Review Summary: My first time listening to Tool and now I have mixed opinions.
At first I wanted to stay away from this record as far as I could since I knew everything and everyone will be all about it. Of course I also expected a huge clash between Tool fans and haters. Then I thought: “Why not writing a review about a band you never really listened to just to offer a neutral point of view about this record?” - or at least at neutral as it gets. Naturally I had some light expectations about Tool and listened to a handful of songs a few years ago but they never really caught me and I never really disliked them (but the music videos were sweet). Since everybody is recommending “Lateralus” or “Aenima” to start with them because they seem to be their best, maybe some people would think it is interesting what a total Tool newbie thinks about their latest record. So here we go.
Right at the start the opener “Fear Inoculum” pins down one of the biggest problems I have with this album: It consists mostly of simple and boring riffs which will repeat over and over along with the drums. The vocals are fine, since Maynard James Keenan is a good singer for sure. But even a magnificient frontman like Keenan can get boring over time if he does not change his vocal style. However, in the end of the opener, the song takes on momentum and I really liked the ending but at same time I was questioning myself: Why do I have to wait for this like 8-9 minutes? It is exactly the same problem with the following song “Pneuma”.
Then the first interlude starts and I've read that many people are kinda ignoring them and just talk about the songs. Well, for me the interludes are some highlights of this record. They deliver atmosphere and bring some variety. It's a shame that they don't blur fluently into the following songs and mostly stand alone for themselves. And yeah, I also think that "Chocolate Chip Trip" is genuinely awesome. It is one of my personal highlights here because it is unique, it brings technicality when it is needed and is still a nice piece of music without being too much of a “technical wankfest”. In fact, I thought that adding electronical effects often helped them to bring variety and catch the attention of the listener.
“Invincible” and “Culling Voices” were one of the better songs. I can not say something especially good about them, but at the same time I can not name something specificly bad either. But then I reached “Descending”.
This was the point at which I nearly broke up this experiment and thought to myself “You are wasting your time, stop this”. It contained all the elements I have heard before: simple riffs change into other simple riffs, the drums are added again, the bass gets added and some point I can hear Keenan's monotonous vocals again. I slowly started to get annoyed by this because it got predictable - a thing that no band that's considered to be "prog" should be. But then – the first time on this record – I got surprised: the guitar solo showed me that the guitarist is still awake and literally saved a “descending” song.
Then “Chocolate Chip Trip” happened. This track symbolizes the problem of this whole record: Only the drummer on this album is giving the songs creativity and variety as best as he can, but he just cannot carry all the songs. So he kinda made his own song – and the most memorable too – until "7empest" came up.
Two words: FCK! YEAH! Finally some energy! Finally a different kind of vocal style by Keenan and it seems to me that the band really wants to do this thing and is actually having fun. "7empest" must have been the first song recorded for this album when everyone was still fresh, energized, motivated and still got ***loads of ideas. Lots of changing in rhythm and melody that at last catch and require your attention instead of boring you to hell. Even the guitars manage to impress me. The changing between faster and slower parts seem to be really working here, while I thought for every song until now, they are just there for the sake of being there. If this whole album would have been the momentum of this song, I would easily call this LP a masterpiece.
After listening to this album, I mostly thought that the drummer is the only one who is bringing in creativity, Maynard James Keenan is mostly doing nothing more than a satisfying job and the guitarist(s) sound(s) like he or they didn't even want to do this record in the first place and is only in because he needs money for more weed. Maybe except for "7empest" and the guitar solo in “Descending”. The production is top notch like you would expect from a successful band like Tool, the performance is decent and - with "7empest" and "Chocolate Chip Trip" – there are some really refreshingly good and unique songs. I would give this record a 3/5, despite all the lack of creativity.
However, it's one thing to bore me a whole record long and another thing to bore me for one and half an hour. Therefore I cannot call this album better than average. In my opinion, Tool should have released an EP with 3-4 songs in the likes of "7empest" and 1 or 2 interludes (which are really good interludes btw) instead of this. They could have saved their phenomenal reputation and most fans would not be mad about an EP instead of an LP. But with “Fear Inoculum” they kind of revealed a lackluster of creativity and/or motivation or maybe this is standard Tool, I don't know. What I know is, that I will definitely check out their most hyped albums "Lateralus" and "Aenima" in the hopes that the hype is deserved. At least "7empest" made me think it is.