Tool always seemed pretty gummy to me, a real viscous trudge of aimless testosterone. Though they buoyed a lot of lost and hormonal souls, particularly in the periphery of my teenage years, I only see a band of competent instrumentalists with special deference to the quicksand-like of drumming that really feels out the entire pocket. Tool’s gaping weakness is their leader, an adequate vocalist with an insufferable public persona who was anonymously accused of assaulting an underage fan last year. Ultimately, they’re an inartfully ugly band, as they’ve skated on thin ice of intentional repugnance meant to draw fans into the freezing water or turn them away from the threat entirely.
It took a decade for Tool to work out this new album, and on the day it dropped their label severely underestimated demand. My hometown record store ordered 50 copies for a midnight opening event and received six, so a big win for streaming services and those that got their special tiny Tool media players/“immersive visual experiences” I guess. Music has become so devalued that the labels of bands with dedicated followings still can’t get the gas to push their product. Or maybe they thought the cover was some Pentium-class 3D screensaver bullshit as well and just wanted to spare their printers the indignity.
The same Friday that Tool dropped 85 minutes of new music, Portrayal of Guilt delivered Suffering is a Gift, a one-sided 12” with six tracks and about ten total minutes of playtime that blended almost every shade of metal with textured noise and meditations on despair. This was after their debut full length last year, Let Pain be Your Guide, itself a taut symphony of impeccable riffs and percussive maelstroms. Portrayal of Guilt is decades behind Tool by age, but lightyears ahead of them musically, a centrifuge that separates the component parts of overwrought progressive metal to isolate the most caustic earworms, evocative pedal-swapped interludes, super-packed scrapes and melodies rubbed raw down to the adrenal glands.
But here’s the real juice, as one (of many) Portrayal of Guilt fans put it on Twitter:
That entire new @portrayalof EP kicks you super hard in the nuts in less time than a single Tool song.
— Edward Javan (@thejavan) September 3, 2019
Where Tool seems obsessed with an increasingly thin pontifically profound shell game, Portrayal of Guilt wants to confront the nature of our earth-bound torment. This is hardly unique, as suffering in all its forms has been the keystone to heavy metal since it was first forged, but this band isn’t content with inoculating themselves or their listeners against pain by dosing it sonically in minute-sized whiffs. Suffering is a part of humanity, every life faces hardship and emotional upheaval, anguish in some form or another quakes through each of us. To try suppress those nerves under a regularly applied varnish of sugar and denial can only result in a cancerous soul.
Portrayal of Guilt wants to understand the nature of this grief, to luxuriate in totality of experience, which requires a balance—dissonant plucked chords and surgically precise blast beats. Tool has been particularly comfortable since the 90’s, which has blunted their teeth, more now than ever before. They’re blundering through nearly an hour and a half to say nothing of substance. Give your pennies to Portrayal of Guilt instead, as they clamor and grind through brutal hymns that can be more thoroughly experienced in four complete listens than half a spin the other band.