Health and Safety Warning: This transcription is not for the faint-hearted – I recommend having a decent breakfast before attempting to tackle this 7-minute behemoth of a tune – probably best to load up on coffee, too.
Drop that E string to D, grab your plectrum and take a deep breath…
Tool are definitely one of those bands whom people are either fanatically obsessed with or utterly indifferent to. Everything about the band demands patience and effort from the listener; their preference for long-form songs, shifting time signatures and their absurdly long gaps between albums.
Having started out as what appeared to be a fairly run of the mill grunge band, Tool’s sound evolved over the course of the 1990s and by the release of 1996’s Aenima, the band had developed a unique sonic fingerprint. The progressive aspect of their songwriting continued to be the dominant force on 2001’s Lateralus, which cemented their cult following and brought them to the attention of a wider audience thanks to the success of video for ‘Schism’, which received heavy rotation on music television channels.
The band’s fourth album, 2006’s 10,000 Days featured ‘Vicarious’ as its first track and lead single – not the obvious choice given its length, meter or complexity, but then again Tool aren’t ever prone to following the crowd.
The song begins with the bass playing a figure that involves numerous pull-offs from high-register fretted notes to open strings – it sounds like everything here is played on the D string, which actually makes life easier for the right hand. The bass part in this section is doubled an octave above using a pedal, I’ve used ‘whammy pedal’ on the chart as I’m aware of Justin Chancellor’s preference for them, but any pedal that provides harmony up an octave will work just as well.
For the main riff, we’re in 5/4 for the most part, with the occasional 6/4 bar thrown in at the end of the verse (bars 18 and 19). As with the intro, the main riff is predominantly a 1-string affair, as is common with many bands that use drop tunings – the figure on beat 5 of each bar is played up at the 15th fret, I’d advise using fingers 3 and 4 on the left hand to fret the F and C.
Bar 20 introduces one of Justin Chancellor’s many quirks – the D on beat 2 sounds like it’s at the 12th fret of the bottom string, while the same D on the ‘and’ of beat 3 sounds like it’s played as an open string – this happens frequently in the tune and is notated by a small ‘0’ above the note.
The chorus (bar 34) presents some new challenges. Let the notes ring as much as possible – it’s easiest to play the notes in the second half of the bar by sliding up the neck and sticking to the (low) D and A strings. The rapid hammer-on figure in bar 35-36 isn’t as horrible as it looks on paper, I promise.
Midway through the instrumental section that follows the third verse we’re greeted with a technique that might be new to many bassists as it’s not often required of us – bars 55 to 62 are almost entirely made up of long notes played as rapidly as possible (known as tremolo picking). If this is unfamiliar then it will take quite a while to adjust to – I find it easiest to get a consistent tremolo if I keep my wrist locked and generate the movement from my elbow, rather than trying to get the notes out as fast as possible through conventional alternate picking.
Rather than letting you catch your breath for a moment, we’re into another demanding riff – bars 63 to 72 provide a real workout for the picking hand, which has to constantly jump between pedaling the (low) D string and grabbing high-register accents – my preference is to play these on the D string rather than the G string to minimise the distance that my pick has to travel. The hammer-ons at the end of bars 71 and 72 are played up at the 15th fret of the (low) D and A strings – it’s the same lick from the chorus but the fretted notes have been kicked up 12 frets.
Bar 75 reprises the intro figure (put that whammy pedal back on!), which provides a moment of relative ease – there’s some delay added on the fourth and fifth repetitions of the figure, but it’s not essential to the part and is fairly buried in the mix. The vocal entry at bar 85 brings a contraction of the intro figure, which simplifies the riff and keeps things in one time signature – note the addition of Eb to the riff which makes things sound altogether more sinister.
The picking hand torture reaches new heights at bar 95 – alternating power chords with a pedaled low D. Thankfully, we’re rewarded with almost 3 whole bar’s rest at bar 97 before things kick off for the final chorus. The last bar of the chorus section here (bar 104) features 16th notes accented in groups of 6 – here Justin Chancellor is acknowledging the compound time feel that drummer Danny Carey has been hinting at repeatedly. Getting the transition into this new rhythmic feel to sound completely natural may take some practice.
All hell breaks loose in the final section (bars 105-108), where the fretting hand is tasked with accurately nailing a flurry of hammer-ons across multiple strings – if you don’t habitually do much legato playing, then this will take some getting used to (due to my misspent youth trying to play guitar along with Eddie Van Halen and Dimebag Darrell, this part actually gave me fewer headaches than the rest of the song).
As for nailing that final picked triplet figure, good luck.