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
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.
THIRTEEN YEARS IS A
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
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
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)
Listen to Fear Inoculum by Tool here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: Adam Jones, Danny Carey, Fear Inoculum, Harry Beynon, Justin Chancellor, Maynard James Keenan, Tool
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