>> After 13-years since their last release, the enigmatic Tool delivers an acceptable effort on their anticipated comeback album ‘Fear Inoculum,’ that fails to justify the wait and mythology behind it.
In 2019, it seemed silly to think Tool would release a follow up to their previous album ‘10,000 Days,’ from 2006. For many years, outside issues slowed down the band’s recording progress. Any glimpse of something new from the band was nothing but a vague sense of hope. And then it finally came. On August 7th, approximately at 8:00 a.m., I received a notification on my phone that Tool had just released a new song. The title track off their latest album ‘Fear Inoculum,’ runs a bit over ten-minutes and it's already in the record books as the longest song to crack the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Built around a shadowy Middle Eastern-esque melody, frontman Maynard James Keenan’s (Puscifer, A Perfect Circle) steady, but disturbing vocals sound like a prayer. Soon Keenan’s vocals get buried by all the rhythmic complexities, but the journey doesn’t stop there. The last minute of the song is one of the most intense moments on the album, reminiscent of “Reflection” off Tool’s 2001 album, ‘Lateralus.’ The eerie experimental interlude “Litanie contre la Peur,” is Tool’s most frightening song to come out since the one with a guy shouting out a recipe in German. The steady buildup to the epic “Invincible” is striking and will leave you with chills. Drummer Danny Carey unloads at the halfway point like he is a human octopus; he is arguably one of the greatest drummers of all-time. Carey certainly proves his talent on this release, with his poly-rhythmic perplexities and thunderous drum patterns; his drumming saves this album. “Descending,” one of the first tracks they’ve played live, invokes the sensation of free falling along with guitarist Adam Jones’ buzzing and crunching guitar riffs in unusual time signatures. It’s the only song on the album where every musician captures their best, perfecting their sound and being masters of their craft. “Chocolate Chip Trip” is one wild ride—another track Tool has been teasing at their live shows for a while now. The song is layered with glowing whirls of custom synth bursts, psychedelic effects and a monstrous drum solo that sounds like Carey battling aliens or Thom Yorke at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Let’s just say it’s his “Moby Dick.” The closing track “7empest” sounds more like a classic Tool track—it’s the climax we’ve been waiting for: Keenan’s vocal approach is more direct: he finally lets out some growls, the atmospheric and solid guitar work from Jones is prestigious. Bassist Justin Chancellor’s delving basslines sound familiar and Carey’s assertive drumming is striking as always. “Mockingbeat” (digital release only) is a total cooldown and it sounds quirky, but it’s not completely out of character for Tool. Tool has always arranged strange interludes on their albums and the sound of electronic birds chirping is no exception.
Some may argue ‘Fear Inoculum’ is Tool’s most complex effort yet, but as historical and cinematic as this release was, it wasn’t worth the wait. Frankly, I’d still be pleased if we were waiting for a better album to come out. My expectations coming into the album were low, especially with all the issues holding the album’s release back for so long. However, now entering their classic-rock phase, this feels like the end of Tool, hence why every song feels like Carey giving it his all. But you don’t get this effort from the other members. On most of the tracks, Keenan’s falsetto melodies sound uninspired and like a guy who works in a vineyard. Jones’ atmospheric guitar riffage and occasional fuzz ruptures are appealing, but he feels more like a counterpoint. Chancellor’s staggering bass is practically the same on every song. Even though “Pneuma” flows nicely from the title track with a memorable buildup and slashing riff from Jones, it’s too repetitive. Keenan’s songwriting is also at his weakest on this album, especially on “Culling Voices.” The song attempts to place the listener in a trance due to its enticing, but predictable groove, but when Keenan’s gritted vocals pop up at the main hook asserting “Don’t you dare point that at me,” you can’t help but wish the song was over.
Clocking in at nearly 90-minutes (depending on what version you’re listening to), in a packaging that’s as elaborate and hypnotic as for every past Tool release, ‘Fear Inoculum’ requires you to put in your full attention and listen closely. Has that been the case for every Tool album? Sure, but this one isn’t as straightforward. Don’t expect any gut punches or radio staples like “The Pot” or “Stinkfist”—‘Fear Inoculum’ is their least marketable album. Following their 1996 album ‘Ænima,’ Tool’s albums have been more spiritually driven and enlightening. Despite the noticeably similar tropes, ‘Fear Inoculum’ expands on where Tool left off on ‘10,000 Days.’ However, it isn’t as ambitious, prompting or stimulating—it’s exhausting, safe and colorless. It discusses spiritual combat with individuals and banishing the deceptive powers from one's own psyche (“Pneuma”). This album attempts to be like its predecessors, especially with the inner and atmospheric sounds, but it instead feels a bit too inadequate for a long-anticipated Tool release—it’s like they’re paying homage to themselves. Don’t get me wrong, it’s their most ambient and sonically soaring album yet, but a lot of that, especially the interludes, just feel like filler. In the end, it’s reminiscent of a Tool album, but it’s unfocused and unbalanced arrangement leaves a lot to be desired. 6.5/10 <<
Essential Tracks - “Invincible,” “7empest,” “Chocolate Chip Trip,” and “Descending.”