How does one approach a new album from the legendary Tool? I think most of you know that I’ve always been more of an A Perfect Circle fan, but I’ve always liked Tool, too. When Tool finally calls us on our jokes about them and releases a new album, what is there to say, really? “Fear Inoculum”, as everyone in the world already knows, released on August 30th. And, to the dismay and pleasure of many, it sounds like Tool.
The band needs no introduction, but I will anyways. Tool consists of Danny Carey on drums and synth, Justin Chancellor on bass, Adam Jones on guitar, and Maynard James Keenan on vocals and lyrics. One thing that can be readily noticed is that the band sounds amazing together, even with a 13-year hiatus and the reported in-fighting.
Internet snobs have argued for a decade over whether or not Tool is progressive metal. My own answer to this infinitely important question is “Yes, obviously”. Tool is progressive metal, and through all the winding guitar licks, chugging riffs, incredibly complex drums, and powerful bass they establish themselves again here as one of the most intricate bands of all time. The music is again complex and technical, maybe to a fault. That is up to the listener to decide.
Yet, I will also say that I feel like Maynard really cuts through the technicality this time. Past Tool albums have seemed like a blur of convolution to me at times, but Maynard, who I consider to be one of the all-time greatest vocalists, cuts through the polyrhythms like a knife with his searing lyrics and unmistakable voice. The title track opener is a good example of this as his “Exxxxhaaaaale” bleeds right in over the music to give us goosebumps.
After the excellency of the lyrics on last year’s “Eat the Elephant” from APC, I fully expected more greatness from Maynard, and he delivers again. I feel like he has matured in many ways, and he is more focused and almost paternal in his approach now, like the father we never knew we needed. I can’t say I understand all of the lyrics here, but they revolved around the number seven apparently, and I hear more music videos are in the works to pursue this idea further. The theme of the album revolves around growing old and looking back at where we’ve been and the things we’ve experienced. So, in a way, looking back at where we were and then looking at the progress we’ve made can be an inoculum against fear. Indeed, it can breed hope. That is something I didn’t expect on a Tool album, but Maynard expressed some of the same ideas through APC last year. I am happy to see him becoming more balanced.
We’ve all heard about the length of this album. Yes, it doesn’t fit on a standard CD. Why they didn’t just release it as a double album with some live takes, I will never know. Anyways, the only way to experience the full album is to stream or buy the digital version. For my money, the interludes missing on the CD version add so much, giving us a breather in between the complex longer tracks, yes, but they also feel like some of the most creative parts on the album, too. I don’t think Tool fans especially will want to miss out on the atmospheric, electronic, and almost industrial feel of the interludes.
I’m not going to go through this album track by track, but I have to admit that I’m really falling for it. Like Maynard has said, this album takes time and patience to understand and absorb. You cannot have a full opinion of this album over just a couple listens. Every listen opens more and more to your ears, and that goes for both the musicianship as well as for the lyrics and vocal melodies.
I have a few favorites here. The aforementioned title track is a great way to open everything, and the chorus is piercing and memorable. Maybe even better, though, is “Pneuma”. I love the percussion on this one and the dragging guitar lick reminiscent of “Schism” , and the stilted chorus has been stuck in my head all week. My co-workers have probably wondered why I suddenly would say “Pneeeeuuumaaa” under my breath. I would probably point to “Invincible” as my favorite track on the album, though. It is quite a journey with some fantastic transitions, including a dark and atmospheric interlude and some spellbinding drumming, and I always look forward to hearing it.
All of the tracks are high quality, though. The band didn’t mince production or composition values here, and there is surprisingly little filler. I love the presence of synth on several of the tracks, as it adds a sharp, visceral touchstone on top of the hefty technicality of the more metallic elements. The interludes, too, are interesting little mind trips that I really like. My favorite is “Chocolate Chip Trip” and its electronic, drum fill-laden beat brightens up everything before descending into “7empest”. Speaking of, I’ve seen multiple mentions of “7empest” as the only worthwhile track on the album, and, while it is great, I guess I don’t see why they would love it, and dislike the others.
Overall, Tool’s return is a success artistically, and also financially, if Taylor Swift’s fan reactions are any indication. Still, I think this is the last we will hear from Tool. I think Maynard is giving us a farewell duo of albums in “Eat the Elephant” and “Fear Inoculum”, and that makes me sad. These bands have been part of my upbringing into music, after all. Both albums are of a very high quality, hitting with precision, lyrical depth, and obvious passion for the medium. See both bands live as you can since I don’t think the opportunity will be available for too much longer.
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