I think I bought this shirt when I was 16 or 17. Tool's first three albums (well, technically, an EP and two full-lengths) were in almost constant rotation in my life during the first years that I owned this shirt. I liked them for their mystery--their album covers and sleeves were always strange pastiches of vaguely (but not explicitly) disturbing imagery, and their lyrics (which were never printed in the liner notes, which meant you had to listen that much closer) were oblique and seemed to straddle a line between vulgarity and compassion. A song like "Prison Sex" for example, off of Undertow, suggests that it is simply describing the actions of the song title, but upon closer inspection, the song is a horrifying and powerful discussion of how child abuse, without intervention, perpetuates itself. Other songs dealt with achieving enlightenment, critiquing the consumer culture of Hollywood, and tearing down leaders who self-aggrandize rather than aid.
I think this mysterious quality was so appealing because so much music in the mid-90s was not mysterious, but was characterized by its outrageous obviousness. This was an era when bands like Candlebox and Stabbing Westward were topping the charts, and while the songs were often catchy, there was very little to follow up that initial rush of the first chorus. Tool handed me, and many of friends, a sonic world to explore that was both brutally loud and meticulously constructed.
I guess I thought the shirt was profound at the time--Jesus on the Front (look close at the logo) and "All Indians, No Chiefs" on the back. I'm not particularly comfortable with that analogy now that I'm an anthropologist, and the sentiment now seems a little overblown to me.
But it's mystery that's kept me interested in music, ever since then. It was right at that same time that I started taking classes in music theory--poring over Bach, taking his "Well-Tempered Clavier" apart, trying to figure out how it all worked. It was also when I started exploring underground music, searching out obscure punk and post-punk bands from the 80s and 90s, trying to find something I (and most people for that matter) had never heard before. And Tool's insistence on--dare I say it?--excavating their music...well, it lit the spark in me for all of that.
So thanks, Tool, for inspiring my search for the perfect sound.
P.S. Oh yeah, and there's this terrifying gem (NSFW audio):
And just in case you thought Maynard Keenan (the vocalist) was all about screaming, watch this: