It’s been a long strange trip, but the new Tool album is here. After years of speculation, starts and stops, rumors and allegations, the veteran metal band has returned after 13 years of deafening silence. The result is the mammoth Fear Inoculum. At nearly 90 minutes in length, Tool have re-established their claim as the band that gives the least amount of fucks what you or anybody else think. They’re going to do what they want to do, and in the amount of time they feel like doing it in.
Now this long process isn’t something done out of malice as a lot of people may think. Everyone in the band have their own other gigs outside of Tool. They’re older, have kids, partners, other responsibilities. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making another Tool album, or something like that. I fell guilty of the smarmy comments and shoulder shrugs when it came to Tool as well. I mean, 13 years? Really? Well, you have to look at it this way. Tool the band has become the side gig for Keenen, Jones, Chancellor, and Carey.
So now we have Fear Inoculum. 10 songs at nearly 90 minutes. Gone is the Tool of Undertow and Aenima. That sound remains, but the songs are longer and less about words. Its’ more about feel and movement. If you were hoping to get some healthy dose of Maynard James Keenan angst you will be disappointed. He does show up here and there, and when he does he sounds great. But this is a largely instrumental record. If you’re willing to lock in for 90 minutes and take the ride all the way thru, there is a payoff. If life has gotten too busy for that kind of thing, then Fear Inoculum may be a bit of a slag for you.
Let’s start out with the best song on here. “7empest” is the most classic Tool sounding track here, complete with an incredible performance from Maynard. It’s vicious and pronounced all around. Adam Jones has, in my opinion, one of the best guitar tones. It buzzes and snarls, but with a steady precision. It never gets too out of control. Here he opens with an almost King Crimson repetition, “Frame By Frame” comes to mind. The song quickly kicks into high gear and we are treated to one of the best Tool songs in 20 years. Think “Forty Six & 2” and “The Pot”. “Invincible” is another great track. Locking into the classic 7/4 time signature, the song opens quietly and slowly builds into almost anthemic swells. This is another great “band” effort, with all four members locking into a solid groove.
So where does this leave the rest of the album? The rest of the album isn’t dissimilar, but there are far more quieter moments and instrumental interludes. These are long songs(10 minutes to almost 16 minutes) with shorter pieces interspersed in-between as palate cleansers, so to speak. The band feels the album is better served if listened to as a whole, and if you’ve got the time in the day or night to do so I’d agree. This is not a bite-size kind of collection of songs. This is a heady bit of sonic exploration. It’s also a commitment to make. I can’t blame anyone for tapping out.
Fear Inoculum is the return of Tool. It will exceed some fans’ expectations, while cause passing fans to skip entirely. They’ve always done things their way, regardless of anyone’s expectations. That’s something I’ve admired about the band since the beginning. Tool is gonna Tool, and that’s exactly what they’re doing here. For better or worse.
7.5 out of 10