‘Fear Inoculum’ finds Tool making their best and most average music after 13 years

Image from Loudwire
Image from Loudwire

Fear Inoculum just might be the most anticipated album release of all time. The alternative metal masters, Tool, have not only returned to the music scene but entered the streaming era for the first time. Fans of the band have been waiting 13 years for a new release (about the length of Taylor Swift’s entire career) and have finally been given a 90-minute epic consisting of seven tracks and three interludes. But the question remains: Is Fear Inoculum worth the 13-year wait? The answer is: It’s complicated.

Tool’s discography is massive and very complex. In their early days, the band took progressive metal and redefined it. Tool took psychedelic components and mixed them with heavy, progressive riffs and catchy, unorthodox hooks. Songs like, “Schism,” “Sober,” and “Forty Six & 2” took the metal scene by storm and even had an influence on non-metal listeners.

The problem is that, with albums like theirs, it takes time to fully grasp the ideas that are present. Their entire catalog has aged to perfection, Ænima (1996) and Lateralus (2001) being the most significant of the original four releases. Fear Inoculum should receive the same treatment and reviewing it feels like a monstrous task. So, to answer my question from before: yes, Fear Inoculum is very much worth the 13-year wait. However, it is not the best Tool album by any means. Some of the passages within the seven tracks are engaging and the best in their discography, but the album as a whole fails to capture the same quality of the Tool of old.

Worth the wait

What Tool has always done best is mixing psychedelic music with alternative/progressive metal. No other band has done it the same, and it really paved the way for progressive music to come. Fear Inoculum still sees Tool doing what they do best and offers their signature mix of psychedelic/alternative metal.  “Invincible” offers fantastic riffs and groovy basslines that pair well with the other instruments. Guitarist Adam Jones uses the same guitar tones that can be found on their third album Lateralus and drummer Danny Carey continues to blow everyone away with his incredible drumming and use of technique. In fact, he gets his own song in “Chocolate Chip Trip,” a captivating drum solo in 7/4 time.

The performances are easily the best aspect of the album. The band members do not miss a single beat. Maynard James Keenan is at the top of his game as his voice soars with the instrumentals on tracks like “Descending” and “Pneuma.” The production fits perfectly with the sound and style. Jones’s guitar tone is crunchy and thick, Justin Chancellor’s bass is beefy and mixed to perfection, and of course, Keenan’s voice puts the icing on the cake. It floats just on top of all the instruments and has just the right amount of reverb when needed. Also, the song “7empest” might be one of the best Tool songs since “Forty Six & 2.” The song is full of ferocious drumbeats and riffs with an energetic Kennan. This is the song that perfectly mixes classic Tool with their modern sound. The best part is that even at a 15-minute runtime, the song never gets boring.

Odd choices and boring passages

Tool’s albums have always felt like an immersive experience. Each one is different and deserves to be listened to in full, which is the reason they stayed away from streaming for so long. However, Fear Inoculum sees Tool rehashing a lot of old ideas. There are many moments on the album where the band is stretching a musical passage out for two minutes as they did on their earlier albums, but the music is nowhere near as interesting. With the album being 90 minutes, it is very easy for some songs to get boring. “Culling Voices,” “Fear Inoculum,” and “Pneuma” all fall into this trap. There are some long intros (“Fear Inoculum,” “Culling Voices”) and middle sections that just don’t need to be there and would’ve been better if they were trimmed down. Since the songs are long, a lot of passages can sound like Tool on autopilot, sluggishly putting more bland ideas in the songs. Another problem is the interludes, three random soundscapes that are not interesting in the slightest and pull the listener right out of the flow of the album. Even the last song on the album is an interlude titled “Mockingbeat,” which only left me with a longing for one more song.

However, while the album has its faults, they don’t outweigh the positives the album has to offer. The album feels as if it were crafted with care and passion rather than mindlessly thrown together or rushed. With Tool, one can always tell they make the music they want to make, and I find that respectable.

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Featured Image: Loudwire

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