Evolution Calling

Tool - "(-) Ions"

by Sean McCarthy

3 October 2011

You're almost done with Ænima. Just two more songs to go. And one of them sounds like listening to a bug zapper for four minutes. But skipping the track will feel like a betrayal to a ferociously ambitious album.
 
cover art

Tool

Ænima

(Volcano)
US: 1 Oct 1996

I seriously debated about combining “(-) Ions” with “Third Eye” for this Between the Grooves installment.  I finally decided “no” because “Third Eye” deserves a segment on its own. I also thought that “(-) Ions” warrants its own entry because it seems to be more than a segue into another song because of its four-minute running time.

Despite what Tool wants to call this song, I’ll always want to refer to it as “the bug zapper song”.  The track, best suited for the headphones, is composed mostly of “buzzing” sounds as well as what appears to be that cheap, beloved sound effect of flapping a flimsy piece of metal to replicate the sound of a thunderclap. If you were to hop onto LastFM‘s website and listen to the song, you can get a list of tags that fans (and nonfans) have assigned to the stack. The tags include the good (silent intensity, avant garde), the bad (boring, album filler), and the accurate (industrial ambient, electricity).
  
Tool wisely put “(-) Ions” as the second-to-last song on Ænima. Say what you want about some of the non-musical tracks on the album (see “Cesaro Summability”, “Useful Idiot”), Ænima is a filler-free album. If you’ve made it this far into the listening experience, skipping “(-) Ions” feels like catching a ride on a first aid cart at the 20-mile mark of a marathon, then asking to be let off at the 25-mile mark.

The mystery as to why “(-) Ions” was included on Ænima is best left up to fan speculation. But to classify the song as filler doesn’t do it justice. You can hate the track, but at this point in the album, there was no need for padding. Even if “(-) Ions” was to be removed, the record would still be well over the 70-minute mark.

If you were/are one of the fans who endlessly analyzed every possible detail about Ænima, you probably know a plausible reason for the song’s existence lies in title itself. In true Tool fashion, where layered meanings are commonplace, “negative” ions are thought to be beneficial for humans and “positive” ions, found in industrial areas and in computers, have an adverse effect on people.

The best way to classify (-) Ions” is to view it as the listener’s final verdict of the album. If “(-) Ions” comes up on your iPod shuffle randomly, there is little reason to listen to the track. As a standalone cut, it doesn’t merit your four minutes of patience. However, on an incredibly ambitious album, it serves as a calming force after the cathartic title track, and it readies you for the final statement on Ænima.

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