ALBUM REVIEW: Tool – Fear Inoculum

Yes, dear reader, you really are reading a review of the long awaited, mega hyped and near mythical fifth album from living prog legends Tool. A mere thirteen years after the absolutely incredible 10,000 Days, which arrived in a time where Ed Sheeran was barely busking and making jokes about George W Bush was a regular pastime. The music industry Tool return to, let alone the world, has become a very different place in those thirteen years.

Due to their much publicised non-appearance on streaming platforms (Spotify didn’t go live until 2008, for further context of how much has changed) until August 2019, it has been argued by some that young rock music fans would have no interest in Tool, and that they may perceive them to be some sad old man band from the prehistoric era known only as “the 90s”. To add to the odds against it commercially, at 86 minutes it would be incredibly easy for a new listener to immediately laugh and move on to something more immediate on their platform of choice, especially as the six songs with vocals are all ten minutes plus.

As we are about to detail, these are hurdles the band surmounts with consummate ease.

Maynard James Keenan is, as odd as this may seem, the least utilised weapon in the Tool arsenal this time, but what he does provide is this wonderful lightness of touch. The moment when the band all comes to together and he sings “exhale, expel” on Fear Inoculum is the first moment of utter perfection on a song about expelling and immunising yourself against fear, and its only possible because of how good he is. His vocals sound incredibly ethereal throughout, whilst also deftly touching on this sense of sadness in people for becoming so disconnected from each other, particularly in Descending which also warns that we are all essentially screwed if we don’t change. Not a song for those wanting a perk up, but its an absolute standout.

Invincible deals with getting older and maybe not feeling as relevant, almost a meta-commentary on Tool itself. The closest Keenan comes to being a more central figure is through the first half of Culling Voices, where he puts in a delicate yet very warm showing. It’s an album performance truly fitting of his legendary status, and its a great credit that he doesn’t try and perform like he’s doing Hooker With A Penis again. This version of Keenan isn’t so much angry, as deeply disappointed, like your mother after a mediocre school report. This doesn’t mean there’s no fury at all, take his performance of the utterly Olympian feat 7empest, especially the staccato spit of “Tempest, must be, the last one,” but even then, its like he’s floating above the music.

The bass guitar work from Justin Chancellor is something that, on first listen, you really struggle to notice. But by your third or fourth, you are reminded that this man is an actual wizard, weaving his way in and around Adam Jones and Danny Carey like the Lionel Messi of bass. Jones is also on frankly ridiculous form, from the cello-like sounds he ekes from his guitar on Fear Inoculum to the haunting riff that ends Descending. His performance on 7empest is transcendent to boot. It all seems so easy from him, like he’s just accessing a level of ability simply not available to mere mortals. His soloing on this album is incredible too. Of course it is. The false finish in Invincible followed by the crash back in is another absolutely ridiculous Jones moment.

Danny Carey’s performance on this album is worth the price of a family bundle, let alone a single ticket. It’s like he saw all the great drummers of the rock world of the last thirteen years in a saloon, and he just rolled in and challenged all of them to a barfight, and wins. So many times does it sound like he’s coming off the rails, but then you remember that this is an actual master of his craft and realise its all part of the grand plan. Its a complete drum instructional DVD without any of the awkward talking bits. He feels like he’s on a one man mission to become the god-emperor of drums. Right from the start, with the soft patterns in Fear Inoculum, the build to a punishing double bass conclusion through the Every beat is perfectly placed. Nothing feels over complicated for the sake of it and the gorgeous Asian and Middle Eastern inspired beats help to enhance the trance-like grooves of Fear Inoculum songs like Pneuma. Chocolate Chip Trip, ostensibly a drum solo, still manages to be an utterly compelling four minutes and 48 seconds thanks to the Buddy Rich-esque jazzy madness he displays. If anyone has to be given the man of the match award on this album, its Carey.

This record is like a complicated series of shifting puzzles and cryptic crosswords your father does on a Sunday morning. Its not instantaneous in any way, you will never hear these songs at a club night, and only an absolute madman would put this on their pub jukebox. It may leave you incredibly cold, even if you have enjoyed some Tool in the past or if you don’t really care for prog or even post-rock, because the song structures on this album are incredibly influenced by it.

But if you are seduced by it, it rewards you with intricately designed, emotionally resonant masterpieces that will never do anything other than worm their way into your heart and soul, and reaffirms that greatness does indeed come to those who wait. 

Is it the best Tool album yet? Ask us in 13 years!


Standout Tracks: Invincible, Descending, 7empest

For Fans Of: King Crimson, Rush, Failure, Karnivool

Written by: Louis Tsangarides