Tool’s long awaited Fear Inoculum was merely speculation for the last 13 years or so; its existence seemed to have spurred from hopeful fans who were left hanging after 2006’s 10,000 Days– and Tool was ready to deliver again.
The Los Angeles alternative/progressive metal band had a lot to live up to. Their discography boasted 10 min+ songs, creative polyrhythms, various time signatures within each track, heavy, powerful riffs and the belting rock vocals of vocalist Maynard James Keenan. Their fans are nearly considered cult-like due to their utmost passion for the complexity of their instrumentals and reflective, often spiritual lyrics.
I think with this standard in mind, Tool did not stray far from their previous works, and overall, they maintained the sound which is imprinted on the minds of die-hard fans. It can be difficult to determine: is Fear Inoculum a record worth the hype? Especially for newer fans.
Fear Inoculum starts out with its self titled track, and immediately begins with its journey of building tension. It starts off with a steady synth resembling some kind of futuristic sounding machinery, interrupted by drummer Danny Carey’s Indian tabla drums. A gentle melody overlaps in the background, then guitar joins in- the actual chorus does not take over until nearly four minutes into the song. “Fear Inoculum”, I think is one of the best on the record at mastering this tension, and providing catharsis at the chorus. The guitars are not overbearing, and Keenan’s voice is even a bit detached, but it still creates such a powerful release.
There are definitely moments of power like this, but I found that Fear Inoculum can’t be judged on this basis alone. It’s an extraordinarily meditative album- it’s just not everyone’s taste. I think it was able to convey this by making some tracks very long, and breaking it up with shorter interludes in between. In other words- songs like “Pneuma”, “7empest”, “Descending” demand your attention with contemplative poetic lyrics- and it’s more grounded musically- while “Chocolate Chip Trip”, “Litanie Contre la Peur” and “Legion Incolulant” are more there to “zone-out” to and set the feeling for the next track.
If there’s any phrase to even remotely sum up this album it would be “quiet power”- there is a lot to digest, but it takes it’s time to make sure you hear it all. Fancy production methods are kept to a minimum at points, so that their instrumentals are able to do their loudest speaking. Their is a consistent primal passion to each song, usually maintained by the drumming, except in, for example, “Culling Voices”- and a sense of free-flying freedom, like guitarist Adam Jone’s intense playing at around 7 minutes in “7empest”.
I had to listen to most of this album a few times to really soak it in- I realized I enjoyed most of it- all its ups and downs, and sense of clarity coupled with confusion. The lyrics can make the most impact if you take the time to interpret them for yourself and how it fits with the other tracks. An album should be like a story, and everyone should experience it differently. My only valuable advice would be: take your time and pay attention to how it makes you feel. (And disregard all the pretentious Tool fans out there)