Yet the path to the stone begins to emerge as the song continues:

"Saturn comes back around to show you everything
Let's you choose what you will not see and then
Drags you down like a stone or lifts you up again
Spits you out like a child, light and innocent.

"Saturn comes back around. Lifts you up like a child or
Drags you down like a stone
To consume you till you choose to let this go.

"Give away the stone.
Let the oceans take and transmutate this cold and fated anchor.
Give away the stone.
Let the waters kiss and transmutate these leaden grudges into gold.
Let go."

The magician is commanding himself to give into chaos and let it take him where his path is destined rather than trying to resist destiny. The nest song, "The Patient", represents the magician accepting the trials he must face during the course of initiation.

"A groan of tedium escapes me,
Startling the fearful.
Is this a test? It has to be,
Otherwise I can't go on.
Draining patience, drain vitality.
This paranoid, paralyzed vampire act's a little old.

"But I'm still right here
Giving blood, keeping faith
And I'm still right here.

"Wait it out,
Gonna wait it out,
Be patient (wait it out)."

In track five, "Schism", the path becomes clear to the magician as well as what he must do to stay on it.

"I know the pieces fit cuz I watched them fall away
Mildewed and smoldering. Fundamental differing.
Pure intention juxtaposed will set two lovers souls in motion
Disintegrating as it goes testing our communication
The light that fueled our fire then has burned a hole between us so
We cannot see to reach an end crippling our communication.

"I know the pieces fit cuz I watched them tumble down
No fault, none to blame it doesn't mean I don't desire to
Point the finger, blame the other, watch the temple topple over.
To bring the pieces back together, rediscover communication"
Tracks six and seven, "Parabol/Parabola", delve deeply into Gnosticism. Gnostic, which means wisdom or knowledge, was derived from the Greek word gnosis. The Gnostics are generally associated with early Christian sects, though they likely hailed from pagan origins. Beliefs among the gnostics varied widely sect to sect, but essentially the believed that the spirit of man had been enslaved in matter by the god of the Earth, which they referred to as the Dermiurgus:

"The Gnostics were divided in their opinions concerning the Dermiurgus, or creator of the lower worlds. He established the terrestrial universe with the aid of six sons, or emanations (possibly the planetary Angels) which He formed out of, and yet within, Himself. As stated before, the Demiurgus was individualized as the lowest creation out of the substance called pleroma. One group of the Gnostics was of the opinion that the Demiurgus was the cause of all misery and was an evil creature, who by building this lower world had separated the souls of men from truth by encasing them in mortal vehicles. The other sect viewed the Demiurgus as being divinely inspired and merely fulfilling the dictates of the invisible Lord. Some Gnostics were of the opinion that the Jewish God, Jehovah, was the Demiurgus."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P Hall, pg. 57)

"Parabol/Parabola" describes the magician remembering his existence as pure spirit before being encased in matter, yet recognizing a purpose behind his prison of flesh.

"So familiar and overwhelmingly warm
This one, this form I hold now.
Embracing you, this reality here,
This one, this form I hold now, so
Wide eyed and hopeful.
Wide eyed and hopefully wild.

"We barely remember what came before this precious moment,
Choosing to be here right now. Hold on, stay inside...
This body holding me, reminding me that I am not alone in
This body makes me feel eternal. All this pain is an illusion...
"We barely remember who or what came before this precious moment,
We are choosing to be here right now. Hold on, stay inside
This holy reality, this holy experience.
Choosing to be here in

"This body. This body holding me. Be my reminder here that I am not alone in
This body, this body holding me, feeling eternal
All this pain is an illusion.
"Alive, I...

"Twirling round with this familiar parable.
Spinning, weaving round each new experience.
Recognize this as a holy gift and celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing.

"This body holding me reminds me of my own mortality.
Embrace this moment. Remember. We are eternal.
All this pain is an illusion."

The next track, "Ticks and Leeches", is one of the hardest the interrupt in the alchemical context that I'm using. Superficially it seems like a put down of the unenlightened, the so called 'sheeple.'

"Suck and suck.
Suckin up all you can, suckin up all you can suck.
Workin up under my patience like a little tick.
Fat little parasite.

"Suck me dry.
My blood is bruised and borrowed. You thieving bastards.
You have turned my blood cold and bitter,
beat my compassion black and blue.

"Hope this is what you wanted.
Hope this is what you had in mind.
Cuz this is what you're getting.
I hope you're choking. I hope you choke on this."
The lyrics here could also be a rejection of pacting with macrobes, as the relationship with a familiar spirit is one of a parasitical nature.

"Ancient spiritual teachings from a wide range of cultures tell of hosts of disembodied beings inhabiting a dimension, which lies closet to the Earth. This is the lower astral realm, a gloomy cesspool of the dead peopled by the spirits of those who have lived base, ignorant, or selfish lives. Afflicted with all manner of craving for terrestrial pleasure, their decadent existence thrives on attachment to needy and unsuspecting individuals on Earth. And so they masquerade as guides or teachers, developing emotional attachments to the earthly humans and recycling the erudition available to all who inhabit the non-material universe. Their thinking processes are as rapid as they are Machiavellian; their vampiric need of human energies is boundless."
(The Siren Call of Hungry Ghosts, Joe Fisher, pg. 272)

I disagree with characterizing these beings as 'ghosts,' but otherwise this description is apt, and could apply to the rejection of bottom feeders in "Ticks and Leeches." Still, given drummer Danny Carey's pact, this is most likely a Crowley-ian proclamation of social Darwinism.

Track nine, the title track, brings it all together as the magician completes his initiation.

"Black then white are all I see in my infancy.
red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
lets me see.
As below, so above and beyond, I imagine
drawn beyond the lines of reason.
Push the envelope. Watch it bend."
As previously mentioned, black represents the first step in the quest of the philosopher's stone. The second stage, dubbed albedo or whiteness, represents when the alchemist has discovered the divine light within. Rubedo, or red, is the third stage in which the inner light is made a reality. For this reason white and red are often depicted together such as in the case of the White Queen and the Red King. The final stage of the great work, yellow or gold, is the proverbial philosopher's stone: the new man, the Illuminated Man. The inclusion here of "As above, so below" here is in reference to the macrocosm and microcosm in which man is the little god, or Microprosophus.

For more information on colors in alchemy, check this website.

"Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines."
Here the magician reflects on his early follies of trying to force illumination, to impose order upon chaos. But finally, he gives in to chaos.

"Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
Reaching out to embrace the random.
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.

"I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm, to feel connected
enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired, to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral
of our divinity and still be a human."
Against the surging finale Maynard proclaims:

"With my feet upon the ground I lose myself
between the sounds and open wide to suck it in,
I feel it move across my skin.
I'm reaching up and reaching out,
I'm reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me.
And following our will and wind we may just go where no one's been.
We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been.

"Spiral out. Keep going, going..."
Most seem to think Maynard says 'sounds' in the second line of the above verse, but I believe he is saying salt. In alchemy salt is the third and heaviest of the three theoretical substances. It also represents the manifestation of the perfected stone. The spiral, or circle, represents the infinite, eternity. The circle is order and chaos in one, endlessly.

Just as the magician has seemingly completed the process of initiation, doubt begins to creep in again in tack 11, entitled "Reflection"

"And in my darkest moment, fetal and weeping
The moon tells me a secret - my confidant
As full and bright as I am
This light is not my own and
"A million light reflections pass over me
Its source is bright and endless
She resuscitates the hopeless
Without her, we are lifeless satellites drifting

"And as I pull my head out I am without one doubt
Don't wanna be down here feeding my narcissism.
I must crucify the ego before it's far too late
I pray the light lifts me out
Before I pine away."
The moon can represent the female aspect of nature, thus this could be seen as final acceptance of Matriarchy, which in many occult traditions preceded Patriarchy. However, I view this track in keeping with the spiral theme of the song "Lateralus." On that track the magician seemed to triumphantly hail his transformation at the end of initiation. Here disillusionment has set, as if the magician realizing that far from passing initiation, he is merely entering another stage. This is in keeping with Crowley's view of initiation.

"Obviously, the first shamans had no teachers; they simply went through the illness-rebirth transition accidentally, as it were. Later, schools of shamans developed techniques (psychedelics, rituals of terror, yoga, etc.) to catapult the student into such experience. In most of these schools there is a great reliance on an entity in the initiatory process, sometimes for years ('A real initiation never ends,' Crowley said once.)"
(The Cosmic Trigger Volume 1, Robert Anton Wilson, pg. 139)
As the magician realizes that the initiation process never truly ends he is cast back into "The Grudge" as his negativity again brings down the Great Work, leaving him to start over again. Thus the song cycle comes full circle, or an endless spiral as the title track implies.

I also find it most interesting that "Reflection" is placed at track 11, which as previously noted is the number of magic. The track numbers for all the songs with vocals -1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 13, are interesting when applying the Qabala to the readings I've set forth. I shall leave this up to the curious, however.

The final track on Lateralus, "Faaip de Oiad," means 'Voice of God' in the Enochian language. I've written a bit on the Enochian language here. "...Oiad" itself is not an actual song, but a scratchy broadcast from Coast to Coast AM involving the confession of an alleged Area 51 employee.  It is deliberately made to sound like a weak radio signal threatening to give out at any moment as though the magician was almost out of its sway. Taken in the context of the epic process of initiation depicted in Lateralus, "...Oiad" seems to represent the kind of false illumination that many seekers are seduced by.

A song off of the later 10,000 Days album, "Rosetta Stoned," presents a similar message.

"10 to 2 AM, X, Yogi DMT, and a box of Krispy Kremes,
in my "need to know" pose, just outside of Area 51
Contemplating the whole "chosen people" thingy
when a flaming stealth banana split the sky
like one would hope but never really expect
to see in a place like this.
Cutting right angle donuts on a dime
and stopping right at my Birkenstocks,
and me yelping...
"Holy fucking shit!..
"And after calming me down
with some orange slices
and some fetal spooning,
E.T. revealed to me his singular purpose.
He said, "You are the Chosen One,
the One who will deliver the message.
A message of hope for those who choose to hear it
and a warning for those who do not."
Me. The Chosen One?
They chose me!!!
And I didn't even graduate from fuckin' high school."
The Rosetta Stone was instrumental in the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs, providing one of the first keys to that long forgotten script. In this case the key, be it DMT, X, or Yogi, has been squandered on purely hedonistic pursuits and thus the initiate is presented with a tabloid instead of illumination. This is certainly quite in contrast to the depiction of entheogens given in the AEnima track "Third Eye" from a decade before. The former did a remarkable job of capturing the terror of a true spiritual trip. The later reeks of disillusionment and cynicism seemingly at the way the tools of initiation of casually abused.

In general 10,000 Days is much more straight forward than the two prior albums, AEnima and Lateralus. The death of Maynard's mother (whose decades-long paralyses served as the inspiration for the album title) between Lateralus and 10,000 Days is generally sited as the reason for the more direct and personal lyrics. Yet the underlining disillusionment of tracks such "Rosetta Stoned" as well as "Vicarious" and "The Pot" strongly hints at deep frustration. Did Maynard and company begin to suspect that their fan base were bigger tools than they imagined?

Or perhaps the band themselves have been the tools in attempting to spread illumination, yet only leading to further confusion.

For a different take on Tool's occult aspects, check out this article by Greg Taylor taken from Dark Lore Volume II , which can be read here.


  1. Very well written and informative. This is a great blog.

  2. Thanks dude.:) And thank you for linking to my blog.:)


  3. Incredibly well done. Thank you.