Undertow (Tool album)

Last updated

Studio album by
ReleasedApril 6, 1993 (1993-04-06)
RecordedOctober – December 1992
  • Sound City, Van Nuys, California
  • Grandmaster, Hollywood, California
Label Zoo
Tool chronology
Singles from Undertow
  1. "Sober"
    Released: May 1993
  2. "Prison Sex"
    Released: 1993

Undertow is the debut studio album by American rock band Tool, released on April 6, 1993 by Zoo Entertainment. Produced by the band and Sylvia Massy, it was recorded from October to December 1992 at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys and Grandmaster Recorders in Hollywood. The album includes some tracks the band decided to not release on their debut EP Opiate . [3]


According to AllMusic, Undertow helped heavy metal music remain prominent as a mainstream musical style, and allowed several later bands to break through to the mainstream. It was released at a time when grunge was at the height of its popularity, and pop punk was slowly beginning to gather mainstream attention. [4] AllMusic saw the album's success in the "striking, haunting visuals that complemented the album's nihilistic yet wistful mood." [4]

As of 2010, Undertow has sold over 2.9 million copies in the United States, and is certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. [5]


Undertow was Tool's only full album release with original bassist Paul D'Amour.

Comedian Bill Hicks is noted as "inspiration" in the liner notes, and Undertow is the only Tool album released while he was still alive. His presence would feature again on Tool's next album, Ænima .

Chris Haskett, then with the Rollins Band, is credited in the liner notes with "sledge hammer", probably relating to the "three pianos and shotguns smashed with sledgehammers" on "Disgustipated". [6] Adam Jones recalls a story in which the band purchased two second-hand pianos with the intention of blasting them with shotguns in the indoor parking lot of Grand Master Studio and putting the resulting sounds to tape. Apparently the woman running the studio was happy as long as they cleaned up the mess afterwards. Since the incident, Tool has been approached by other bands claiming to have seen the shotgun holes left by them in the carpark wall. [7]


The album art was designed by Adam Jones. [3] Photos in the liner notes of a nude obese woman, a nude thin man, and the band members with pins in the sides of their heads generated controversy, resulting in the album being removed from stores such as Kmart and Walmart. [8] [9] The band reacted by releasing another version, which depicted a giant barcode on a white background. [8] This version of the album included a note from the band:

It came to our attention recently that many stores across our fine and open minded nation would not stock Undertow because of our explicit artwork. Although we loathe being censored, we want your money we still want you to hear our music, so we took it out. However, it is available to you at no extra cost. Fill out the form, stick it in an envelope, mail it in, and we will send you the original artwork. Love, Tool

The message on the photographs of the band members reads "Trust me trust me trust me trust me trust me I just want to start this over say you won't go this is love I'll make weapons out of my imperfections lay back and let me show you another way only this one holy medium brings me peace of mind cleanse and purge me in the water twice as loud as reason euphoria I've been far too sympathetic no one told you to come I hope it sucks you down life feeds on life this is necessary." The songs the lyrics contained in the passage are from appear in this order: "Sober", "Crawl Away", "4°", "Prison Sex", "Flood", "Undertow", "Intolerance", "Swamp Song", "Disgustipated". The only quote missing from the album is "I'll make weapons out of my imperfections", a line from Maynard's original lyrics for "Bottom" before they were modified by guest Henry Rollins. [10]

In some versions of the album, when the black CD tray is removed from the case, a picture of a cow licking what appears to be its genital region is revealed. In other versions of the album, released internationally, the picture of the cow licking the genital region is viewable without problems under the transparent backing of the disc case. The photo of the cow is accredited in the album's liner notes to have been taken by Danielle Bregman. The ribcage is also on the front cover of the album, but the obese woman is absent from the booklet; only the members of the band are depicted.

Adam Jones' pet pig, Moe, appears on the back cover [7] amid an array of forks standing on end.


Professional ratings
Review scores
About.com Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg [11]
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [4]
Entertainment Weekly A− [12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svgStar empty.svg [13]
Select 2/5 [14]
Spin favorable

AllMusic gave the album a positive review, stating "With its technical brilliance, musical complexities, and aggressive overtones, Undertow not only paved the way for several bands to break through to the mainstream adolescent mall-rage demographic, it also proved that metal could be simultaneously intelligent, emotional, and brutal." [4] In Entertainment Weekly 's review of the album, David Brown awarded it an A- and said "Like many of its brethren in the alternative-metal corps—Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, and Helmet—Tool can crunch and lumber about with the best of them. What put this L.A. band a notch above the rest are better songs (with actual verses, choruses, and hooks-check out the terrific "Prison Sex") and the hints of vulnerability in singer Maynard James Keenan's voice". [12]

In an About.com bibliographical article of the band, reviewer Tim Grierson called the album the "Essential Tool Album" and stated "It may be impossible to describe the impact that Undertow had at the time of its release in 1993. Searching, angry, liberating and scary, Tool's full-length debut emerged during a period in rock music when Seattle bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were expressing alienation through grunge riffs, inspiring lots of copycat artists. Undertow expressed alienation, too, but the album's imposing waves of misery and dread seemed to come from an entirely different planet than grunge, providing a startling counterpoint to the trendy sounds of the era". [11] A less positive review came from Select writer Andrew Perry, who said "[B]ereft of the irony, danger and maverick punkiness of grunge's finest, Tool ultimately will only help Alice In Chains reassert the trad metal market. Which really isn't what we deserve." [14]


PublicationCountryAccolade [15] YearRank
Raw UKAlbums of the Year19936
90 Essential Albums of the 90s1995*
Visions GermanyThe Best Albums 1991–961996*
Pause & PlayUSThe 90s Top 100 Essential Albums199911
Classic RockUKThe 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time200187

(*) designates unordered lists.

Track listing

All lyrics are written by Maynard James Keenan, unless otherwise noted; all music is composed by Adam Jones, Danny Carey and Paul D'Amour.

1."Intolerance" 4:53
2."Prison Sex" 4:56
3."Sober" 5:06
  • Keenan
  • Henry Rollins
5."Crawl Away" 5:30
6."Swamp Song" 5:31
7."Undertow" ( Loudspeaker.svg listen  ) 5:22
8."4°" 6:03
9."Flood" 7:46
10."Disgustipated" (Song ends at 6:45. Sounds of crickets chirping can be heard for 7 minutes and 5 seconds until 13:50, and then silence until the end.) 15:47
Total length:69:13

"Disgustipated" is track 69 on most pressings in North America (tracks 10–68 are silent; tracks 10–67 are one second each in length, and track 68 is two seconds). It also appears as track 39, track 10 (mostly in Europe and Australia) or as a hidden track following "Flood" on track nine. On certain Japanese imports, "Disgustipated" is track 70. In all cases, however, it is listed as track 10 on the album itself.

Japanese edition
11."Opiate" (Opiate does not include "The Gaping Lotus Experience")5:20
Total length:74:35
Australasian bonus disc
3."Opiate" (Opiate does not include "The Gaping Lotus Experience")5:20
5."Prison Sex"4:50
6."Jerk Off"4:18
7."Prison Sex"5:01
Total length:40:40



Chart (1993–1994)Peak
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ) [16] 17
US Billboard 200 [17] 50
US Heatseekers Albums (Billboard) [18] 1
Chart (2001)Peak
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100) [19] 89
Chart (2019)Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA) [20] 21
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders) [21] 36
US Billboard 200 [17] 19

Sales and certifications

RegionCertification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA) [22] Platinum70,000Double-dagger-14-plain.png
Canada (Music Canada) [23] Platinum100,000^
United States (RIAA) [24] 2× Platinum2,910,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

Release history

United States1993 (1) Zoo Vinyl ZP11052-1BMGGrey vinyl (promotional)
ZP11052-1Clear vinyl (promotional)
April 6, 1993
(original release)
Cassette 72445-11052-4
CD72445-11073-2Barcode cover
Cassette72445-11073-4Barcode cover
CDD 153661BMG Direct Marketing
CanadaBG2-11052Columbia House
United States1996 (2) Volcano Vinyl72445-11052-1-RERepress
CD61422-31073-2Barcode cover
Europe19937243 8 46690 2Virgin
United Kingdom Music for Nations CDMFN 246
Canada1999 (3)
Tool Dissectional
61422-33010-2BMG Canada
United StatesVinyl61422-31052-1Sony BMGReleased in the original Zoo sleeve
JapanJune 27, 2001ZJCI-14006Avex
United States2004 (4)Vinyl61422-31052-1Sony BMG
JapanMay 10, 2006CDBVCQ-21070
EuropeMay 15, 200682876536472
  1. The promotional vinyl did not include the final track "Disgustipated" so that the entire album could fit onto one disc. Because it is promotional, it is possible that it was released before the regular pressing, therefore, only the year is listed.
  2. The year 1996 represents the year that Volcano Entertainment began using its own logo on releases which formerly used the Zoo Entertainment logo. In reality, 1996 reissues with the Volcano logo may not have actually been widely distributed until early in 1997.
  3. The year 1999 represents the year that Tool's Tool Dissectional label was used in conjunction with Volcano. Strong evidence supports a North American reissue date of July 1, 1999, however, the European ones are unknown. To be cautious, only the year is given for all releases of this nature.
  4. The year 2004 represents the year that Sony BMG was created. These reissues contain artwork that depicts Sony BMG as the distributor. Since Sony BMG's pressing schedule is not known, the actual release date may be sometime in 2004 or 2005.

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  2. Reed, Ryan (April 6, 2018). "How Tool Became a Genre Unto Themselves With 1993's Game-Changing 'Undertow'". Revolver . Retrieved March 24, 2019.
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  4. 1 2 3 4 Theakston, Rob. "Undertow- Tool". AllMusic . Retrieved January 18, 2019. Just as grunge was reaching its boiling point and radio-friendly punk-pop loomed on the horizon, Tool released Undertow, which firmly reinforced metal's prominence as a musical style [...] With its technical brilliance, musical complexities, and aggressive overtones, Undertow not only paved the way for several bands to break through to the mainstream [...], it also proved that metal could be simultaneously intelligent, emotional, and brutal.
  5. "British Rock Royalty Add More Awards". RIAA. July 2, 2001. Archived from the original on October 15, 2006. Retrieved May 14, 2007. ..."Aenima" and "Undertow" are currently double Platinum...
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  9. Richard Harrington (April 6, 1994). "Keeping Those Risque Covers Undercover". The Washington Post. Archived from the original (fee required) on November 5, 2012. Retrieved February 2, 2008.
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