In the latest Between the Grooves series, Sean McCarthy undertakes a track-by-track examination of the concept of change in Tool's 1996 classic, Ænima, this time looking at "Eulogy" and "H".
There are harder and faster albums than Ænima. But Tool has consistently been able to add a heaviness to their sound. One of the best ways they do this is by establishing mood. Arguably, the best example of this on Ænima is with "Eulogy," the album's second song.
The song follows a ferocious opening track. After almost five minutes of sheer power, "Stinkfist" fades like an ebbing tide, creating a stillness that "Eulogy" takes advantage of. It begins with Danny Carey's glass bottle-like percussion, a hallow, chirping pulse bubbles under. It's an unsettling, sterile sound that takes it time rolling into the listener's ear. This goes on for almost two minutes before Adam Jones' guitar even makes an appearance.
In far more cases than not, a song that clocks in at over eight minutes could do with some editing. But "Eulogy" justifies the length. A third of the way in, a verse finally appears: "He had a lot to say / He had a lot of nothing to say / We'll miss him" .
The inspiration behind "Eulogy" has triggered some spirited debates in Tool fan circles. As much has been made about Nirvana's sometimes indecipherable lyrics, and coming two years after Kurt Cobain's suicide (where everyone from Neil Young to Michael Stipe were writing songs or full albums in his honor), the song could easily be about Cobain (e.g. "Standing above the crowd / He had a voice that's strong and loud / We'll miss him").
It could also be about Bill Hicks--having a relatively unsympathetic memorial would have been the perfect tribute to the comedian ("You took a stand on every little thing"). Others (namely Carey in an interview with Modern Drummer magazine, according to the fansite Toolshed) claim the song is about L. Ron Hubbard. Inspiration aside, it's a great testament to the lyrics that a person can routinely revisit such a song and draw a different conclusion with each listen.
For almost 15 minutes (and only two tracks) on Ænima, Maynard James Keenan's vocals have be on the forceful side. On "H", the tone takes a noticeable shift as Kennan's voice is oftentimes reduced to a hush. Tool's affair with lengthy tracks continues as "H" pushes the six-minute mark. But like "Eulogy", its calm pacing justifies its length.
Concept-wise, "H" picks up on the themes of change that were heard on the first track, and will be evident throughout the second half of the album. On "H", the metamorphosis comes from a toxic relationship with another person "touching me, changing me / And considerately killing me".
Once again, Adam Jones supplies a pulverizing guitar riff when needed, and moody, swirling chords that are expertly supported by Carey's drumming. The strength of the first three songs make the first third of Ænima its most consistently brilliant. The rest of the album will continue to have such heights, but moments like a threatening voice recording, an actual "Intermission", and a slight cheap-shot to fans mar an album that still ranks among the best of its genre. Some critics may complain that Ænima's momentum drastically drops off after the first half. You may not agree with that assessment, but trying to follow-up the heights set on the first three tracks is an unenviable task.