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Tool - Fear Inoculum

Tool - Fear InoculumTool are a strange band. To use an old cliche they are a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Thirteen years since 10,000 Days their new album is finally here. Of course they haven't taken thirteen years to record Fear Inoculum; tours, lengthy litigation, more tours and tending a vineyard all got in the way, as did several aborted attempts to write this. The gestation period of their fifth full length album has been about three years.

Cards on the table, I am a huge fan of Tool. They are without doubt the best live band I have ever seen and I have seen a lot of bands live. Their live show is the closest I have come to a religious experience. There's a weird energy that flows between the four members and the audience that is electric and uplifting. They are also one of rock music's unique bands. No one else sounds like them. Tool is the product of the singular chemistry between the four very different members.

So is Fear Inoculum worth the wait? Yes and no. The band could have recorded an album at any time in that thirteen years and it might have sounded like this, it might not. You see Tool do things in their own way in their own time. Lengthy jamming sessions are undertaken, nuggets of musical gold squirreled away and eventually turned into music. Only once that lengthy alchemical process has been completed does Maynard come in to add his vocals.

The first thing you notice about Fear Inoculum is Danny Carey's drumming. Sweet baby Jesus the man can play. Every song here is built around him, be it that familiar Tablah sound which opens the album through to Chocolate Chip Trip which is basically a drum solo with some of Tool's trademark weird noises in the background. It's Carey's own Bonzo's Montreux moment. He moves from powerhouse to gentle beats in the blink of an eye and his double kick-drumming is incredible. He is such an inventive drummer too - as Culling Voices is fading out there's a wonderful little drum fill. It's not needed but adding it in is a small touch of genius.

That's not to denigrate the other musicians. Anyone who already knows Tool knows what astonishing players Adam Jones and Justin Chancellor are. The huge amount of strange and innovative guitar and bass riffs is astounding. There are some truly gorgeous solos from Adam too, although they are never flash or at the expense of the overall song, they are crafted seamlessly into the fabric of the music. Justin's bass thrums with power and energy, providing a bridge between guitar and drums.

Tool are an anachronism in this modern age where attention spans are the blink of an eye. I have seen complaints online that these songs are too long. This is of course incorrect. These are not your songs or my songs, these are Tool's songs. They are malleable beasts and the band work them like a blacksmith working metal. Riffs are twisted and turned, wound tight, stretched to breaking point as they weave their magic. Every song is exactly the length it needs to be and if you don't like that, then you are completely missing the point. Don't forget, Tool sold out long before you ever even heard their name and they have earned the right to do as they please.

Tool have more ideas in one song than most bands have in their entire careers. Take Descending, which both begins and ends with the sound of the sea. As with many songs here it starts so gently before pulling you in and dragging you down into it's dark, unfathomable depths. Like the ocean, this song is never still, always ebbing and flowing, the different sections uniting harmoniously. Sometimes calm, sometimes wild, once it has you in its clutches it takes you where it will. There's naught to do but cling on for dear life and hope it doesn't swallow you whole.

The lyrical theme of the album is, as the title suggests, fear; fear of modern life, of what people think, ego, depression, irrelevance. The intermission piece Litanie Contre la Peur is a French translation of the Bene Gesserit 'Litany Against Fear' from Frank Herbert's book Dune; "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." This seems to sum up the album rather well.

Maynard draws, as ever, on strange and oblique references and arcane mythology to construct his diatribes against modern life. There's reference to Pneuma (the ancient Greek word for breath) and legendary Spanish explorer Ponce de León, who was thought to be searching for the fountain of youth (although he discovered Puerta Rico and Florida instead). Aim is taken at keyboard warriors on Invincible; "Warrior struggling to remain relevant, Warrior struggling to remain consequential", although this could also just as easily be autobiographical. Culling Voices references Psychopathy which along with Machiavellianism and Narcissism make up 'the Dark Triad' of malevolent personality traits.

Vocally Keenan is on excellent form, although his vocals are interspersed between lengthy musical sections. There's usually a difference between the way Maynard sings on A Perfect Circle and Tool albums, especially with phrasing, but there are times here when the two meet in the middle, none more so than on Descending and Culling Voices. There's a big crossover in subject matter between Fear Inoculum and Eat The Elephant too. Many of his vocals are much gentler and dreamier than usual on a Tool album - there's no Hooker With A Penis or Ticks And Leeches but that's due in huge part to the sprawling nature of the songs.

Fear Inoculum is an album that demands to be listened to. Really listened to. From the mournful oboe and triangle opening of the title track to the last gorgeous fading riff of 7empest to get anything back you have to give every note your full consideration. I can understand claims from some that this album is boring, although I would prefer to say it's subtle. Each time you give it the attention it deserves it will reward you by revealing itself to you a little more all the while whilst luring you back for another listen. It is also a beautifully sounding album. The band have choosen to go down the self produced route again; there's so much happening sonically but everything is clear and crisp.

The album's coda, Mockingbeat, is akin to Undertow's Disgustipated and can easily be skipped without ruining your journey to the dark side.

Like Lateralus, this is not an easy album to digest. Sit in a darkened room. Play Fear Inoculum. Loud. Six days. Six Months. Six years. You may get it. You may not. Whether you are prepared to cast off expectations and embark on that journey is down to you.

Released: 28.08.19

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