TOOL – Fear Inoculum (2019)
It’s been a long wait for the new TOOL album – and it’s been worth it. On “Fear Inoculum”, Tool’s first album in 13 years to be released August 30, the band remain defiantly contrary to the auto-tuned, digitally-quantized world in which we now live. They continue to blur the lines between art, psychedelia, alt metal, and prog rock with undiminished curiosity and skill.
This commitment to blazing their own path has already earned the band three Grammys and an army of fans too large to be called a cult following, and yet too fervent to be anything else.
Those who have waited since 2006’s 10,000 Days for a new full-length album will find much to feast on among Fear Inoculum’s seven new songs.
Tool have never followed the structures or strictures of Rock&pop music, but still, there is something surprisingly accessible about the album’s overall effect. The title track begins disarmingly with a repeating three-note pattern, evoking Philip Glass as much as Metallica, slowly building into a work of somber beauty and grandeur. Yes, there’s still drama, and darkness lurking not far beneath the surface, but—dare we say this?—it sounds like men approaching the apocalypse with a grin.
The band’s musical wanderlust is evident not just across the album’s tracks, but within each one. For example, “Pneuma” shifts from a vaguely Middle Eastern musical adventure layered with psychedelic synth lines to bluesy guitar lines played on a clean electric to massive slashing walls of distorted guitar, tripping through blues rock, ‘70s prog rock, and ‘80s metal. It’s like a musical time machine, or rather a machine that questions the idea of linear time itself.
As with previous work, on “Fear Inoculum”, the band’s songwriting can at times seem like a riddle, daring listeners to lean in and figure out exactly what is going on. “Invincible” begins with sweet pretty vocals and guitars for a few bars, but even when a gripping assault of drums and bass come in, there is a sense of startling beauty, like stumbling onto a sylvan oasis in the middle of a war zone.
The album also finds Tool exploring some familiar musical themes: “Descending,” for example, showcases the kind of long-simmering tension the band is known for, with several parts moving in different harmonic and rhythmic directions. But instead of chaos, there’s a feeling of carefully controlled complexity.
But if there is one overarching theme to the album, it is that things are not what they seem because reality is constantly changing. “Culling Voices” finds frontman Maynard James Keenan singing a melody that seems to bend—but not break—the rules of the Western tonal system. The song reveals itself slowly, like a snake wriggling out of its old skin.
While Tool are experts at evoking these sorts of epic cinematic moments, the band prove they can still rock. In “7empest,” a minor guitar arpeggio gives way to a balls-to-the-wall metal stomp full of angst and inchoate anger, spiraling into control rather than out of it.
This is the most intricate and densely-layered album Tool have yet made, but to use the word like “complex” to describe the counting-in-prime-numbers time signatures all over “Fear Inoculum” would be lazy in the extreme.
An album that pushes and challenges its creators and its audiences in new ways, the finer details of which will probably take another 13 years to fully unwrap and appreciate.
01. Fear Inoculum 10:22
02. Pneuma 11:54
03. Invincible 12:45
04. Descending 13:39
05. Culling Voices 10:06
06. Chocolate Chip Trip 04:49
07. 7empest 15:45
Maynard James Keenan – vocals
Adam Jones – guitar
Justin Chancellor – bass
Danny Carey – drums, percussion, synthesizer