Tool – Fear Inoculum
Label: Tool Dissectional, Volcano Entertainment, and RCA Records
Release Date: August 29, 2019
Back on August 31, Los Angelas based Tool had finally released a new album. After 13 years since the release of 10,000 Days, Fear Inoculum was presented as their 5th full length album. It was met with mixed reviews from hardcore fans. However it seems that the overall consensus is happy with the offering. I had to take my time, but alas, here are my compiled thoughts on the album.
***Disclaimer*** What you are about to read are words from a life-long Tool fan. In fact, they would qualify as my favorite band. So, right off the hop, I’m biased. Despite this obvious reality, I am also honest in my opinion. Essentially, that’s what every review is, an opinion, and I went into this willing to talk bad about this album, should I feel, sonically, that it deserves it. I really sat on this album because I felt that it demanded a thorough listen before commenting on it’s ‘quality.’ Here we are now, just over a month after it’s release and I feel ready to make some statements.
The album opens as any Tool album has (Opiate excluded) with a sonic mood setter. An airy, open sounding track with lots of space before the bass kicks in fully. It joins the breathing guitar and the drum beat which sounds like hand drums as well as a kit. “Fear Inoculum” was the single released a month before the album and it came with mixed reviews. While it stands up beside some of Tool’s best songs, it’s certainly not the strongest song on the album. I completely dig the message behind the lyrics. Essentially it’s a well written poem or incantation aiming to oust fear from your, life: “Purge me and evacuate the venom and the fear that binds me.”
“Pneuma” is Greek for breath, spirit or soul, and the Oxford Dictionary places the following definition from the Stoic belief system, “the vital spirit, soul, or creative force of a person.” This track is a well crafted song highlighting some of the great qualities of Tool‘s music. They give us the pulsing groove wrought through a time signature machine, huge heavy riffs and Danny Carey tom rolls for days. On top of that sonic tastiness, Maynard is present serenading the listeners, inspiring us to transcend and actualize our true potential, to realize our true interconnectedness and forever shine. Thematically this is certainly not a new place for Tool‘s lyrics to go. There were hints of this in some of the earliest material and increasing as their career grew, but I feel it really kicked in full force in the 2000’s wiith Lateralus and 10,000 Days.
“Litanie contre la Peur”
“Litanie contre la Peur”, French for Litany against fear, is a short atmospheric track. Possibly instrumental, but also possibly a vocal line sent through various processing effects, warping and twisting the sound. Strange, but whatever.
Next up is “Invincible” which I feel has an Aenima-era feel. This track is a great example of Tool‘s use of space. Each instrument has it’s place, and knows where it’s supposed to be, Maynard included. There are some great Danny Carey drum moments in this tune, and a huge chugging pattern around the 9:30 mark. Thematically I feel like the song could be a political commentary about a specific yellow haired leader. I could be wrong.. but.. anyway, “Invincible” ends with Carey rolling us to the finish line. It’s a good song, but not on my top list.
“Legion Inoculant” is another atmospheric tune using processing effects and vocal parts. It would fit a really twisted moment in a David Lynch film.
“Descending” takes it’s time unfolding a message to wake up, connect to your source and rise. I like how it takes five minutes to get to the first chorus. From there it travels through synchopated band moments, to instrumental solo’s. By the end you are so far from where you were in the beginning, you’d almost think it was a different song. Clocking in at 13:37 it is the second longest track on the album.
Creepy strings into guitar picking, “Culling Voices” starts off as a ballad of a tortured mind. For the first half it’s just guitar and Maynard. That was kinda nice. Then, just after half way mark, the full band kicked in. This song is textbook Tool, which in a lot of ways is an amazing thing. On the other hand, it doesn’t really push any of Tool‘s boundaries. I enjoy it way more when they bend that envelope and take us to new places. Still a good song regardless.
“Chocolate Chip Trip”
Do you remember “Faaip De Oiad” from Lateralus? It was the one that featured the famous call in to a radio show talking about Area 51. It was also a song that featured a Danny Carey drum solo in the background, under noise and the Area 51 call. Well, “Chocolate Chip Trip” gives us another and doesn’t bury it in nosie. Carey rips on the kit along side an electronic noise, possibly adam Jones and his guitar, or maybe someone using a synth. Either way, it’s a trip!
Upon my first listen of the album in it’s entirety, “7empest,” stood out among the rest. After a minute and a half guitar and percussion intro, you can hear Maynard say, “Here we go again.” Lyrically the song is vaguely accusatory, and by vague, I only mean the target is not explicitly expressed. His accusations are relatively blatant. Musically the bulk of the song contains some of the heaviest/hardest moments of the whole album. In my opinion, “7empest” could be a continuation of “Ticks and Leeches” from Lateralus. Clocking in at over 15 minutes, there is a decent portion of this song that is instrumental. Also worth noting, polyrhythms all over the place!
After a ‘swoosh’ for an intro, this tune is comprised of an faint organ melody, the chirping and squacking of various birds and some strange scratching sound. Eventually a faint beat, perhaps from hand drums can be heard, before dissipating leaving only the birds to end the track. I get the atmospheric wrap up this track was intended to convey. However, considering what it is, I feel no real need for any further thoughts on it. Birds are cool.
Overall, I am very pleased with this album. To come into it seeing all of the actual songs, not atmospheric small transitionary tracks, are over 10 minutes long was impressive. I’m a fan of long songs, sonic journeys that take you right along with them. There is some pretty strong material here, songs that will age well because of the time they demand from you to truly digest. Should they choose to do another, I think my bar of expectation will have to go up, but for this album, I am very happy to have new Tool music. This fulfilled my expectations, and I look forward to many more listens.
What did you think of the album?