Album Review: TOOL - 'Fear Inoculum'


For a band who have achieved cult status over their long and turbulent career, to be silent for thirteen years and then drop an album into an industry that is in a completely different epoch, is definitely no easy feat, but TOOL are masters of their craft. 

With Maynard James Keenan at the helm – whose vocals are meditative, piercing and progressive all at once – with a talent for surreptitious lyricism and ambiguity, whilst stubborn and set in their ways, is what helps keep the masses locked into TOOL no matter how sporadic their releases may be. Their mix of psychedelic, heavy, semi-spiritual-experience songs often have perplexing time signatures and range in length from 39 seconds to 15 minutes. This comes from TOOL’s love for instrumentals. Bassist Justin Chancellor is one of the most innovative and enigmatic players of his generation, and the way that guitarist Adam Jones weaves in and out of the intricate workings of his collaborator, is both dizzying and compelling.

‘Fear Inoculum’ has been a long time coming, it’s obvious. What makes it such a spectacular form of art is that it is TOOL through and through. They appear not to have altered their sound in order to fit into the ever-changing musical landscape that we live on. This is intrinsic to their originality which put them in this position; in fact, you could say that they are more experimental with the sheer magnitude of instrumentation, than before. In the opening tracks, it is quite easy to feel yourself zoning out, and forgetting that you’re listening to a TOOL album, as Maynard feels slightly absent. ‘Invincible’ is a shove into the wormhole where lyrically, mortality and existentialism is contemplated: “a warrior struggling to remain relevant / a warrior struggling to remain consequential.”

TOOL are as much a band based on visuals, as they are aurally complex. ‘Legion Inoculant’ is as lulling and meditative as the title track, but more so in layers of static and ethereal hums. I imagine this would fill an interlude in their live set, and contains hidden codes to unlock, in order to uncover the message of ‘Fear Inoculum’. It transitions into waves washing upon a shore, and the hypnotic bass line of ‘Descending’. There is a kind of yearning into discovery that washes over you, in languid lucidity: “freefall through this boundlessness / this madness of our own making / come our end / all hail our lethargy / concede suddenly” – it makes you want to give yourself entirely to the wormhole. Whilst there are times when a song that surpasses the 10-minute mark feels as though it could easily have had its solo cut short, ‘Descending’ is incredibly purposeful, and renewing.

Whether or not it was a conscious decision, there is a distinct split between the first half of the album feeling as subtle awakening to a different world, after breaking from the cocoon of hibernation, and the latter half being an explosive and urgent grasp for survival. ‘Culling Voices’ targets the rise of keyboard warriors and explores the element of misanthropy and search for something deeper than the fickleness of humanity: “judge, condemn and banish in the end / everyone without evidence” whilst ‘7empest’ is ballsy, guttural and a complete massacre of the gooey, psychotropic world that ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ had created, prior. I think it’s safe to assume that a lot of TOOL fans were expecting the whole album to be like ‘7empest’ but it is silly to assume anything of TOOL at this point. The displacement of guitar tones that fleet between piercing, swampy, rapturous and unholy is something only TOOL can pull off in a way that is still unexpected. 

‘Fear Inoculum’ has proven that all good things come to those who wait, and that the more you listen to an album, surprisingly there is still more to be discovered.

Words by Tyler Damara Kelly

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