REVIEW: TOOL – “Fear Inoculum”
It has been a long wait for the new Tool album, we have lived through countless speculations, rumors, and fake news articles. But 13 years after ‘10,000 Days’, we finally have the new album ‘Fear Inoculum’ all set to be released on August 30. Can seven songs (the digital version comes with three bonus instrumental tracks) truly meet the massive built-up expectations Tool fans are expected to have?
Like the four albums before it, ‘Fear Inoculum’ is an album that requires multiple spins to be appreciated. The more one listens to it, the more layers one discovers, and the more it makes sense. There is a strong sense of patience, in the way the music unfolds. If one goes in with hopes of another ‘Ænima’ or ‘Lateralus’, I’m sorry to say they will be thoroughly disappointed. ‘Fear Inoculum’ instead sees Tool take a much more meditative, almost self-reflective approach to songwriting.
Kicking off with the title track, it almost feels as if Tool have picked up from exactly where ‘10,000 Days’ ended. The track begins disarmingly with an intro using Indian tabla (percussion instrument) and sitar, before shifting into something more traditionally Tool sounding territory. One quickly notices the differences in approach the new album brings compared to the predecessors. Firstly, Maynard‘s vocals have taken a back-seat, blending with the rest of the instruments. It is easy to imagine, him singing in the background while the rest of the members share the spotlight (akin to their live concerts!). Secondly, a single listen is sufficient to deduce that Danny Carey‘s drumming is what forms the very foundation of ‘Fear Inoculum.’ There are so many subtle nuances in the percussion, an undeniable delicacy in the mix, that stand out throughout the record. “Pneuma” steals the spotlight of the first half. A progressive rock jam on the surface, it still feels as if something much more grandiose on the sub-levels is what knits it together. It is hard to say if it is the sprinkled synth sounds, Justin Chancellor’s heavy bass lines, or the wide varied guitar riffs that Adam Jones brings to the fore, but the combination is mesmerizing.
The opening two tracks are followed up with “Invincible” and “Descending,” the two tracks introduced into the band’s live sets earlier this year. While the two tracks do bring their moments of sheer brilliance, this is also the point where some of the weaknesses the album starts to become much more noticeable. Despite their magnificent compositions, the palm-muted “Jambi” riffs become Jones’s standard recipe on the two tracks. Moreover, the whole formula of building up the song for the final climax becomes a tad repetitive across the first five songs. The result is a collection of impeccably performed songs, that overstay their welcome and could have potentially been cut into a much more digestible length.
But, hey we don’t know when we will get new material from Tool in the future, so more the merrier, right? Erm, nope. While “Chocolate Chip Trip” does offer a trippy Pink Floyd meets Nine Inch Nails style electronic experience, the intended interlude feels completely out of place on the record. While it does once again bring to the front Danny’s mastery behind the drum kit, the track would be better off as one for bonus and live show purposes. But not to fret, as one quickly forgets this oddity once “7empest” kicks in! With a soft intro, it quickly gives way to chugging riffs, smooth bass lines, and front-end bass drum kicks, all building the atmosphere before Maynard declares “Here we go again!” and the song explodes into a metallic monster. There are rhythmic tension build-up and release across this track, that cover the very foundation of the sound Tool have built for themselves over the last 29 years. The whole build-up following “A tempest should be just that” is something you would expect off a Meshuggah album, but the noise-rock influenced screechy-metallic solo that follows makes it a unique monster of its own.
Needless to say, as we all spend more time with the record over the coming months, we are bound to feel different as we continue to discover its nuances (or so we hope). While I wish the band would have slightly experimented with their sound, the sheer impact value cannot be taken away. The quartet in Tool not only showcase their instrumental mastery but bring it together to shine a light on the multi-facet monster that ‘Fear Inoculum’ truly is. Well worth the wait.