Tool – ‘Fear Inoculum’ album review

Band: Tool
Album: Fear Inoculum
Release Date: 30 August 2019
Label: Volcano/RCA

 

 

Review by John

It’s been a long time coming.  For years a new Tool album was hinted at and seemed like some mythical treasure forever out of reach.  Then it was confirmed.  As the release date crept ever closer, memories of Chinese Democracy and Duke Nukem Forever started to creep in.  Could “Fear Inoculum” really live up to the anticipation. 

Well the first big surprise was the new direction – the album being a 28 minute collection of Weezer inspired pop rock that…. 

No, I think we all know that’s not true.  Instantly catchy pop rock is not what Tool do. 

This is Tool at their Tooliest. Almost an hour and a half of experimental progressive metal that takes you on a journey that you never want to end. 

Lead single and title track “Fear Inoculum” starts things off.  I have to admit that, when this was first released a few weeks back, I was a little underwhelmed.  It seemed to promise to burst into life at any point, but never quite got there, which meant a ten minute track became something of a chore.  However, listening here as a part of the whole rather than in isolation it takes on a whole new dimension and suddenly you realise what the band were aiming for. 

The album really starts to come into its own with “Invincible”, a veritable tour de force that encapsulates the very best of Tool’s almost unique sound.  This is when you think they album must have peaked.  It can’t get better than this. 

Only it can.  As the eerie intro of “Descending” gently blends with the hypnotic bass of Justin Chancellor, Tool take their sound to whole new levels of sublime.  Surely this has to be the album’s stand out track? 

Somehow, no.  Why?  Because “7empest”, a majestic blend of everything that Tool do better than anyone else.   Guitarist Adam Jones both crunches and soars to glorious heights, while Maynard James Keenan’s vocal performance is at it’s most hauntingly beautiful. This is a track that deserves to be counted among the best of the year. 

Of course, this being Tool, there are moments of borderline pretentious experimentation and sonic frippery that don’t always appear to serve a purpose, with closer “Mockingbeat” being especially guilty and almost superfluous but then you have something like “Chocolate Chip Trip”, a track which I really wanted to dislike, but actually kind of love, all due to the virtuoso performance of drummer Danny Carey.   In fact, throughout the whole album, Carey shines through with a man of the match performance, and serves to remind you that Tool are so much more than the sum of their parts. 

Yes, at times it can be bloated and self indulgent.  But isn’t bloated self indulgence what we expect from Tool and, given the true artistic merit of their work, generally forgive them for? 

I first listened to the album in the car – a listen that was split into two parts due to the length of the album.  And during the second half I had a splitting headache to boot.  As such I found myself kind of liking it, but no more. 

Then, I had a proper listen.  One sitting in a darkened room, headphones on with no distractions.  And it was a revelation.  This is not background music.  Deep, complex and layered, you will very rarely find yourself experiencing it in the same way twice. 

The long and short of it is this.  If you are not already a fan of Tool then there will be no blinding light of realisation on the road to Damascus.  You probably won’t like “Fear Inoculum”.  It most likely will not convert you. 

But if you’re a Tool fan who has been waiting in eager anticipation for over a decade, chances are you are going to lap up every single second like the hungriest of cats. Album of the year?  At the moment, I’m not sure – but it’s definitely currently in my top two. 

Sit back, relax, and let the music wash over you. 

Tool are back,  And they’re as essential as ever. 

 

10 out of 10

 

 

Track Listing:
01 Fear Inoculum
02 Pneuma
03 Litanie contre la Peur
04 Invincible
05 Legion Inoculant
06 Descending
07 Culling Voices
08 Chocolate Chip Trip
09 7empest
10 Mockingbeat