Download Festival, Donington Park, Leicester, England June 16, 2019
The excitement around this headliner is palpable – it’s just the slot that’s an issue. The usual Download Sunday headliner tends towards something ‘for all the family’ – the last few years have seen Ozzy, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden and Kiss prevail upon the main stage as the final Download act. The kinds of bands that bring people in droves– whether you’re a fan, or not. Tool are not that band. If you like them, chances are you’ll love them. If you’re less enthused the next couple of hours will sound like one never-ending prog track with predictable, accompanying videos and zero crowd interaction. Yes, it’s metal performance art, yes it’s deeply intellectual with hidden themes and motifs – but at the very end of the festival, you just kinda want something easy going. Tool are not easy going. Not even slightly.
The spectacle is undeniable though – and the very opposite of Slayer who are headlining the Zippo stage at the same time. Unlike last night’s main stage headliner Slipknot, singer Maynard James Keenan would rather – as he always has – skulk about at the back of the stage near drummer Danny Carey than point and leer into the faces of the crowd like Corey Taylor. They kick off the set with ‘Ænema’ from which opens with Adam Jones’s signature bluesy guttural riffs before Maynard’s vocals sear over the top seamlessly. Instead of using cameras to display the band’s movements on the towering screens that flank the main stage as most bands do, they’ve opted to show their visuals on them instead. It’s a classic Tool move, one-part artistic integrity and desire to be unique/true to the experience, one part fully removed from what it’s like to be in an audience and see nothing at all – but their fans lap it up. The guy next to me genuinely looks like he’s about to cry tears of joy, holding his face in his hands. They whip through ‘The Pot’ (as fast as Tool ‘whip’ through tracks, which is actually really fucking slowly) before ‘Parabola’ pours an aural masterpiece through the speakers for what seems like an eternity.
Whilst news of Tool touring is always exciting (they’re around halfway through their European dates now) it’s buoying that there’s finally news of a follow up to 2006’s ‘10,000 Days’ – and it’s due for release in August 2019. A new track from that record is ‘Descending’, which starts slow and builds – it’s classic Tool. A sprawling skirmish of noise, full of complex time signatures and psychedelic droning guitars as drummer Danny Carey literally takes out every malevolent feeling he’s ever had on his kit. His skill and talent shine through tonight – when he hits the skins it feels like it’s penetrating through your skull into the back of your head.
They drop into ‘Schism’, one of their most commercially recognised tracks to date, which is accompanied by their iconic video – still utterly bizarre and creepy as it was back in 2001. Another new track ‘Invincible’ benefits from slightly Pantera-esque breakdowns and bigger generic metal sound. It’s unusual that a new track is a highlight. This one undeniably is though. Later, Maynard remains like a Voldemort-like figure on the stage. Whilst he’s never been, y’know, chatty, he does offer this one line, “Raise your hands if you’re under 27. When this song was written you weren’t even a sperm,” before launching into ‘A Part of Me’.
As they finish with ‘Stinkfist’– a dancefloor filler for rock clubs across the country – it’s a triumph, of sorts. But the clash of scheduling makes this bittersweet for the many Tool fans who wanted to see Slayer’s final show – and vice versa. From the giant crowd gathered to see them at the Zippo stage, which spilled out across the width of the field, it just seems like Slayer might have made a better, and more respectful final main stage act tonight. But either way, Tool made a serious mark here tonight – and it was entirely worth the wait.