Review Summary: The long-anticipated and infamous new Tool album was worth the long wait; it’s a massive, compelling piece of music that unfolds beautifully and balances their unique style with plenty of rewarding new elements.
The rampant curiosity for what a new Tool album would sound like has gotten more and more exaggerated each release cycle. The thirteen-year gap leading to this has only served to bring fervor to the ever increasing fan base wanting to hear what the progressive metal giants would deliver next. The anticipation led to perhaps unrealistic expectations, but it would be foolish to not believe in Tool delivering on what they do best. Fear Inoculum
is a mammoth album of nearly all 10+ minute long songs, with an absence of shorter, more accessible tracks like “The Pot” or “Schism.” The band requires full attention and a clear mind to be fully immersed into their dense soundscapes, having continued to not compromise their style in the wake of further success. Despite finally relenting and putting their music on iTunes and streaming services, frontman Maynard James Keenan made a point that Tool are hardly a singles band, and their music requires patience to get the full experience. This devotion to the craft and refusal to waver in their vision is one reason why they have inspired the kind of fevered devotion and countless imitators they have amassed.
Even over a decade since releasing any music, Fear Inoculum
sounds like it could have been written at any point during Tool’s classic period. Some quick moments in the album recall older tracks, particularly “Disposition,” but the album is not a retread of the past. The band have evolved and aged gracefully, with the instrumentalists laying down some of their most impressive and technical performances yet, especially the rhythm section. The magic they create together sounds more transcendent and harmonious than bands half their age. “Invincible” is undeniably compelling throughout, beginning with a climbing guitar melody that anchors the entire song. After a calm intro, Justin Chancellor’s watery bass line takes the lead. The guitars then get heavier and tension gradually builds until the incredible final few minutes, being one of the best climaxes of the band’s career. While this epic is one of the standouts, the others contain a similar feeling of purpose as each one develops. “Pneuma” is a more subdued piece, with a solid chorus and a fantastic instrumental jam in the second half.
“Descending” carries a triumphant vibe as it progresses, swelling from guitar ambiance into a classic Tool song that recalls moments from Lateralus
. Keenan sounds excellent throughout the record, his voice resembling the airy qualities of the lighter A Perfect Circle material, and shines especially on “Descending” by showcasing his versatile emotional and vocal range. Like many of the longer songs, the second half is mainly instrumental and emphasizes all manner of amazing guitar leads and soloing. “Culling Voices” is more straightforward and contains an absorbing, calm first half that eventually explodes with a heavy finale not dissimilar to a louder outro from Ænima
. Moments of the album like the intro of “Culling Voices” and the long instrumental jams can sound like a band riffing on ideas for extended lengths of time, and Tool always make it worthwhile and varied enough to not become tedious. A loose, ambitious nature is felt throughout Fear Inoculum
while always having purpose. Drummer Danny Carey impresses as always, keeping things locked in and acting as the heartbeat of the band alongside the bass guitar. He takes the spotlight on his very own drum solo behind a quirky electronic melody in the shorter “Chocolate Chip Trip.” Carey also brings back the tablas and polyrhythms in “Fear Inoculum,” laying down a hypnotic groove while the guitars and electronics build into vintage Tool territory, a welcoming decision for the album opener.
The band save the high octane track for last. The epic “7empest” is an absolute monster, the most ambitious song the band have recorded and a true feat of performance. It begins with a hypnotic intro reminiscent of Discipline
-era King Crimson before transitioning into driving hard rock verses that wouldn’t sound out of place on Opiate
, with Keenan’s most biting vocals of the album. The song hasn’t even reached the one third mark when it launches into a stunning odyssey of gnarly, angular guitar riffing and polyrhythms. Vocals briefly reappear a few more times, but the remaining 10+ minutes is primarily a showcase for the instrumentalists to completely let loose while still being locked in and playing with expert precision, as always. Adam Jones in particular unleashes all manner of mind-bending guitar licks and ends up stealing the song. Ending the album with such intensity rivals the thrills of Ænima
ending with “Third Eye” and the dizzying psychedelic metal of “Rosetta Stoned.” What this means for the future is unclear, but if this is Tool’s final album, they picked an amazing way to go out.
proves that Tool are true devotees to their craft, and sounds just as inspired as their classics. Album highlights like “Descending” and “7empest” are so dynamic and full of ideas that the band probably could have expanded on the details and made ten different songs out of them if they wanted to. Their fearless experimentation is in full form, and wisely don’t lean on previous releases to copy what was successful for them in the past. Even though it wouldn’t sound that strange if it were released ten or twenty years ago, Fear Inoculum
feels singular and modern. It’s clear that at least a decent amount of the long wait time since the excellent 10,000 Days
was spent carefully laying the groundwork for each musical passage, each transition, each epic climax on the record. It wouldn’t be a Tool album without curious interludes to break up the main songs, available on the digital version, with “Litanie contre la Peur” being the highlight of the less-than-10-minute-long tracks. Everything falls into place and flows with a fluidity that Tool is always able to accomplish, with the album being produced and engineered immaculately as well. Keenan was accurate to say that Fear….
would require patience to ingest, being a massive, compelling piece of music that unfolds beautifully and balances Tool’s unique style with plenty of rewarding new elements. Any fears that they would not live up to their past can be abated; Fear Inoculum
is truly groundbreaking and one of the best albums of the decade.