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Tool – Fear Inoculum (Album Review)

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Tool fans have earned the ultimate award of patience: 13 years separate 10,000 Days from the band newest album Fear Inoculum which drops tomorrow. But just as they thought, the whole hype about an upcoming record might just be a trolling act, and they might never get to hear another Tool song, their heroes proved them wrong. The announcement of Fear Inoculum, and the release of the eponymous first single, filled many Facebook walls, forum threads and news feeds with comments, critiques, and praise. Expectations have been building up since their 2006 release, and the most impending question in their follower’s minds was if this new material would justify the excruciating wait. The eventual release of an album that was as long in the making as it takes a kid to finish their sixth grade of school brings up the question of the direction the music will take.

Keenan, Chancellor, Carey and Jones have never broken character. They never turned into a path that would turn off their fans, yet every Tool release managed to evolve into something different than the previous one, and bring something new to the table, while still remaining unmistakably recognizable as a Tool album. Eager listeners were quickly calmed down by the single title track: middle eastern-influenced percussion, a wall-of-sound guitar, creaking, bouncing bass lines, an unmistakable voice. Tool were finally back. Similar to the Lateralus“Reflection” or 10.000 Days’ double decker “Wings for Mary”, Fear Inoculum is a slow burner, takes its time and leaves listeners on the edge of their seats like only a Tool song could. There is anthemic chorus in the first half, but no huge finale at the end. It leaves a slightly uncomfortable feeling and the desire for more – something the band surely had planned.

Nonetheless, that is just the mere beginning. Fear Inoculum contains a lot more “music” than the previous albums, to the extent that Tool typical segue-tracks like “Lipan Conjuring” or “Message To Harry Manback” had to be left off the album’s physical release because they wouldn’t fit on a single CD. And that means we get over 75 minutes of palpable and unreleased Tool music – not even counting Danny Carey’s exotic drumming exercise named “Chocolate Chip Trip”.

The album’s second cut “Pneuma” sports a slow shuffle, rhythmically flourished in a typical Tool fashion, up to the point where you just can’t tap along with your foot (or anything else for that matter). The tension built by the nervous staccato rhythms unloads in a broad, heavy instrumental chorus showcasing Adam Jones’ gorgeous guitar sound. A great example of a long song that feeds off the clever variation of very few melodic and rhythmic ideas and thus keeps its red line, “Pneuma” is brought to an almost faultless ending by an ominous minute-long crescendo, before it leads into an hypnotic guitar ending.

“Fear Inoculum” Album Track

“Invincible” is one of the two songs a few fans were lucky enough to hear at concerts of the previous tour (“Descending” being the second one). It features a few melodic ideas that sound pretty accessible (at least for Tool standards), but are paired with multiple rhythmical layers for a major part – up to a level where all of the three instrumentalists are playing three different time signatures simultaneously. The focus on tempo variation is carried to the extreme during a sluggish, yet gripping instrumental section, where a two-note guitar riff is dragged through countless meters by Danny Carey, until you just can’t wait to know where this is going. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it…

Not even halfway through the album, the boys from Los Angeles have already presented three impeccably constructed and detailed ten plus minute songs. Hardheartedly, they continue with yet another jewel in the same format: “Descending”. The track starts off completely harmless, with Chancellor’s bass line setting the mood. The subtle use of dynamics by every single instrumentalist (and Keenan as well) is apparent during the first minutes of this opulent two-head hydra, as there are many quiet, intimate passages featuring all four band members. And those softer passages are just the prelude before the sonic tempest. “Descending” takes its damn time before but it certainly ascends into full heavy Tool stance commanded by a minimalist guitar riff. Maynard James Keenan’s vocals are particularly strong in this cut, but he lets his colleagues take the lead after seven minutes, and the instrumentally infused second half takes the track to an stunning finale.

“Culling Voices,” the shortest song in the album, is a perfect vehicle for Keenan’s trademark vocals to take the spotlight. As opposed to tracks on previous albums, the bulk of Fear Inoculum’s vocals are completely clean, and not – in any way distorted by effects – showcasing the softer side of Maynard’s voice. It’s quite remarkable how those clean vocals are still able to gel and stand up among the powerful sound of the band as a whole. Still a Tool song after all, “Culling Voices” might be the weakest spot in the album, even though your mileage may vary.

While most songs on Fear Inoculum build up very slowly, take their time to evolve and are very considerate and subtle in their structure, the final track “7empest” slaps the listener in the face after only a minute. Not only Danny Carey turns on the wires of his snare (a very rare occasion), but the raw, up-tempo character also gives off an Undertow-like vibe. 4/4 riffs abound (while still being loaded with poly-rhythms of course) and Keenan makes use of his distorted vocal style. It’s truly a joy to hear the band completely off the leash, blowing off steam and presenting us one of the heaviest songs in their catalogue. This wall of sound swells up to the maximum and leads into a dark, heavy finale.

Tool seem to have consciously set aside the pursuit of commercial success, and instead rely on their loyal fan-base to absorb and understand an even more complex output than their previous ones. There are no hits on this album in the vein of “The Pot”, “Stinkfist”, “Sober” or “Vicarious”. But none of the new songs are long for the sake of it. It’s perceptible that every note has been re-evaluated fifty times over and that a lot of music has been thrown away and rearranged to mount in exactly what can be heard on the album. The whole thing is crowned by the familiar organic production and striking mix. Danny Carey delivers well thought out rhythmical motifs that are often closer to percussion than to conventional metal drumming and at several times he manages to turn around the character or direction of a song. Justin Chancellor and Adam Jones, on the other hand, provide the whole harmonic fundamentals and create arrangements that fill out the unabridged spectrum of frequency to keep an 80-minute album interesting. Last but not least, there is absolutely no sign of wear and tear on Maynard James Keenan’s voice, although this album exhibits his most restrained vocal delivery.

Tool still function as a unit, as a band, as a tool and as a catalyst to find out whatever it is you need to find out, or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. Welcome back guys, it’s been way too long.

Released by: Tool Dissectional / Volcano / RCA
Released Date: August 30th, 2019
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Maynard James Keenan / Vocals
  • Adam Jones / Guitars
  • Justin Chancellor / Bass
  • Danny Carey / Drums and Percussion

“Fear Inoculum” Tracklisting

1. Fear Inoculum
2. Pneuma
3. Invincible
4. Descending
5. Culling Voices
6. Chocolate Chip Trip
7. 7empest

Bonus tracks (available via the digital release; physical copy includes a digital download card): • Litanie contre la Peur • Legion Inoculant • Mockingbeat

9.0 Excellent

Opulent, dark, and consequent "Fear Inoculum" is precisely the album Tool needed to live up to the enormous expectations of their hard-die fans after a more than a decade without a studio release

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 10
  • Originality 8
  • Production 9
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2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I was hoping for some songs, at least one song, in the vein of “The Pot” “Jambi”, “Parabola”, “The Grudge”, ” Intolerance”, etc. I like the combination of tunes from minimalist, to building, varied dynamics, to full on raging. These tunes are all very similar in style and form. Granted, it’s “TOOL” style, but I wanted to rock harder.

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