For 13 years, Tool fans waited. And waited. And waited. They got excited by suggestions of a new album, only to be let down. Memes piled up and tensions rose as side projects, legal issues and the band’s trademark perfectionism seemed to indicate a new album was just a dream.
Earlier this year, hope resurfaced once again. Tool created an Instagram, announced its music would return to streaming services and, most importantly, gave a date: Aug. 30. Still, given the previous disappointments, fans like myself adopted an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude.
Then, Aug. 30 came, and Fear Inocolum appeared in my Spotify queue. At first, it seemed hard to believe. Was this album real, or was it an early-morning-commute-induced hallucination? The opening track’s long, winding intro and Middle Eastern-inspired interludes certainly didn’t help the matter.
And yet, that’s the genius of Tool: This album is a true sonic experience, almost hallucinatory in its effects. Frontman Maynard James Keenan (MJK) once said in an interview that he tackled a fan who approached him during a show because it was his stage. I was reminded of that interview when listening to Fear Inoculum. This is Tool’s album, Tool’s experience, and all we can do is let it happen.
That trademark hypnotic quality in Tool’s music is present immediately with the titular track. Lines like “Contagion / Now I exhale you” and “Exhale, expel / Recast my tale” are indeed exhaled, creating a cathartic effect for the listener. The 10-minute opener establishes a mellow atmosphere punctuated by rapid-fire riffs and lengthy solos. You can’t help but oscillate back and forth, carried away by the music.
“Pneuma” follows, again offering a long, mellow intro. This track has a spiritual quality to it, with MJK proclaiming that “We are born of one breath, one word / We are all one spark, sun becoming,” and Danny Carey’s staccato bass drum accents each syllable. This moment exemplifies the complexity that comes with a Tool album — and what makes it a true sonic experience. The lyrics are deeply poetic, defying simple explanation. Tool doesn’t let you get away with merely listening; you have to think about what you’re hearing.
Take the opening lines from “Invincible,” the fourth track: “Long in tooth and soul. Longing for another win / Lurch into the fray. Weapon out and belly in / Warrior struggling to remain consequential.” The thoughts of an aging soldier, desperately trying to stay in battle-ready shape? A critique of a society focused on soundbites and edutainment? You tell me. The point is that Tool refuses to provide simple answers, offering neither easily explained lyrics nor readily replicated rhythms.
Nowhere is this refusal to simplify demonstrated more than on “Chocolate Chip Trip,” a conglomeration of drums, computer noises and ‘80s dance music. I’m pretty sure it’s Carey’s interpretation of an acid trip. As soon as the song ends, “7empest” places the listener right back in Tool-land, confusing you all the more.
One noteworthy change from earlier albums is the role of instrumentation. Instrumental-heavy tracks, complete with an abundance of keyboard, do the heavy lifting, creating that raw feel normally accented by MJK’s screams. On this album, however, because the music relies so much on the instrumentation, the vocals don’t need to be heavy. In fact, I cannot recall a single scream on any of the tracks.
Overall, this 86-minute album is perhaps Tool’s best yet. Fear Inoculum delivers the progressive and sonic capabilities of Lateralus and 10,000 Days while maintaining the aggression from Undertow and Ænima. It manages to pull the band’s entire catalogue together, shake it up and pour out something fresh yet authentically Tool. Thirteen years was a long time to wait, but the wait was worth it.
By Ellen Siefke | Copy Editor