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Rush circa 1977.

Rush circa 1977.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

Progressive rock, lovingly referred to as “prog,” originated in England and developed in the rest of Western Europe (reverse of classical music) in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. It developed from the aforementioned experimental, psychedelic, and space rock genres, all of which are sometimes associated more broadly nowadays as forms of art rock. Musicians/composers all of these attempted to recreated music in a more  artistic way drawing from visual art as inspirations for themes and concepts as well as literature… Much like how opera was always composed along side a libretto (script) as well as various other visual art forms like costume design.

Though the Beatles’ baroque pop elements and The Who’s rock opera reintroduced classical terms back to us, earlier in the 60’s and 70’s, progressive rock kept expanding on the overall musical complexity of the aforementioned which the flavors and textures instrumentation of the avant-garde instrumentations of experimental, psych and space pioneers. The standard 3-4 minute song that some of those pioneers still tried to adhere to turned to unabashed musical trilogies, epics that often stretched to 20 minutes (roughly equivalent to about one side of an album) or even 40 to 60 minutes in length (a whole album) like symphonic and jazz records in which one piece could possibly take up one whole side of a record or a whole record.

Indeed, artistic and literary concepts contributed to the eventually commercially successful psych/space rockers Pink Floyd, it was artists like Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer that brought this term to even the radio, though the music was spliced into smaller parts or movements to accommodate radio play.

Perhaps the most imperative aspect of this first period in prog rock is the use of other instruments besides the standard guitar, bass, drums line up of most of rock’s history up to this point. The first most obvious is keyboards which each of its precursors re-established as well. (Brian Eno, experimental; Ray Manzarek, psychedelic; Richard Wright, space.) These keyboardists as well as the undeniable guitarists of the 60’s and 70’s such as Hendrix and Clapton (particularly his work in Cream) that were already established as great musicians kept fostering the reverence for virtuosity on said instruments but others as well.

This aided in the eventual symphonic accompaniments of Tull’s work and caused people to reexamine works such as The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed which ended up becoming a commercial success for them and subsequently paved the way for classics such as Yes’ Yes Album and Close to the Edge, King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s self titled debut LP.

In North America, few bands followed this movement but the ones that did saw great respect. Bands such as Starcastle, Happy the Man, and highly recommended pick, Crack the Sky, had seen limited success relatively speaking but still have devoted fans to this day. Alan Parsons Project and the Electric Light Orchestra saw more success as they were a bit more radio friendly and as even more radio friendly hybrids inevitably came about like Southern rock-prog such as Kansas, arena rock from many regions like Boston, Styx, Journey, GTRForeigner and Queen came about. It was in this roar of the arena rock movement of the pinnacles of prog, its sub-genres arena and math rock combined, Canadian band, RUSH.

Rush’s numerous epic albums moved prog rock back to some of its purest forms. They raised the bar for this genre as well as the aforementioned sub-genres that came about and most importantly to the soon to develop, Heavy Metal. In fact, besides the other obvious proto/traditional metal acts such as Black Sabbath (and arguably Led Zeppelin) which shaped its heaviness it was bands such as Rush that shaped the technicality and speed that would find themselves prime features of what most people think of when they think of metal in its broadest, or perhaps most popular, terms.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Kraftwerk put out their famous lengthy epic, Autobahn, and then several Italian and French acts followed those sort of prog rock waves. In fact prog rock in its most pure form still enjoys a following attracted by even the most obscure of European bands. However, nothing was as successful as bands like Rush who remained steadfast all through the second and third waves of prog rock as well as many the greats from the first wave who continued to record all through the decades and influenced much rock and metal into the 80’s and 90’s such as QueensrÿcheDream Theater, Tool, and modern acts as varied as Mastodon and Opeth, all of which I look forward to examining in my next series on the sub-genres of Metal. Stay tuned…

Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick (Part 1)

Crack the Sky – Sea Epic

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – From the Beginning

Rush – The Temples of Syrinx

Dream Theater – A Mind Beside Itself II: Voices

Tool – Parabol/Parabola

 

David Gilmour performing with Pink Floyd during their Space Rock era circa 1971.

David Gilmour performing with Pink Floyd during their Space Rock era circa 1971.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

Experimental rock evolved into Psychedelic rock with artists like Syd Barrett in the 1960’s. After his departure from Pink Floyd, new lead guitarist, David Gilmore, helped solidify another subgenre offshoot and the 70’s brought progressive and psychedelic rock outfits such as Pink Floyd and Hawkwind to the foreground as they evolved into Space Rock. Space Rock which was characterized by increased instrumental passages (especially on keyboard/synthesizers) inspired by the science fiction themes and soundtrack music of the day and/or astronomy.

Delia Derbyshire, famous for her composition of the Doctor Who theme song was also a premier influential composer of other music within experimental genres in addition to being a great captivator and sonic painter of the beyond for incidental music in TV and film. Brian Eno, known as both a composer and a rock songwriter, was a major player as well. As for pop/rock songwriters they began to follow suit and added elements, but it is perhaps the lyrical themes that became the most influential, which became evident in other subgenres of rock such as folk rock (Donovan, Cat Stevens) and glam rock (T. Rex and David Bowie, whom worked with Eno.) In fact, the enchantment of space travel and the science fiction that British kids were being raised on became paramount in David Bowie’s most successful records, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Space Oddity. And as Pink Floyd declared themselves Space rock in the70’s, Derbyshire’s Doctor Who theme could be often heard in some variation on the synth parts in performances of  “One of These Days,” from 1971’s Meddle.

More and more pop and mainstream radio rock was also being affected. Even before Gilmour made the decidedly Space rock turn with Pink Floyd after Barrett’s Psychedelic/early Space rock departure, the Beatles, the Stones, and the Steve Miller Band wrote songs with similar themes. Indeed, it became a cultural phenomenon more than a musical one. Perhaps the race for space during this period in history influenced this tendency.

Just like with any political movement in history, cultural and artistic history is often the victim of bandwagon mentalities and the genre suffered a marked decline in popularity until the 90’s with the exception of being cleverly evolved and disguised within Progressive rock (Rush, Yes) and Art rock.

Space rock began as an English phenomenon, and as such it saw its eventual revival in the late 80’s in British alternative rock bands which others could not describe the general sound as spacey or ambient. British bands such as Radiohead, Amplifier, Oceansize, Porcupine Tree, Kasabian, and Mugstar held these elements dearly into the 90’s and American bands went onto as well.  Autolux, Hopesfall, Lumerians,The Secret Machines, The Mars Volta, The Boxing Lesson, Cloudland Canyon, Angels & Airwaves, Tool and Zombi are prime examples, though they all fall into some varying sub-subgenres which begin to split hairs, they are all “spacey” bands.

In the 90’s the term resurfaced to describe the many bands that were labeled as

alternative rock bands but that (specifically) British and American audiences craved a bit more specifics in explanations to others. Shoegazing, stoner rock/metal (sludge) and dream/noise pop acts often saw greater success when sometimes using the words “space” and/or “spacey” to describe their sounds so fans could know what other bands they might enjoy. Kyuss, Slowdive, The Verve, My Bloody Valentine, Flying Saucer Attack, Loop, Ride, Shiner (band),The Flaming Lips, Failure,Year of the Rabbit, Cave In, Sun Dial, Hum, Orange Goblin, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, and Mercury Rev employed the hallmark layers of sonic walls, textures and of course experimentation and many classified themselves as space rock or offshoot, dream pop before the term shoegaze and its sub-subgenres were even a thought.

Nowadays, although it is a more reputable descriptive term for many acts, the term only seems to be used by bands that decidedly use it. Other common descriptions indeed make it obvious that there is a blur in the experimental subgenres. The Flowers of Hell, Comets on Fire,and Flotation Toy Warningall of which who employ the old elements of 60’s/70’s Space rock in their own original ways. Seattle band, Lazer Kitty has a wonderful sound and a performance video of theirs can be seen below as well as a few other tracks that chronicle pivotal points in space rock.

Pink Floyd – One of These Days

Pink Floyd – Careful with that Ax, Eugene

Gong – Flying Teapot

Gong – I Never Glid Before

Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

The Verve – Slide Away

Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet

Lazer Kitty – Hyperion

In addition to this list other Picks of the Week that were played on air for this subgenre can be found on the Raw Alternative’s Facebook Page.

Jefferson Airplane circa 1967. Photo courtesy of www.jeffersonairplane.com.

Jefferson Airplane circa 1967. Photo courtesy of www.jeffersonairplane.com.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

From the trailblazers of experimentation arose a movement inspired by those sonic strides as well as art, fashion and mind-expansion known as Psychedelic. The sound was comprised of music (most often rock) which imbued the aforementioned with new found recording technology, effects pedals for the predominant instruments, guitar and bass with Eastern scale structures, was first noticed by most of the Western world in the mid 60’s through the Beatles in England and in the Byrds in the U.S.

From there, pop, folk and the blues, which were then primarily simple melodic tunes, became more experimental. Whole new projects/bands devoted to this sort of direction arose, especially in California. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and led by the infamous Jim Morrison, the Doors.

Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and Ray Manzerek, keyboardist of the Doors were true masters of their instruments and led their respective bands to play and sing against some scale and chord structures that most pop fans have never heard; and it worked. The music was intriguing but still catchy. Again, as any movement seems to rely on, Jazz was employed and drawn from as was blues for the simple yet gritty melodies many of the frontmen came up with. It is not to say, that vocalists, such as Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane did not have their head wrapped around what was going on instrumentally. In fact, Slick was one of the first songwriters to grab everyone’s attention with her famous unlipsyched performance of “White Rabbit” on The Smothers Brothers show in ’67 and a host of catchy yet thought provoking songs on their most famous record, Surrealistic Pillow.

While anything by Airplane, the Grateful Dead or the Doors from the 60’s would be a great example of some of the best/best known in this sub-genre, it is important to acknowledge just how DEEP it got by the 1970’s. Instrumentally, tonally, lyrically and melodically. Things on the whole were getting heavy. More to the point, Psychedelic music (especially blues based) has had the most effect on what became Heavy Metal.

Many know the legend of Hendrix’s playing being described as, “Heavy metal falling from the sky…” and his death in the 70’s may have caused some artists/bands inspired by him to quit or follow down the same path as him. But in the 70’s, even though America had hits such as “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida,” England was booming with the heavy side of Psychedelic with Cream and the hard hitting, Blues-rooted Led Zeppelin and eventually Black Sabbath, who was known first as a Psych-Blues band called Earth.

American Psych Rock (for the most) part maintained their takes on the movement and led more than ever into Space Rock (perhaps due to propaganda of the times) as the Jefferson Airplane-turned-to-Jefferson Starship teased. However, little known bands that were following suit in other countries made enormous strides of their own and led to the Progressive Rock that would become famous as a huge European movement.

Did Psych Rock crash like a Led Zeppelin? It is through Pysch Rock and the ever revolving door of Brit Pop Revivals that led to the Madchester movement in the North of England in the 80’s and 90’s. Even more hair splitting took place with sub-genres which resulted from the poppy melodic dance elements New Order and the Happy Mondays employed (Beatles, Byrds) to the Psych inspired guitars of the Stone Roses, and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr’s playing coupled with the group’s intelligent and outspoken front man, Morrissey (Airplane, Doors) and ultimately back to the heavy darkness of Joy Division (Sabbath).

Those elements’ thought provoking depths inspired Punk and Glam in the 70’s such as Loud Reed’s solo career and part of the New York Dolls’ early sound. Goth and Sludge acts in the 80’s and 90’s felt the influence too, most notably withe acts like Sleep, Kyuss and Tool. Kyuss’ psychedelic riffs on Blues for the Red Sun in 1992 and Tool’s psychedelic-prog masterpiece, Aenima in 1997. Shoegaze acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Brit Rock groups Oasis and Blur also hinted at the influence of 60’s Psychedelic rock. Finally, by the 00’s, sludge acts like Melvins and Isis, along with the rise of EDM and the rave scene, all flash a heavy influence of Psychedelic music with spacey reverb and hypnotic sounds.

And this shouldn’t have as much to do with it as all that but people in every decade since have taken drugs.

The Doors, live extended version of “Light my Fire” in ’68

Cream, live and very heavy in ’68

Little known early heavy 70’s psych trio, The Flow

New Order, very out there deep cut from 1983’s “Power, Corruption and Lies”

The Stone Roses, their far out Madchester single, 89’s ‘I Wanna be Adored”

Lastly, I leave you with a dramatization of making of Joy Divisions’ “She’s Lost Control,” as depicted in the film 24 Hour Party People, which spans the history of the Madchester movement.

Melvins. Left to right, singer/guitarist Buzz "King Buzzo" Osbourne, bassist Dale Crover and drummer Mike Dillard.

Melvins. Left to right, singer/guitarist Buzz “King Buzzo” Osbourne, bassist Dale Crover and drummer Mike Dillard.

By Rick Pollo (Editor-in-Chief)

In the early 1980s, not many could have predicted that Seattle would be Generation X’s Liverpool in terms of a rock and roll renaissance. Sure, groups like the late-60s garage rockers The Sonics and 70s arena champions Heart call the city home, but a collective scene was yet to put Seattle on the rock and roll map.

By 1984, hardcore punk outfit Black Flag released there slowed down, Black Sabbath-inspired album, My War. The same year, bands like Swans and Flipper began to emerge, also introducing a slower and chunkier approach to aggressive angst-ridden punk rock. This sound was clearly ahead of its time, but left a considerable impression on the likes of Seattle outfits Green River, Soundgarden and the Melvins.

Originally formed as a hardcore punk band, the Melvins quickly emerged as one of Seattle’s most influential and ambitious acts by the mid 80s. Their unique blend of punk rock ethos, sludging heavy riffs and experimental tendencies helped spark a musical movement that would come to be known as “grunge.” Lead singer and guitarist Buzz Osbourne once stated that the band’s sound was “Black Sabbath-meets-Captain Beefheart.” Undoubtedly a perfect summation of Seattle’s perhaps most unsung and influential grunge act.

By the late 80s, the Melvins’ influence among the Seattle scene was blatantly obvious. Groups like Tad, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone and Nirvana all were experimenting with drop tuning and searching for the heaviest and muddiest guitar tones they could find. For a moment, Seattle provided a renaissance in rock and roll, and the paradigm shifted. Over produced balladry was out, and noisy, angry punk and alternative was in. With the success of Nirvana’s Nevermind and several of the Seattle bands finding major label deals and mainstream success, the Melvins were at an epicenter of a movement. However, there break wasn’t easy.

As Seattle bands were getting signed left and right, the Melvins further pursued their musical ambition, shifting deeper into left field and away from what grunge had came to be known as, in the mainstream at least. They went heavier and sludgier, proving to have more in common with doom metal than Lollapalooza. Still, predecessors like Kurt Cobain continued to site their influence and eventually, the mainstream took notice. By 1993, at the height of the grunge scene, the Melvins signed their first major label record deal with Atlantic Records, and recorded their masterpiece, Houdini.

Houdini was unique in several ways. Much to the band’s dismay, it will probably always serve as the go-to starting point for the band. Sure, earlier albums like Bullhead and Lysol are classics in their own right. But Houdini is the first creative peak in an ever-climbing career of innovation.

Originally set to be produced by Kurt Cobain, Houdini is one of the most primal and raw, sophisticated and heavy and underrated alternative releases of the 90’s. Kicking off with droning doom riff of “Hooch,” it is immediately evident that the Melvins were not going for the sounds of Nevermind or Ten, but something more along the lines of the first records from Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. Signature sludge tracks like “Night Goat,” “Lizzy” and “Honey Bucket” serve as templates for nearly every doom, sludge and stoner rock act that followed, making even Kyuss sound like The Spin Doctors.

Houdini also has it’s share of quark. An unlikely cover of Kiss’ “Goin’ Blind” sounds nothing like the original, yet ultimately caught the eye of Gene Simmons, who often performed the track with the band during the time of its release. Tracks like “Sky Pup,” “Hag Me” and “Copache” are well representations of the band’s experimental side, an aspect of their sound they would also later explore and expand upon.

Commercially, the Melvins were never quite able to top the success of Houdini. Artistically, it was only a launching pad.

As fellow Seattle acts spend the later half of the 90’s and early 00’s dominating rock radio, the Melvins dug deeper into the underground, earning a very loyal following. Despite their lack of commercial exposure, critically acclaimed records like Stoner Witch and Honky resonating hard with their dedicated fan base.

By the late-90’s they were dropped from Atlantic Records but eventually signed to Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings. From there, a golden age of experimentation ensued. In 2003, they collaborated with ambient artist Lustmord for the Pigs of the Roman Empire LP and in 2004-05, they collaborated with Dead Kenndys frontman Jello Biafra and Tool guitarist Adam Jones for the LPs Never Breathe What You Can’t See and Seig Howdy! After a successful period of collaboration, they returned to their roots for the sludgy and trippy Senile Animal in 2007.

This year, the Melvins celebrate two milestones: The 20th anniversary of their landmark Houdini and 30th anniversary together. They chose to celebrate in true Melvins fashion by releasing two artistic achievements within the same year. Earlier this year, they dropped a collection of covers titled Everybody Loves Sausages featuring reworkings of tracks by artists as diverse as Queen, Venom, Throbbing Gristle, The Kinks, David Bowie and Lead Belly. Their latest jaw-dropper, Tres Cabrones, was released in October.

As the Melvins enter their fourth decade, they show no signs of slowing their innovative sound. That innovation has proven very influential, with sound that is impossible to properly categorize. Not only has Kurt Cobain and members of Tool announced their love for the trio, but contemporary players like Mastodon, Crowbar, EYEHATEGOD and The Dillienger Escape Plan have all sworn by the Melvins.

As trends came and went, artists risen and fallen, they continue forward, in a linear but upward direction, blowing minds and provoking thoughts at every peak.