Tool Fear Inoculum

2019 Tool Dissectional, L.L.C./Volcano Entertainment II, L.L.C..

The new face of fear.

Tool - Fear Inoculum


Hype and persistent interest are not easy to maintain in a world of social media overload and 24/7 distraction. And yet for the past 13 years, even the smallest morsel of new info related to Tool‘s fifth studio album would set off a shockwave amongst the metal and hard rock communities. While there was no shortage of derision and doubt that this day would ever arrive, it is indeed finally time to retire the memes and stop blaming Maynard; “Fear Inoculum” is here.

While we now know of the legal battles, undisclosed health issues and creative frustration that hindered their progress, the band’s decision to keep their fans in the dark on most of these matters became a torturous ordeal for their followers.

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It’s not a big surprise though. Being secretive is what helped Tool cement their legendary status back in the 90s. While other bands were relatively upfront with their craft, Tool delved into the depths of conspiracy, sacred geometry and more. They were selective in interviews, abstract in their presentation and intentionally withholding when it came to sharing information. In a lot of ways, they still are.

While it may frustrating to some, it’s also a solid tactic in making the release of any of their records become a certifiable event without having to heavily lean in on the promotional aspect of the industry apparatus. At this point, Tool have plotted their game plan so elaborately over the years that all the need do is add water and reap the rewards.

Few artists have as a cult like following of devotees that Tool does. You can bet that your local merchants of psychedelic substances saw an notable uptick in business as eager fans prepared for how they intend to first experience this record. Hopefully they stocked up, because it’s a long trip.

Across the course of 1 hour and 26 minutes, Tool meticulously unfurl their years of labor like an overarching storm. “Fear Inoculum” is an album that commands attention by design. A sonic abyss that engrosses entirely, should the listener allow it. With 7 lengthy tracks and three interludes, the band touch upon various aspects of their hallowed career, though the majority of it seems a continuation of their work on “Lateralus” and “10,000 Days“.

Invincible“, one of the first tracks the band debuted live from the record, perhaps best represents the overall theme. Lyrically a seemingly straightforward tale of age taking its toll on a warrior, it seemingly doubles as an allegory on the band’s career. After all, there is a decided irony in men now mostly in their 50s having sustained a continued healthy bank account thanks in part to revisiting the music and glory of their much younger years.

While “Invincible” emerges as the most accessible song on the outing, it also brandishes one of the album’s heaviest moments in the form of its droning riff-laden assault atop some tumbling percussion towards its close. Looking further back, the 15-minute plus “7empest” recalls shades of the band’s incendiary 90s input, thanks to a snarling bass line, an impassioned vocal delivery and some relentless drumming.

Pneuma” and its pulsing sonic growth ostensibly matches up with its lyrical content. On the other hand, the bizarrely named “Chocolate Chip Trip” amounts to a near clinical showcase of drummer Danny Carey‘s towering ability behind the kit alongside a glitchy electronic loop. Carey is on fire throughout the course of the record as well though, so it’s not exactly a revelation to hear his trademark creative beat placement and fills isolated as they already stand out across the record.

He’s not the only member of the band to soak up the spotlight though. “Descending” finds guitarist Adam Jones leaning heavily into his bag of tricks, at one point emerging with some protracted soloing that can feel almost retro thanks to a generous usage of well-worn effects.

Much of what is presented on this album is firmly based within Tool‘s wheelhouse though. Each song feels as though it was obsessed over, torn down and rebuilt anew, ensuring not only a masterpiece stands in the final form, but that shades of brilliance can be observed amongst even the most minute of details (at least outside of the forgettable trio of instrumental segues.)

It’s a writhing, sprawling listen, intimidating in scope as it is inviting in depth. It’s a type of record that just isn’t made anymore in an increasingly demanding industry where obligation and necessity outranks creativity and unhindered artistry.

Even while rhythmically anchored mostly around 7/4, there’s no safety in be found in deciphering what happens next. The album progresses as if it were the shifting gears and locking mechanisms of a sonic equivalent to Pandora’s box. Each new movement or part change presents a new challenge, a new auditory puzzle to be absorbed and interpreted.

With nearly every song surpassing the ten minute mark, endurance is the key. But even in that sense the album doesn’t especially play out in the standard track format. One could make a case that they could easily split some of these songs into separately named portions and no one would be the wiser.

This may be frustrating to some in a world where we’ve been conditioned to condense ourselves in nearly all forms of expression and entertainment. But even though the track times are lengthy, the songs play out more like movements than singular droning jams. To that end, a start to listen finish is as recommended as it is intended.

Each member delivers the standout performances you’d expect of the master craftsmen. There’s few surprises to be found outside of the fx selection, the occasional synth or a lush sample. Furthermore, while inventive in technique and at times impenetrably layered, the palette as a whole is restrained. The songs comprise a giant collage; one that makes the lingering parts of individual tracks hard to differentiate.

Some may argue that the more confrontational Tool of old, with their aggressive tendencies amplified and distilled to a sharper format remains the band’s peak. That may be true, but the contemplative, near-transcendental mind state they’ve matured into here is equally as deserving of merit, even if it finds them existing on a different spectrum.

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