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+ {A Perfect Circle} + {Puscifer}

The first of three essential nu-metal groups fronted by singer Maynard James Keenan, TOOL emerged as a chart-topping albums acts, before the man at the centre of his universe formed the almost equally celebrated A PERFECT CIRCLE and PUSCIFER. Prior to instigating Hollywood-based TOOL, in 1990, Ohio State-born Keenan dropped out of military academy to take up art and design in Michigan, a subsequent vocation that led him into the world of post-goth music through both Children Of The Anachronistic Dynasty and TexA.N.S. (the latter aka Tex Porker & the Anti Nazi Squad); probably worth searching out are some rare cassette-only releases from 1986-87: “Fingernails”, “Dog House” and “Never Again”.
TOOL, on the other hand, were not only driven by the un-metal-like Maynard (always dressed to kill), but aural assaults of Messrs Adam Jones (guitar/bass), Paul D’Amour (bass/guitar) and Danny Carey (drums). Signing to BMG offshoot, Zoo Entertainment Records, TOOL showcased their claustrophobic, nihilistic post-grunge on their 1992 mini-set/EP, OPIATE {*6}. Creating a buzz with high-profile supports to the likes of HENRY ROLLINS, TOOL subsequently hammered out a full album’s worth of HELMET-like savage intensity by way of UNDERTOW (1993) {*7}, a record with such bluntly-titled tracks as `Prison Sex’, `Intolerance’, `Sober’ and `Bottom’; the latter featuring the aforementioned hardcore pioneer ROLLINS. The abrasive BLACK SABBATH-meets-grunge album went on to sell over a million copies in the States, although only just reaching the Top 50.
Three years later, with bassist Justin Chancellor (ex-Peach) filling the vacant berth of D’Amour, after extensive touring, TOOL resurfaced in dramatic fashion with AENIMA (1996) {*8}. The double-set record rocketed straight to No.2, surprising many incumbent fans of prog-metal who’d yet to acquire a taste for TOOL. Moving rock back into conceptual mode, the sonically-charged quartet gave us their philosophical world of false martyrdom, casual sex and doomed evolution on the likes of `Stinkfist’, `Hooker With A Penis’, `H.’ and `Forty Six & 2’.
An ensuing legal battle with Freeworld Entertainment lasted two years before the band agreed a joint deal for subsequent recordings. While TOOL then underwent a hard-earned sabbatical, Keenan hooked up with the band’s guitar technician, Billy Howerdel, bassist/violinist Paz Lenchantin, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen (ex-FAILURE) and drummer Josh Freese (ex-VANDALS and GUNS N’ ROSES) to form supergroup of sorts, A PERFECT CIRCLE. After cutting their debut at L.A.’s Viper Room in summer ‘99, the theatrical art-metal combo released the MER DE NOMS (2000) {*8}. With songwriting duties shared by Keenan and producer Howerdel, the record carried on in the dark spirit of Maynard’s main band, while drawing a string-enhanced gothic cloak (or cape, even) around the former’s emotionally ravaged vocals. If one can imagine the SMASHING PUMPKINS sharing a studio with NINE INCH NAILS, then their cathartic and passionate touches were best served by `3 Libras’, `The Hollow’ and the growling `Judith’.
Following the release of the millennial SALIVAL box set (an hour-plus CD and DVD collection featuring a version of LED ZEPPELIN’s `No Quarter’ and Peach’s `You Lied’), TOOL, themselves, re-entered the fray in 2001 with the widely acclaimed LATERALUS {*9}, an ineffably complex work of shifting textures, oblique mood and inscrutable lyrics carrying the mystical torch of its predecessor into a parallel sonic universe. Kerrang! hailed it as one of the greatest albums ever recorded, grand claims which will no doubt leave those humble TOOL lads unfazed. Drawing from prog-meisters KING CRIMSON and RUSH, the haunting and hypnotic vocals of Maynard and the harsh-landscape dynamics of his group were uncompromising on the likes of `The Grudge’, `Schism’, `Triad’, et al.
Keenan’s A PERFECT CIRCLE alumni returned in 2003 with the ominously-titled THIRTEENTH STEP {*7} album, featuring former MARILYN MANSON bassist Jeordie Osborne White (who stepped into the breach after the departure of Paz) and guitarist Danny Lohner, who was the immediate stand-in for Van Leeuwen; during the set’s recording, he replaced by ex-SMASHING PUMPKINS man James Iha. Produced by Howerdel and mixed by Andy Wallace, the record sought to deepen and enhance the sinister atmospherics of their debut, relying on skilfully wrought, sonic light and shade rather than dynamic bludgeon; one recommends giving `Lullaby’ (showcasing JARBOE on vox), `Weak And Powerless’, `The Outsider’ and `The Noose’.
With a CV featuring a few radical cover versions, Keenan and his A PERFECT CIRCLE of collaborators released an album’s worth of over-ambitious interpretations under the title eMOTIVe (2004) {*4}, a near chart-topping protest opus casting their creepy, whispered spell over sacred cows like JOHN LENNON’s `Imagine’, NICK LOWE’s `Peace, Love And Understanding?’ and MARVIN GAYE’s `What’s Going On’; BLACK FLAG’s `Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie’, DEPECHE MODE’s `People Are People’, DEVO’s `Freedom Of Choice’ and The FEAR’s `Let’s Have A War’ were perhaps more suited to the industrial-apocalypse treatment but – outside of a satisfyingly ectoplasmic rendering of LED ZEPPELIN’s `When The Levee Breaks’ and JONI MITCHELL’s `Fiddle And The Drum’ – arguably the best (and most disturbing) songs on the album were the originals: `Passive’, and the nerve-pulping, percussive death march of `Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums’.
TOOL finally re-surfaced after a second 5-year sabbatical in spring 2006 with 10,000 DAYS {*7}, another US No.1 (UK Top 5) which found Keenan and Co taking a more meditative, less didactic view of man’s flawed nature. Given the freedom to circumvent their brooding brand of angst-metal, lengthy workouts such as `Vicarious’ and the back-to-back `Wings For Marie (pt.1)’ & `10,000 Days (Wings pt.2)’ medley – the latter paying homage to his recently deceased mother – were necessary, cathartic bloodletting to bring about sincerity in their melodrama.
But that was it for TOOL (and for that matter, A PERFECT CIRCLE), as a solo-bound Keenan and a plethora of studio musicians produced his musical triptych, PUSCIFER – straight outta Cornville, Arizona. Described by the man himself as “the space where my Id, Ego and Anima, all come together to exchange cookie recipes”, the loose collective of musos formulated something akin to electro-industrial on 2007’s “V” IS FOR VAGINA {*6}. Taking inspiration from the film work of ANGELO BADALAMENTI and BARRY ADAMSON, while leaning to MINISTRY offshoots, REVOLTING COCKS or PIGFACE, the sexual atmospherics in `Vagina Mine’ and others in a similar melodic frame of mind, `Momma Sed’ (with RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE) and `Queen B’ (featuring PRIMUS geezer Tim Alexander); backing vox by both LISA GERMANO and actress Milla Jovovich, PUSCIFER were hardly pussy-footing around their subject matter. Not included on the album was the act’s most controversial piece, `Cuntry Boner’ (penned by TOM MORELLO); parental guidance also needed for its flipside, `World Up My Ass’.
Never one to get back in the saddle straight away (if one doesn’t include the dreaded “Re-Mix” sets for collectors), PUSCIFER, the band, finally unhinged their second Top 30 offering, CONDITIONS OF MY PAROLE (2011) {*6}. Now augmented by Mat Mitchell (banjo/bass), Josh Eustis (guitar/piano), Carina Round (some dual vox), Matt McJunkins (bass) and Jeff Friedl (drums) – the latter pairing from The Beta Machine, the un-tagged MJK divided the set between the nocturnal and the noodling; one can take a glimpse into the yearning search for the man’s lonesome soul through `Tiny Monsters’, `Monsoons’, `Toma’ and `Telling Ghosts’.
PUSCIFER were back in gear in 2013, albeit with an EP, `Donkey Punch The Night’. It featured covers of QUEEN’s `Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ACCEPT’s `Balls To The Wall’, alongside two fresh tracks, `Breathe’ and `Dear Brother’. No doubt Maynard will be chewing over what project to come up with over the next few months (or years).
project to come up with over the next few months (or years). That went to PUSCIFER’s self-financed follow-up, MONEY $HOT (2015) {*7}, a Top 30 breaker that featured a couple of personnel shifts: bassist Paul Barker (ex-MINISTRY, ex-REVOLTING COCKS, ex-LEAD INTO GOLD) in for McJunkins (to EAGLES OF DEATH METAL) and keyboardist Mahsa Zargaran filling the berth of Eustis. Questioning the fundamental flaws in human nature that concerned man’s relationship with social media, ignorance, intolerance and blind faith (as one astute reviewer succinctly put it), singers Maynard and Carina delve deep within the confines of `Galileo’, `Grand Canyon’, `Autumn’ and `The Remedy’.
14 years since drama-metal act A PERFECT CIRCLE rounded off an album, Keenan, Howerdel, Iha, McJunkins and Friedl dropped the wholly unappetizing title, EAT THE ELEPHANT (2018) {*7}, for BMG Records. Not that what lay within its grooves was musically inedible, because `The Doomed’, `Disillusioned’, `By And Down The River’, `TalkTalk’, `Get The Lead Out’ et al, would appeal to any fan missing the link between DEPECHE MODE and NINE INCH NAILS. The Top 3 set had all the same environmental, government and technology shifts and patterns as the previous PUSCIFER record (add to that religion and the unending gun violence), however, there was the daunting prospect of the unnamed Trump as the main protagonist.
Gearing up to an ambitious reunion set, TOOL’s early albums soared high into the Billboard lists, a transaction that whet the appetite for their chart-topping and mind-blowing FEAR INOCULUM (2019) {*9}. Messrs Keenan, Jones, Chancellor and Carey were once again masters of the prog-metal universe, defying gravitational convention by preferring up seven sonic songs all topping the 10-minute mark, including the opening Hot 100 title track. Instrumental digital diversions aside (thankfully amiss on the CD), the TOOLs you could trust here were `Pneuma’, `7empest’ and the heavenly hypnotic `Culling Voices’ – the latter worth the ticket price alone in anticipation of the WISHBONE ASH-meets-METALLICA crescendo.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2013-Sep2019

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