The real story behind Sober by Tool

The early 90s marked a seismic shift in Western alternative music, primarily due to Metallica’s “Black Album” and Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” This era ushered in a new musical ethos, where bravado and raw aggression made way for groove and emotional depth. It was in this transformative landscape that Tool, a band destined to become a titan in progressive metal, emerged.

Tool’s origins starkly contrasted with the prevailing glam and thrash styles of the 80s. Their 1993 debut, “Undertow,” showcased a unique blend of introspective, cerebral alt-metal. The album’s lead single, “Sober,” epitomized this new direction with its intense yet thoughtful angst. The combined talents of drummer Danny Carey, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Paul D’Amour, and vocalist Maynard James Keenan propelled the band to early success.

Interestingly, the roots of “Sober” predate Tool. Elements of the song trace back to Keenan’s previous band, Children Of The Anachronistic Dynasty, specifically their song “Burn About Out.” Despite the previous band’s limited success, Keenan saw potential in these early works. These elements were refined in Tool’s initial demo, “72826,” laying the foundation for what “Sober” would become.

“72826” was instrumental in getting Tool signed to Zoo Entertainment. Following their debut EP “Opiate,” the band quickly began work on “Undertow,” with “Sober” featuring prominently. The song’s theme of addiction was openly discussed by Jones in a rare interview, highlighting the artistic dilemma faced by a friend who was creatively inspired when under the influence.

The commercial success of “Undertow” and “Sober” was significant, with the album topping the US Heatseekers chart and the single reaching high positions in the charts. The music video for “Sober,” directed by Jones, further cemented the song’s impact. Despite controversy and accusations of copying the style of animators the Brothers Quay, the video is remembered as a milestone in heavy metal visual art.

In subsequent years, Tool evolved into a more expansive, progressive outfit, yet “Sober” remains a cornerstone of their repertoire. Despite criticisms from contemporaries like Kurt Cobain, the song’s legacy endures as a testament to Tool’s innovation and lasting influence in the realm of heavy music.

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