They're still hammering the charts but metal band Tool despair of the future. Frontman Maynard Keenan tells Patrick Donovan why.
TOOL are the thinking person's metal band. Cerebral and visceral, soft and heavy, melodic and abrasive, tender and brutal, familiar and strange, western and eastern, beautiful and ugly, taut yet sprawling and epic, they are a tangle of contradictions.
A sense of apocalyptic foreboding and despair pervades their new album 10,000 Days and, speaking to enigmatic frontman Maynard Keenan, it becomes clear why.
"Rome is about to fall, it can't go on like this forever; something's got to happen," he says of the political situation in the US.
"On the last couple of albums, we had an inherent sense that if we presented these higher meditations, it would open people up in some way and help open their third eye and help them on a path. But, after watching this past election, I don't think anyone's listening. I think there is an inherent sense of sadness on this album compared to the other ones."
The death of Keenan's mother contributed to the sombre mood. The album title refers to the time between his mother becoming paralysed by stroke and her death - 27 years, or about 10,000 days. Two transcendent slow-burning songs, Wings for Marie (Part 1) and 10,000 Days (Wings Part 2), deal with her death.
Despite their uncompromising stance, Tool's album Lateralus made its debut at the top of the Australian and US charts, a feat only matched by metal lords Metallica. They have sold 400,000 albums in Australia and 13 million globally. Their fifth album, 10,000 Days is creating a similar frenzy and is expected to duke it out for top spot with Pearl Jam in the ARIA charts next week. Pre-release rumours of internet leaks of songs and titles abounded; one even suggested that the band had put out a decoy album.
"Sometimes we throw out some fake titles just for kicks," says Keenan. "We liked Cream Cheese and Frozen Peas for a while."
"But sometimes we put out decoys out of necessity. When we put out Saliva, we mentioned some song titles and some dickhead went out and reserved all of the dot.com and dot.org names."
At the end of their Rod Laver Arena show in 2001, Keenan made the audience take a "non-conformist oath": "Repeat after me: Think for yourself, question authority, strive to be different and unique, never repeat things other people say."
They have also urged listeners to consciously put themselves in a vulnerable position. How does the band do that to themselves?
"It is more like a meditation, really, it's not a conscious effort," says Keenan.
"It's about the jamming process - you put yourself in a space, you start going down paths and the music just opens things up. The four of us are in tune with our abilities to listen, and we just listen and react to each other."
"It's like computer-generated patterns," adds English bassist Justin Chancellor, who moved to the US to join Tool in 1995.
"When you stare at it, let your eyes relax and then you see an image in it. Our music is like that, you relax and open your thoughts."
Even the sale of their album goes against the grain.
"We're offering the alternative," says Chancellor. "You can buy single songs but, if you want our album, you have to buy our physical album. We want people to hold the physical thing in their hands, and be forced to think about it a bit more, and look at the artwork, which (the band's guitarist and artist) Adam Jones has done again."
Keenan thinks iTunes is another chance for the industry to screw the artist.
"They're using the same old model," he says. "There's no extra marketing, no package deductions, but they're still ripping the artist off. They are selling songs for 99 cents, but the artist is only getting about eight cents. It's way out of balance. We're reluctant to jump in because we want to see how it pans out. The record company comes to us and pleads, 'Please, please, please do it' and we say, 'Please, please, please make it worth our while'."
There is still plenty of interesting music around, Keenan believes, but you have to look harder for it.
"There are some bands around making some interesting sounds, like Autolux, Isis, the Mars Volta, but the capitalist system in place where the middleman is making all of the profit and has such as stranglehold on the artistic process that anybody doing anything that you can't categorise misses out. So there's all of these local bands doing these really interesting things but they'll never be able to get huge - not that they necessarily want to. Music is the same as wine; everything is being watered down, there's no way you can have something concentrated and flavourful and make it work on a major scale.
"As a wine connoisseur, I'm always hearing people say, 'You've just got to get out and travel around the country and Europe - go to this guy with a house on the side of the road, he's got better wine because it's small-scale and hands-on'. I think that is what is going to happen to bands, because the conglomerates of the world haven't developed their palate."