Tool’s Fear Inoculum is taking over the number one positions on digital charts as we speak. Thus, upsetting “the Taylor Swift army” around the globe. WTF? Well, this leaves us no choice but to weigh in.
Or do we? If a Helm’s Deep-like battle occurs between both fanbases we will be the first to give out free popcorn and bring you realtime coverage. For now, let’s talk about Simply Red for a moment. That right, …Simply Red. Why? Well the resemblance between the Tool Army and Simply Red’s classic ‘Holding Back the Years’ are quite obvious.
For 13 long and hard years the most die-hard fans of Tool have been waiting for new work, they held back back tears, wasted years and kept holding on. This is why internet fora exorbitantly exploded when they heard Tool was releasing a brand new album this year. The hype train came to full speed in no time. Here at SftDS we think Tool is a great band that released their best work in their early years but is all this hype not exaggerated? Waiting 13 years in manner that nothing else had chance to be good? Is that healthy? Especially if you realize that the marketing around Tool has taken abominable forms since Lateralus (2001)? Well, every man or woman for themselves of course. We however kept on living in the past years and listened to great music and some Simply Red but of course welcome Fear Inoculum with open arms like each other new release.
In the beginning of August Tool already released the title track of the new album on streaming services. The 10 minute teaser track again caused an online stir among fans who where hysterically positive. Still there also where some mixed reaction from a smaller group of other first hour fans who said the track is too polished. Here at SftDS we think we belong to the latter. For us Tool’s work from the 90s (Opiate, Undertow and Ænima) is great and maybe even monumental. Lateralus was of lesser quality but in the end still worth while. Yet, the decline came with their last release 10.000 Days, which held two or three really good songs but was forgettable for the rest. Although we have to admit the nicely marketed stereoscopic eyeglassed cover was fun addition to the whole. After hearing Fear Inoculum’s title track several times we weren’t really enthusiastic. The track, which also is the first track of the album, feels much like a continuation of 10.000 Days. Alright it’s not bad, but it’s not good either. Of course a Tool album is something you need to take in as a whole so let’s forget about Simply Red and let’s see if Maynard James Keenan et al can redeem the staggeringly high expectations.
First of all, at the moment of writing a physical copy of Fear Inoculum is hard to obtain. Tool only released a special edition CD with a rechargeable 4″ HD screen with exclusive video footage, a USB charging cable, a 2-watt speaker, and a 36-page booklet which sold out in no time during the pre-order phase. If you desperately want one a few of those editions are available via Discogs for the not so fan friendly price of about €100,-. Most of us therefore are still waiting for a regular edition to appear in the near future. The band however recently placed all of their full albums on streaming services a month ago and also added Fear Inoculum.
Back to the music, because naturally we’re curious to what comes after the prelude. Just like the searching build up on the title track Tool keeps building on the second track. ‘Pneuma’ sonically again picks up where 10.000 Days ended and this becomes even more obvious after the contrary guitar rhythms hits in. ‘Pneuma’ really takes shape after a few minutes when a ripping, second guitar line is added and a synth brings an extra layer as Keenan sings: “We are one breathe. One word. One spark.” In the second phase of the track the drumming of Danny Carey becomes more prominent. Light chops, heavy machine gun drumming are interchanged in great fashion we remember from other work and are the first highlight of the album.
‘Pneuma’ however not only feels like a 10.000 Days-track but also seems to extend the prelude of Fear Inoculum. Tool is steadily building towards something in their own unique way. After two tracks and 20 minutes we can’t say we heard any music that qualifies as metal or progressive rock. We hear Tool. After forgettable interlude the album continues with another 10-minute-plus track. ‘Invincible’ is again slow burner and builds around the words: “Warrior. Struggling. To remain. Relevant”. For about 7 minutes the gradually becomes fuller but then suddenly breaks apart with only a threatening riff left. Will Tool finally break loose? Alas, a synthy version of Keenan voice brings an anti-climax and a new buildup. Again ‘Invincible’ unexpectedly comes to a stop after which, as a sort of a double anti-climax, two minutes of heaviness is squeezed in to end the track. Up until this point Fear Inoculum conceptually is an interesting listen but offers almost no pay off.
After a weird extraterrestrial sounding interlude Tool keeps on building towards somewhere. The crashing waves beginnings of ‘Descending’ feel like a natural midway point of the album. Slowly one by one the band members seem to emerge from the sea and set the pieces for the track to unfold in true Tool fashion. Fragments of the band’s past, mainly Ænima and Lateralus, come to the foreground as Adam Jones and Danny Carey in turn steal the show with some wonderful proggy full guitar solos and briljant drumming. On ‘Culling Voices’ the light atmospheric guitar play is soothing and turns away from tension building we heard on the other tracks. The band once more takes its time to evolve into a familiar heavier groove which only runs for two minutes as a lead out. The lengthy build up of ‘Culling Voices’ therefore is disproportionate and as a consequence also make it the most tame track of the album.
Trapped between two instrumentals is the closing track of Fear Inoculum: ‘7empest’. This 15 minute-spanning track is the most straightforward rock track on the album but still remains diverse. After Keenan spits out a “Here we go again” bits and pieces of the older work of Tool are blended together with solos, basses and Keenan’s more aggressive staccato. ‘7empest’ will appeal to fans of old for a moment but also comes to new standstill, rebuild and ultimately to an obvious massive climax. You have to wonder if an album with this much build up, climaxes and anti-climaxes in it needed track like this. ‘7empest’ just doesn’t seem to fit and above that doesn’t bring anything new. Wasn’t ‘Culling Voices’ more suitable as an ending?
After multiple intense listening sessions we have to conclude that Fear Inoculum does not live up to the hype. As a whole the album is a repetitive controlled polished build up with no real pay off and no new ideas. Also the physical release scheme is not a very friendly manoeuvre if you add that to the mix. Maybe Tool made this album purley for themselves? Maybe Tool simply says ‘Hey, this is the way we want our music to sound after all these years so take it or leave it, suckers’. If so, well, that’s admirable. Tool just for Tool… and their die-hards of course, who get a recognizable work that at least can measure itself with 10,000 Days.
Tool masterly place Fear Inoculum on a thin line. It’s too soon to say if the album will stand the test of time because it holds a new essence we can’t place yet. So indeed: …we’ll keep holding on. If anything is clear after this release Tool still is a unique band that can’t be compared with any other band. In a few years Fear Inoculum could feel a lot different than it does now and for some reason we can’t explain that’s a reassuring thought.
Label: Volcano, 2019
Trackist (digital version):
- Fear Inoculum (10:20)
- Pneuma (11:53)
- Litanie contre la Peur (02:14)
- Invincible (12:44)
- Legion Inoculant (03:09)
- Descending (13:37)
- Culling Voices (10:05)
- Chocolate Chip Trip (04:48)
- 7empest (15:43)
- Mockingbeat (02:05)
Review by Wander Meulemans //080919