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REVIEW: Tool – ‘Fear Inoculum’ (Tool Dissectional / Volcano)


In a sentence:

On ‘Fear Inoculum’, their first album in 13 years, Tool have not only managed to retain their finesse and sense of identity, but also their ambition to experiment.

No, this is not a dream. Tool – the enigmatic Los Angeles four-piece who, for the past 25 years or so, have put the prog and experimental in alternative metal – are well and truly back with their first brand-new album in 13 (yes, thirteen) years titled Fear Inoculum. Some Tool fans said that a new LP would never happen again in their lifetime. Meanwhile, others were hopeful, only to then be let down year after agonising year. Tool themselves admit that they are a notoriously difficult band. If one believes that Insane Clown Posse’s Juggalos or Twenty One Pilots’ Skeleton Clique are dedicated fanbases, they are surpassed by the quasi-spiritual, and in some cases radical, devotion that Tool fans have towards their favourite band.

Before Fear Inoculum’s release date, vocalist Maynard James Keenan made his third appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in which he both announced the album’s title, and that Tool’s entire discography would be uploaded onto streaming services on August 2nd. In addition, the title track single was released five days later, the first Tool single to drop since ‘Jambi’ back in February 2007. To even begin to understand the hype and the superabundant levels of commitment to this band, some analysis of their previous work is required.


Four-piece bands like Queen or Led Zeppelin created some of the greatest rock albums of all time because all four members were brilliant songwriters and gifted instrumentalists. The same accolades apply to Tool. Keenan, drummer Danny Carey, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor are all distinguished musicians. As a result, Tool’s back catalogue is considered sacrosanct by many. Tool don’t just write good metal albums, they write material that always imbibes a compelling and transcendental euphoria.

When music fans usually think of prog rock or metal, traits like bizarre time signatures; complex and polyrhythmic arrangements; long runtimes and thought-provoking narratives or concepts are all part of the modus operandi. To an extent, Tool tick all these boxes. So, what makes their signature mix of alternative and prog metal stand out? There are various answers to this question, but the most important aspect is their ability to create technically masterful tracks based on less multifaceted guitar riffs, basslines and drum parts. This has allowed the attention to detail on every Tool album to be extraordinarily calculated and precise. Plus, Keenan’s vocal delivery is ethereal and haunting, but it’s his cacophonous, otherworldly screams that people keep coming back for. His multi-layered lyricism about philosophy, society, politics and human psychology, to name a few topics, is so fixating ad nauseum and seldom do his lyrics hold a specific meaning.

Their 1993 debut album Undertow, released a year after the highly promising Opiate EP, was a very dark, heavy and gritty encounter. The harrowing single ‘Prison Sex’ caused controversy and was censored due to the depictions of minor abuse in the lyrics and music video. ‘Sober’ was the album’s highlight because of its accessibility and iconic bass chord intro. If there’s one thing audiences learnt about Tool, it’s that they were no supporters of the Church of Scientology. Paul D’Amour was the bassist for Tool at the time but his presence on the album is just as potent as Chancellor’s would be on future LPs. Tool have amassed a loyal cult following ever since.

The band discovered their identity through more progressive means on their 1996 sophomore effort Ænima where Chancellor took over from D’Amour on bass. From the pummelling opener ‘Stinkfist’ to the scintillating ‘Forty Six & 2’, Tool were in their element. The closer ‘Third Eye’ not only became well-regarded for its audio sampling of a Bill Hicks comedy show, but also its unrelenting chaos. Ænima also defined Tool’s album structure for years to come where multiple short interlude tracks were introduced.

On their subsequent albums, 2001’s Lateralus and 2006’s 10,000 Days, Tool were now firing on all cylinders and produced two albums that deserve a perfect 10 score. Singles like ‘Schism’, ‘Parabola’, ‘Vicarious’ and ‘The Pot’ would not only develop into fan favourites but also attract new listeners to their outlandish yet appealing milieu. Jones’ chugging guitar riffs, Chancellor’s gorgeous yet sometimes punishing basslines, Carey’s astounding technique on the drums and Keenan’s godlike vocals are what make Lateralus and 10,000 Days revered and timeless classics that have aged extremely well.

If this has not convinced readers who have never even heard of Tool to check out their discography then I’ll leave behind this thought. Name another band who has written about the complete destruction of L.A. (‘Ænema’) or being abducted by a flying, banana-shaped U.F.O (‘Rosetta Stoned’) in a way that is intellectually engaging and commercially viable.


As I’ve mentioned previously, Tool admit that they are a difficult band that for the past 13 years have required vast reserves of patience from their fanbase. The main reason why Tool took so long to complete writing and recording Fear Inoculum was the lawsuit that was filed against the band back in 2007 by artist, and friend of Jones, Cam De Leon. He disputed that he was not receiving proper credit for his artwork that was being used by the band. De Leon, an artist who specialises in dark imagery, designed the album artworks for Tool’s Opiate EP and Ænima. When Tool requested the assistance of their insurance company at the time for defence purposes, the company also filed a lawsuit against the band, allegedly taking issue with the legality of the way the group dealt with De Leon’s claims. In response, Tool filed a countersuit. This amounted to what would be a multi-million-dollar, virtually decade-long legal struggle. To the group’s relief, the issue finally concluded in 2015 in favour of the band.

On Joe Rogan’s podcast, Keenan said “The four of us are a lot of fucking work, just to get anywhere, oh my god. Everything’s a fucking committee meeting and it always gets shut down”. While the lawsuit may have seriously delayed Tool’s plans for a fifth album, their writing process in and of itself seems like a strenuous and time-consuming exercise. Moreover, Keenan has involved himself in a plethora of projects, including writing albums with Puscifer and more recently A Perfect Circle, who dropped the politically charged Eat The Elephant last year. Along with his wine-making, cider-making and restaurant businesses and ju-jitsu academy, it’s no question that Keenan is a very busy man. He also had to have a hip replacement operation on his right hip a few years ago.

Despite Tool’s inner turmoil and everything that ensued, Fear Inoculum is worth the wait!


Not only have Tool managed to retain their ambition and finesse, but they’re also not afraid to experiment once again and see where that ambition takes them. Fear Inoculum is Tool’s longest album to date, clocking in at an unprecedented 90 minutes, yet only ten tracks make up the album, with six of them overstepping ten minutes. Furthermore, the new logo is strikingly unique, plus the background of what looks like a spiralling snake skin evokes a mysterious yet sinister feeling.

The title track, lead single and opener ‘Fear Inoculum’ was the only song to be unveiled prior to the album and on first hearing didn’t make a convincing first impression. It was certainly a case of Tool by the numbers: the song’s orchestration, production value, lyricism and progression adhered to the band’s rulebook. Initially, the song felt as though the sum of its parts weren’t as good as the individual parts themselves. After repeated listens though, ‘Fear Inoculum’ begins to make sense.

The delay effects on Chancellor’s bass profoundly resonate whilst Carey’s drums cultivate an unnerving aura. The lyrics indicate at a being known as The Deceiver who injects fear into the narrator (“Naïve, I opened up to you / Venom and mania / Now, contagion, I exhale you”) before courageously rejecting his foe soon after with “Exhale, expel / Recast my tale / Weave my allegorical elegy”. As the song nears its end, The Deceiver’s influence dwindles (“Your veil now, lift way / I see you running / Deceiver chased away / A long time coming”) as the instrumentation erupts into a devastating breakdown. The narrative this song imposes could suggest a fear of other people (“Fear the others”) and the truth itself (“Fear the light”) and the desire to run away from problems rather than confront them head-on.

The second track ‘Pneuma’ topically overlaps with ‘Parabola’ in terms of human experience and mortality. The central idea seems to be that humans are bound together spiritually into one single consciousness with the lyrics “Pneuma / Reach out and beyond / Wake up, remember / We are born of one breath, one word” furthering the theme of being spirits in the material world. The tempo and progression of the song reminisces Tool’s rendition of Led Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’ from their 2000 live album Salival. The visuals and effects give credence to the supernatural tendencies of ‘Pneuma’ and Adam Jones’ riffage and tone are second to none.

Speaking of Jones, his guitar work throughout Fear Inoculum is career-defining. Whether it’s on ‘Invincible’ or the mighty ‘7empest’, Jones proves that he can create energy and dynamism just by playing a single palm-muted note in various time signatures. Moreover, his soloing and guitar melody feel authentic and vivid in their simplicity and is a key reason why he is venerated by so many guitarists. ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ demonstrates why Carey is respected by so many drummers. His knowledge of drumming techniques, coupled with his absolute control over his playing, particularly when it comes to transitioning between odd time signatures, is phenomenal. Every crash of a symbol and every hit on the snare and double-bass drums are executed with precision and conviction.

The music industry and Tool have clashed several times over the years which has resulted in censorship and hostility towards the band. They also don’t present themselves in music videos or film live concerts, most likely because of their desire for privacy and wanting audiences to focus on the music rather than them. But with streaming services quickly outpacing other forms of music consumption, Tool attempt to remain artistically relevant on ‘Invincible’. “Warrior struggling to remain relevant / Warrior struggling to remain consequential” sings Keenan as Tool fight what they know to be a losing battle (“False hope, perhaps / But the truth never got in my way / Before now, feel the sting / Feeling time bearing down”).

The 15-minute, rocket-fuelled ‘7empest’ will go down as a Tool masterpiece in years to come. Keenan’s vocals are outstandingly fierce and angry as he viciously attacks mainstream orthodoxy when what he notices is a tempest of destruction blustering towards humanity. “Calm as cookies and cream, so it seems / We’re not buying your dubious state of serenity / Acting all surprised when you’re caught in the lie” exposes the agenda of the mainstream narrative, even those who control it are scared. ‘Descending’ is just as doom-and-gloom where Keenan calls upon humanity to ascend from its descent into madness with “Come, our end, suddenly / All hail our lethargy / Concede suddenly / To the quickened dissolution / Pray we mitigate the ruin / Calling all to arms and order”.

Fear Inoculum achieves all the criteria that a Tool album should. They leave no stone unturned on this album whose 90-minute run-time packages some of their greatest material to date. It may have taken them over a decade but once again Tool seamlessly push the boundaries of the progressive and alternative metal genres and produce yet another classic. (9/10) (Harry Beynon)

Listen to Fear Inoculum by Tool here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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