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TOOL Fear Inoculum gets 9/10


Tool
Fear Inoculum
Volcano/RCA/Sony

9/10

It’s a difficult thing to approach something this long-awaited with an open mind, free from the expectation that has simmered for 13 years. And yet, the fear of being disappointed, the fear that maybe as a unit the band have changed too much to recreate that incomparable Tool sound, turns out to be unfounded with Fear Inoculum, an offering that feels like an ode to their magnificent discography, each long song packed with enough older Tool as influence to keep established fans happy, while being accessible enough for new listeners who came to see what all the fuss is about.

On Fear Incoculum‘s epic opening, title trackthe anxiety is instantly assuaged. It’s Tool on steroids and instantly tells the listener to expect a collage of their greatest tunes, which comes as a pleasant surprise for those who expected them to go further in the progressive direction they were heading in with Lateralus and 10,000 Days. They sound very much like… well, like themselves, aside from one major point of difference which becomes apparent very quickly, namely Maynard James Keenan’s vocal style being much clearer á la A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, rather than allusive and ambiguous as was his signature with Tool.

Second track Pneuma again immediately conjures well-loved tracks like Schism, amongst others. Simply hypnotic, the vocals are incredibly well produced. Keenan is simultaneously high and clear as a bell, and growly or low as fuck at the same time. Drum god Danny Carey doesn’t disappoint, and the irregular beat and tribal influence here feels like a continuation from previous albums, which makes the 13-year hiatus easy to forget.

The theme for this album seems to be long-ass tracks, each one reminiscent of at least a couple of older Tool songs, sometimes more like three or four. Invincible is beautiful and full, yet somehow a bit more spare than older Tool. Keenan’s vocals are clear, his lyrics much easier to pick up on first listen than usual. It’s the same hypnotic, twisted bass from Justin Chancellor and the same progressive, driving riffs from guitarist Adam Jones, however some of that distinctive Tool subtlety is missing, perhaps because of the clarity of Keenan’s vocals.

Legion Inoculant arrives scary and unnerving at first, throwing out a paranoid vibe before slowly transforming, depositing you gently in an ocean of calming waves that beaches onto the surprisingly familiar opening notes of Descending, similar to the intro of 10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2). Keenan’s vocals are undeniably beautiful but this level of cleanness in the context of Tool feels distracting during the first listen. Then, after second, third and fourth revolutions through the album, it starts to fall into place. It wouldn’t be new Tool without something to wrap your head around and it seems that for this much-anticipated album, that is Keenan’s vocals. There’s a big influence of Right in Two from their 10,000 Days album in Descending, and that flows through into Culling Voices as well, showing why Carey and Chancellor have referred to this album as one giant song.

Chocolate Chip Trip has to be mentioned for the insanity of Carey’s skills with that ridiculous drum kit of his. Almost Dada-esque in its nonsense, in decent headphones the way this one travels from one ear to another and back again is very cool indeed, and very Tool in its execution.

Along with Fear Inoculum and Pneuma as standouts (knowing how a Tool album reveals itself after many listens this could change!), the nearly 16 minute 7empest is definitely a favourite. Keenan sounds more like Tool MJK. It’s thick, dirty, satisfying, and heavy. Jones on guitar is absolutely stunning, the time-signatures are odd and ever-changing. It’s a wonderful climax for the album.

The ‘intermission’ type tracks, Litanie contre la Peur, Legion Inoculant and Mockingbeat are just as weird as they are on any other Tool album. Mockingbeat seems like a strange way to close off the album and leaves room for further thought as to why they’ve chosen to end it this way, and what it might mean… again, standard Tool.

Fear Inoculum is everything you expect from a Tool album. It’s progressive, experimental, has tribal influences, is visceral, moving, makes you wonder, and has strange time signatures that are slightly unsettling but ultimately satisfying. It leaves plenty to contemplate with allusive lyrics – and with Keenan’s clean vocal style, those lyrics are easier to pick up quickly than with older Tool.

Every track has enough of that distinctive Tool sound to keep the tragics happy while being slightly more accessible and less progressive than the last couple of albums, which means it’s a friendly entry-point, a good gateway album for new listeners keen to join this cult. Worth the wait.

MELISSA KRUGER

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