25 Years Ago: The ‘Opiate’ EP Gives the World a First Taste of Tool
Grunge was in full swing in early 1992, with loud guitars, screaming, sometime indiscernible vocals and a general feeling of angst resonating with youth everywhere. And while many major labels were focusing on mining the Pacific Northwest, searching desperately for the next big band to be the next breaking act to stand alongside Soundgarden and Nirvana, there was something stirring in the trenches of Los Angeles that was more sinister sounding and much heavier ripe for the picking. Tool had already been making a bunch of noise in the bowels of the city’s live club scene, and the upstart Zoo Entertainment signed them and put out the EP Opiate, which landed on shelves March 10, 1992.
Outside of L.A., where the band’s 1991 professionally pressed demo tape 72826 had been circulating, Opiate was the introduction to Tool for most people, and it left quite an impression. The seven-song set kicks off with the brutal, sludge churner “Sweat,” drummer Danny Carey and bassist Paul D’Amour’s bottom end given a boost by the drop D tuning courtesy of guitarist Adam Jones that would soon be pervasive throughout heavy music. It was followed by “Hush,” where frontman Maynard James Keenan wails in the chorus, “I can't say what I want to, even if I'm not serious / I can't say what I want to, even if I'm just kidding.” By having a bit of a witty edge, the singer was better able to drive various points home.
“Our songs were telling people to wake up, stop living in hypocrisy, be true to themselves, but that message had to be tempered,” Keenan said in 2016’s authorized biography A Perfect Union of Contrary Things. There’s an element of humor in all the songs. A friend might say something really funny, and we’ll include a verse based on what they’d said. Satire helps push through heartfelt emotions and serious issues. That’s how you punch the big ideas through.”
It was hardly all fun and lighthearted though; take the lyrics to “Cold and Ugly” where Keenan details the frightened soul underneath a mask of what others see on the surface, or the title track where he attacks the exploitation of Christianity in a scathing takedown that some mistook as a pro-religion song.
“Cold and Ugly” and “Jerk-Off” were both recorded live at the band’s rehearsal space, the Jello Loft, on New Year’s Eve of 1991, and surprisingly don’t stick out that much from the studio tracks. What does seem just a little strange is the goofy, psychedelic swirl of Opiate’s hidden track, “The Gaping Lotus Experience,” where Keenan sings, “I had a friend once he took some acid / Now he thinks he's a fire engine.” In actuality, it’s just more of the goofy side of Tool put on display while they messed around in the studio.
“Sometimes it’ll be a really bad cover song,” Jones told Revolver. “In those days, Maynard would jump in and be funny or just start doing lyrics off the top of his head. And the tape is rolling, you know? So we looked back on that particular bit and we decided to include it as a hidden track. It’s a contrast in that we’re very serious as a band but we’re not very serious about ourselves. Which I think is a good thing to indicate."
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