The Undisputed Hierarchy of Tool Clones
Love them or hate them, Tool has inspired a small but significant genre to emerge. Who gets the closest to recreating their unique sound?
Back in 2006, when the internet was starting to become a useful place for music recommendations, my teenage self searched far and wide for “bands that sound like Tool” and also “boobs”. The latter returned many results, but I was always very disappointed with the former. Chevelle? Nah. A Perfect Circle? Fucking duh. With the still-standing 11-year hiatus, many good bands finally started to fill the void left by the monumental group. What exactly is a Tool clone? It’s hard to say exactly what makes Tool “Tool”, but it’s some mixture of straddling the alternative rock/metal line, progressive elements, and an optionally bald guy who seduces MILFs in wine country.
So let’s get to it. The first on the list, and at the bottom of the pyramid, has to be Dead Letter Circus. One of the few bands I can pull the “I listened to them before you” card with, I was jamming these guys starting with their first EP. The first but not last Australian band on this list, DLC is pretty far from Tool in many regards. The high pitched vocals layered upon frantic riffs in their earlier career is very un-Tool-like, but as they slow things down in their later career you can maybe see some similarities. And yet, their name still pops up in literally every “similar to Tool” conversation. I don’t disagree with the assessment, but it’s hard to say why. DLC is more “for fans of” than “sounds like” when it comes to Tool. In my opinion, their last album (Aesthesis, 2015) is mostly a snooze fest, but not in a “I’m super deep and interesting and on DMT” type way.
Albums since 10,000 Days: 3 (and 3 EPs) Literally their entire career.
Just above DLC on the hierarchy is Rishloo. This band from Seattle spends more time on the progressive side to be a perfect Tool clone. There’s too much shredding and consistent excitement to be thought of as contemplative and deep. In fact, my favorite album of theirs, Feathergun, is closer to Fair To Midland worship than Tool. You have to go back to their earlier works to really see the Adam Jones guitar tone and Maynard lyric-pacing to pop up. Their debut even does us the nicety sounding like Tool live, with the vocals way down in the mix while being played in a venue too big to be acoustically generous. In my opinion, their last album (LaGWBaT, 2014) is mostly a snooze fest, but not in a “I’m super deep and interesting and on DMT” type way. Still, the influence is undeniable in their early work and their relative popularity earned them this spot on the list.
Albums since 10,000 Days: 3. Almost all of their career.
Next on the list is the other Australian prog rock band, Karnivool. Besides the similar sound, Karnivool uses another very important Tool technique: being super unproductive. With four years between each of their three albums, they are due for a new one this year, but I have not even heard a murmur of that news. Themata and Sound Awake are untouchable and basically set them up as the benchmark of progressive alt rock/metal during the late 2000s while Maynard was dicking around with Puscifer. The thing that puts Karnivool closer to the top of the pyramid is their ability copy the fantastic ebb and flow of Tool’s song structures. While also using some occasional tribal drumming, distinctive vocals, and hypnotic repetition, you would probably never mistake Karnivool for Tool but there’s enough in common. In my opinion, their last album (Asymmetry, 2013) is mostly a snooze fest, but not in a “I’m super deep and interesting and on DMT” type way.
Albums since 10,000 Days: 2.
This band almost didn’t make the list because they only have one album to their name and I haven’t heard rumors of continuation, but the resemblance is too strong to ignore. Lesser Key boasts the former Tool bassist Paul D’Amour on the roster (the only member of Tool to ever successfully complete Maynard’s convoluted ritual required to get out of the gang alive). The vocals are actually almost identical to the previous clone, Karnivool, which I find interesting because none of the bands thus far has been able to copy Maynard exactly. Not that I am one of those people who thinks he’s the best in the world, I actually find his vocal range to be pretty restricted but I do think his emotional presence is untouchable. All of these clone bands have that ability to some lesser extent, but Lesser Key copies a little more than just that. Just listen to this opening ominous opening bass line and tell me it couldn’t be something off Ænima.
Albums since 10,000 Days: 1
Tool, a band from Sweden, has risen to the level perhaps just below the “Big 4” of metal. Their unique sound broke so many barriers and the bald frontman has become something of an icon. Despite their small discography, they have garnered massive success in their 7 active years.
Shit. I got my facts about Soen and Tool all mixed up again. Some of that above paragraph might be incorrect. Soen are the kings upon the throne of copycats. They take everything copyable about Tool and just play the hell out of it. The emotive vocals from the also bald frontman are perfect and maybe even have a little more range. Honestly, Soen has satiated all my cravings for a new Tool album for about four years.
With their latest release this year, they have branched away from the carbon copy they once were, but their origins are obvious. 2012’s Conative could have accidentally slipped into Tool’s discography and only the most pseudo of intellectuals would find something amiss; even the imagery works for Tool’s reputation. For fuck’s sake, their debut opened with two songs called “Fraktal” and “Fraccions”. Does that remind you of anything? Hmm. “Parabol” / ”Parabola” maybe?. Throughout the entire album, you can hear hints of stolen riffs and concepts. Listen for the modified “Schism” riff at 0:30.
Albums since 10,000 Days: 3. Once again, their entire career. Are you kidding me, Tool?
Note that the embedded songs are just ones that are particularly Tool-like, but I also linked a more-preferred song in each section if you are interested in digging deeper into any of the clones.