Album Review: Tool – ‘Fear Inoculum’
It’s not overselling things to call heavy metal mathletes, Tool, one of the most uncompromising bands of our time. It’s an adjective that perfectly sums of their commitment to sonic dynamics, esoteric (and often silly) lyrical content, and head-scratching polyrhythms.
That can be a frustrating thing as well, for many of their fans, having translated into some monster waits for new music over the course of their career. Their last album, 10,000 days, came out in 2006, and the 13 intervening years have been painfully quiet. Before that, Lateralus, arguably one of their strongest albums, saw release in May of 2001 and Aenima was released five years before that.
They’re a band that doesn’t put out music unless it’s right, and they’re unapologetic for that. But this is the Internet, and we will not abide by waiting. As a result, many of their devoted fans had long given up hope for a new album in the baker’s dozen years since we heard the last chords play out in Viginti Tres, all those years ago.
But here we are, August 30th, celebrating the release of a brand new Tool album. And it is such a Tool album.
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I need to restate something: by the time it was announced, many Tool fans assumed this album was never going to come out. For context, the last time any of us heard new Tool music, the world looked like this:
- The movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was just about to come out at cinemas.
- Saddam Hussein was still alive.
- So was Steve Irwin.
- The Western world was still watching movies on iPod Nanos.
- Everyone was poking people on Facebook.
In short, it was a different world entirely. Which is why it should come as no shock that Tool fans looked back on this time like it was a lifetime ago. For many of them, they were still kids or young adults.
Stakes have, needless to say, gotten really high for this album in the intervening years. People wanted Tool, and they wanted it to be worth the wait. And that’s exactly what we all got, today.
Fear Inoculum consists of seven songs, clocking in at a run time of just under 80 minutes. The songs are giant in size, with multiple songs running for 10 minutes and longer.
Soundwise, the album isn’t as catchy as some of their earlier work, such as Aenima, but that evolution is incredibly listenable, nonetheless. It’s a record about growing older and the content is honest to that experience. The lyrics and song structures are still as enigmatic as all of their most mature music, shifting between acts within songs and bizarre electronic pieces.
There are choruses that bite, of course. “Culling Voices” features some of Maynard’s most radio-friendly melodies on any Tool track. But this is a rare thing, and the almost 11-minute opening track features plenty of ghostly drum lines (along with a heavy dose of Adam Jones’ awesome guitar work). Keenan is equally versatile here, hitting hard with high vocals and pensive melodies.
As is their forte, the band blast the chorus of this track in, dare I say it, epic style with the line “Exhale. Expel. Recast my tale. Weave my allegorical elegy.”
It’s an emotional, heartfelt album, carrying on similar sentiments from 10,000 Days in many respects. The Track “Invincible”, which has made the rounds of their live shows for a while now, ponders the band’s relevancy. The song “Descending”, meanwhile, seems to look back at the band’s time not making new music. The line “Falling isn’t flying. Floating isn’t infinite,” reminds us that expecting more of the same is unrealistic. There’s no freedom in crying out for what we fell in love with in the past. This is a band still in their prime, but older and more developed.
It might be a contradiction, but my favorite song off the album so far has to be “7empest”. Easily one of the most conventional tracks on Fear Inoculum, there’s something comforting in its snotty, angry musicality. Loud guitars, rolling drums, and Maynard reminding us “We know better / It’s not unlike you / We know your nature,” is undeniably vintage. It’s an easy horse to hitch my wagon to, though I’m sure with multiple listens, the entire album will open up to me.
Look, the album is completely worth it. This is music that’s been 13 years in the waiting (although it apparently only began creation three years ago). If you were worried you’d be too old to enjoy Tool again for this release, you were partially right: you’d be too old if they were still making old Tool music. Fear Inoculum is an album about growth, and the most joyful part of discovering the new album is in getting a new album.
There’s a lot to discover. There always is, when it comes to Tool. 85 minutes (with digital extras) of lovingly orchestrated metal you should enjoy slowly and with a careful ear. The more you listen, the more everything will stay with you. And, really, taking the music away with us is all we, as fans, can ask for.
How did you like Fear Inoculum? Sound off in the comments below with your favorite tracks, best moments, and your opinions.