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Tool - Fear Inoculum

Tool
Fear Inoculum
by Jack Harding at 17 September 2019, 8:47 AM

13 Years is a long time. Doubly so when you have a fan base as fervent and vocal as TOOL do. No explanation of legal troubles, or impossible quest for perfection can make up for over a decade of fans speculating and waiting, locked breathlessly in anticipation. No product, no matter how miraculous, could live up to the expectations of fans. “Fear Inoculum” is the record many people thought would never arrive. It is the same record that many people thought never should arrive. Regardless of the quality, the final product would undoubtedly taint the near-mythological status TOOL have amassed in their absence. Yet here I sit, after multiple listens, both in and out of sequence, and thoughts of disappointment are absent. Whilst not perfect, “Fear Inoculum” is another excellent album, that continues where previous album “10,000 Days” left off. Creative, exquisitely performed, and wholly TOOL, “Fear Inoculum” stands shoulder to shoulder with their strongest work.

Even the most prolific naysayer would find criticising the musicianship of TOOL impossible, and this is the same once again on “Fear Inoculum”. Each individual member is given their moment to shine and executes their role spectacularly. When commenting on musicianship it is impossible to not mention drummer Danny Carey. His complex polyrhythms simultaneously have you grooving along effortlessly, whilst also struggling to physically comprehend how such a feat is even humanly possible (see the outro to “Pneuma”). However, Danny’s true strength is knowing exactly when to use these complex parts, and when to use restraint, allowing room for the other band members, which is particularly apparent on “Descending”.

One of the members who truly benefits from this restrained approach to percussion is Adam Jones on Guitar. On previous TOOL releases, Adam has always been forced to remain in the background. Aside from the odd riff, his job in the band is mostly textural, however with this record he has finally been given room to shine. “7empest” is Jones’ crowning glory, a 15 minute onslaught of riffing, that always manages to remain fresh. Switching from typical TOOL fare, to riffs inspired by MESHUGGAH, the listener is always kept intrigued and uncertain of where the song will go. However, even his more typical textural work has seen an increase in quality. Solo sections in “7empest,”  show a great sense of restraint, and with wonderfully melodic phrasing, these solos never feel forced, but instead serve the song perfectly. This is composition of the highest quality, with near-perfect structure and foresight.

As for the remaining two members of the band, both bassist Justin Chancellor and vocalist Maynard James Keenan, seem to take a backseat. Chancellor’s bass work is simply functional for most of the record, except for a brief moment of intrigue in the main riff of “Pneuma,” however his performance on the rest of the record leaves little to criticize. Maynard’s vocals are possibly the biggest disappointment about this record, if only for how little of the run time they actually appear. Maynard is one of the strongest vocalists in Rock and Metal, truly being a performer, rather than just a singer. However, whilst there are moments of brilliance, with vulnerability in “Culling Voices,” and vitriol akin to "Lateralus" track “Ticks And Leeches” in “7empest,” his general vocal performance feels a tad restrained. This may be due to the fact that he is now 13 years older, but it is disappointing never the less.

One thing that hasn’t waned with time is the sheer songwriting talent that TOOL possess. For the most part, these 10 minute plus songs all go by as quickly as if they were 3 minute pop songs one could hear on the radio. Songs such as “Fear Inoculum,” “Pneuma,” “Invincible,” and “7empest” all justify their extended lengths, taking simple, singular ideas and expanding them. Instead of feeling like a compilation of riffs stitched together haphazardly, each of these songs feels delicately crafted, with each exploring their core ideas, as if telling their own unique narrative. However, this isn’t always perfect. For example, “Descending” can feel slightly stitched together at points, as transitions aren’t always seamless, and the sound effects of waves at the beginning and end, do seem to drag for too long. The worst offender on the album for unjustified length is “Culling Voices” however. Whilst I genuinely believe that this is one of the strongest songs on the record, with its profound lyrics, catchy hooks and stunning ending, the song simply does not know how to start. The same, albeit brilliant, verse idea is repeated roughly 4 times too many, without any change whatsoever. This unfortunately makes fantastic writing, turn to ash in the listener’s ears. Tainting a genuinely brilliant song, by forcing listener’s to switch off before the song truly climaxes.

Pretentiousness is a label that has often been thrown at TOOL as a band. Whilst I would argue that this pretentiousness stems from hardcore members of their fanbase, their use of transition tracks has always been a sticking point. “10,00 Days” and “Ænima” particularly suffered from these pretentious filler, transition tracks and yet again does “Fear Inoculum”. The three transition tracks and glorified drum solo “Chocolate Chip Trip,” do nothing but waste time on an album that clocks in at 89 minutes long. This would be slightly less condemnable if TOOL themselves didn’t agree that these tracks were superfluous. The actual physical release of the album does not include any of these transitions tracks; A self-admission of their pointlessness. If anything, these filler tracks actually juxtapose with the real tracks in a wholly negative way. Despite an incredibly cheesy synth sound in “Pnuema,” “Fear Inoculum” seems to be creating a more natural and tribalistic collage of sounds. This soundscape perfectly mirrors the themes of vulnerability and growing old that weave throughout the album, only for this goodness to be undone by glitchy animal sound effects (“Mockingbeat”) and more awful synth sounds (“Litanie Contre La Peur”).

Fear Inoculum” is not perfect. When it is brilliant however, it is quite possibly the best thing I’ve heard in years. The long form nature of these songs and their slowly developing ideas, might not make this an album that will appeal to everybody, but with every listen new strengths are discovered. This is an example of a band creating something for the love of the art, not to fund another house in the country. It is deep, it is labyrinthine and it is brilliant. Was it worth a 13 year wait? Probably not, but what is worth such a wait? Is it disappointing however? Not in the slightest. This is a piece of art that I thought was impossible in this day and age.

Songwriting: 8
Originality: 8
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Fear Inoculum
2. Pneuma
3. Litanie Contre La Peur (Digital Version Only)
4. Invincible
5. Legion Inoculant (Digital Version Only)
6. Descending
7. Culling Voices
8. Chocolate Chip Trip
9. 7empest
10. Mockingbeat (Digital Version Only)
Lineup:
Maynard James Keenan - Vocals
Adam Jones - Guitars
Justin Chancellor - Bass Guitar
Danny Carey - Drums, Synthesisers And Percussion
Record Label: RCA Records
     


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