ALBUM REVIEW: Tool – Fear Inoculum

Words By Tracey Moyle.

Well finally after a 13 year hiatus, American Prog Metal Icons Tool have brought us their fifth studio album.  It’s a release that had fans excited and nervous all at once.  A lot of expectation has been put on this album by anyone who cared to put their opinion out there.

After 13 years of rumours though you would be wondering which way Tool’s creative vision would go.  Would it stay true to it’s dark and intense Prog Metal roots or have they matured into something completely new.  Will it be straight from their gut instincts or will they be churning out what they think the fans want to hear? I can’t imagine the latter to be honest.  This is one band that always seem to do just whatever the hell they want.

Evolution in music is essential for bands to become main stayers in the industry. But the balance between following creative change and keeping the sound the fans love is a fine line.  What once drove us as 20 something’s, maybe not so much at 40 or 50.  Not that we don’t care, we just change. 

All the things that made us passionate, angry and aware in our 20’s may still be pertinent but in different forms. Tool have always dug very deep and drawn on the things that they feel are critical enough to be not just heard but scream out about.  

But with side projects and Maynard Keenan putting most of his time into his Arizona Winery, will they have something dark and broodingly passionate bubbling deep in their gut giving them the complex thoughts and sense of urgent despair that will make their music still relevant?  Still Tool?

Let’s see.

‘Fear Inoculum’ gives us ten songs or 86 minutes  and 42 seconds of Tool.   Their songs are as long as they need to be with the final two tracks 7empest and Mockinbeat the longest and shortest at 15:44 and 2:06. 

Opening with title track Fear Inoculum, it is quickly evident that this is, to the relief of fans, is very much a Tool album.  The East meets West atmospheric feel builds the intro into Keenan’s melodic vocals denoting a calm yet with a sense of holding back.  The combination of their signature heavy bass tone, with simplistic repetitive guitar riffs and vocals build a slight urgency at all the right peaks. You get over ten minutes of what you’ve been waiting for since the release of ‘10,000 Days.’

Pneuma keeps the momentum going creating heavier undertones with Danny Carey on drums and guitarist Adam Jones building the key elements of this song with all the ambience, feedback. heavy riffs and tribal beats you expect.  They consciously seem to pull this back musically but climb back to the peaks throughout this song at the right times, keeping you interested if not engrossed for the whole 11:53. 

Here we are at 22 minutes and 13 seconds into the album and the third track, Litaine contre la Peur   (translation: Litany against Fear).  A Middle Eastern influenced interlude at 2:14.  I guess a musical palate cleanser of sorts. 

Invinsible has a very ‘Aenima’ resonance with that climatic build and progressive feel of a journey rather than just a song.  The key message (in my opinion) is questioning your relevance, in battle or society or life.  Once being a warrior but wondering if you can win the next battle despite being “Long in tooth and soul”.  Taking this as a metaphor, we all wonder at one point if we have the strength or relevance to keep up the fight for the things we once thought to be the most important things.

Legion Inoculant, another interlude, has an almost subconscious or other worldly feel and at just over three minutes, what is usually an average song length seems short.  But the title itself speaks volumes.  Legion; meaning an army, a mass, a multiude and Inoculant; to vaccinate or immunize.  Is it a call to become resistant the masses? Something I would very much expect from the depths of Tool.

Descending sweeps us calmly into track six with the sound of waves preparing you for over 13 minutes of musical story-telling at it’s most intense. Jones’ atmospheric tones are constantly rising and falling through out the journey creating the emotional basis of the music. Building the song emotively from apathy to urgency, at times it’s like slowly drawing back a rubber band with the tension building.  Keenan’s deft outcry, lyrically pointing out our failings: our ignorance as a human race in the lyrics  “This madness of our own making.  Falling isn’t Flying. Floating isn’t Infinite.”  A song screaming at us to listen to our inner primal instincts, wake up to our own destruction and stay alive.   Intense? Maybe. But ask any Gen Z and most Gen Y, what they fear most.  I’ll bet you it’s the apathy towards our future existence on this planet of past generations.

Culling Voices has a very repetitive or hypnotic tone with it’s simplicity making it an ideal Tool song at it’s purest.   Justin Chancellor sets the typical ambient bass tones with a gentle rhythmic beat in the background from Carey slowly building with Jones joining in to an eventual barrage of sounds.

Chocolate Chip Trip gives us a five minute drum solo from Carey with an overlay of synth backing, which leads us into my favourite track on the album 7empest.  Jones shines on this track, hammering through with a barrage of heavy riffs throughout and with Carey belting away in the background it’s the heaviest track on the album.  Chancellor keeps that Tool signature bass present but not dominant.  Keenan vocally finds his force in this song.   “Acting all surprised when you’re caught in the lie.  We know better.   It’s not unlike you.
It’s not unlike you.  We know your nature.”   I don’t know who he is referring to but you could honestly put it toward a number of perceived villains of our modern world.   Keenan ‘s lyrics go on –  “Blameless, the 7empest must/will be just that. So try as you may, feeble, your attempt to atone. Your words to erase all the damage cannot. A 7empest will be just that.” Sounds slightly Shakespeare to me. Maybe a reference to the playn who knows? Definition of a Tempest: ‘A wild windy storm’.   The repetitive chant, “a tempest must be just that” implies what ever is coming is more than a storm, it’s a destructive force of nature.

Final track Mockingbeat begins with, to me, what is an obvious distortion of nature.  I guess the whole message behind this album,  ‘what are we ignorantly doing to the world we live in?’  Into a hard hitting, frantic barrage of dominant bass and frantic guitar and drumming, Keenan melds the Metal back in with the Prog.  At 2:06 it’s short sharp and frantic.  You finish ‘Fear Inoculum’ with your eyes wide open.

Everything Tool produces they do with thought and with a point.  Fans around the world can easily breath a sigh of relief.  Another great album has evolved.  With it’s success already from fan approval to the ‘uproar’ (me feigning horror) of knocking Miss Swift off her perch on the American charts giving it a whole new social media push, it appears the wait was worth it and not only have they kept their legion of predominantly Gen X fans happy they’ve captured the attention of a whole new future fanbase.  My thirteen year old daughter got in the car the other day and said Mum, I like this song you might like to.  She played The Pot from ‘10,000 Days’.    I just smiled at my once One Direction loving girl, knowing I’ve won at least one battle. To me it’s an important one.

Take your own messages from Fear Inoculum.   I tried not to dissect it too much but as a fan it’s hard.   It’s what you’re expected to do, not just simply hit play and go about your business.    After too many (or maybe not enough) repeat plays I’m putting somewhere in the vicinity of  ‘Aenima’ and ‘Lateralus’ but form your own opinion.  Everyone has one when it comes to Tool. 

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