Album Review: Tool – Fear Inoculum
That’s it, then. It’s here – now what? Not having a new Tool album has sort of become the status quo, hasn’t it? The very absence itself is the long-standing reality of things, an ongoing semi-joke rooted in an unmoving truth that they were working on what was effectively Schrödinger’s album – a piece both existent and not, eternally suspended in the aspic of being apparently nearly complete, but still as distant as the end of a rainbow. As its release finally – let’s be honest, still slightly unexpectedly – arrives, there is a feeling of unpreparedness. What does the dog do once it has its tail in its mouth?
The way one should approach Fear Inoculum’s near 90 minutes for the first time is in one large binge, without distraction, chatter nor interval. You need simply to experience it all in one go – although, due to its length it doesn’t fully fit on to the elaborate, 80-quid physical version, meaning you’ll need to stream three of the songs – before trying to digest it and marvel at its knotted complexities both minute and overpowering. To recommend it is a difficult task. It cannot be recommended enough, but describing it in any meaningful way is impossible without sounding like a pseud, or – worse – being the bearer of spoilers. Indeed, it’s almost a shame that the band broke the enigma and released the opening title-track ahead of the full thing.
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It is a vast, sprawling work, in which every detail, every note and nuance, each rhythm and sound, has been deliberately and carefully placed after much consideration. Often, a repetition of a musical motif is, on closer inspection, different the second time around. Even the smallest and most seemingly inconsequential of ideas bear the marks of being kneaded and worked through for weeks in search of their final form. Adam Jones has taken a bath in these riffs, while drummer Danny Carey’s performance is absolutely gobsmacking – the polyrhythmic spines he’s created for Descending and the title-track are worth listening to on their own. And if you want that, there’s his towering, one-take solo, Chocolate Chip Trip. Maynard James Keenan’s vocals, meanwhile, take less of a leading role, but are no less enthralling for it, weaving through the songs in truly unique fashion, the perfectly-tempered, immaculately phrased human face of it all.
This is the most intricate and densely-layered album Tool have yet made, but to use a word like “complex” to describe the counting-in-prime-numbers time signatures of Invincible or digital-only track Legion Inoculant would be lazy in the extreme. Appearing complex is actually easy. But to explore and find something worth listening to in a fiddly idea, and then craft something that feels naturally grand from it without becoming conceited, is a talent and a skill of which Tool are true masters.
There are moments that are classic for this band, but more importantly there are points that will almost make you laugh as you wonder what the fuck they were thinking including them on an album of such weighty expectation and importance. You do, after all, only get to break your silence once. Here Tool have done that while retaining an insane level of secrecy. You will never properly know the meaning of all this, or what Maynard means when he sings, ‘Exorcise the spectacle / Exorcise the malady / Exorcise the disparate’ – but nor do you want to, because even this mystery is a cunning work of art in itself.
Rather than fall into hubris, knowing that even the most quarter-baked of offerings would be hungrily devoured, instead what we have is an album that pushes and challenges its creators and its audience in new ways, the finer details of which will probably take another 13 years to fully unwrap and appreciate.
So, it’s finally here. Now gorge yourselves – it’s been worth the wait.
When an Australian fan couldn’t afford a ticket to Tool’s tour, bassist Justin Chancellor stepped up.
“I remember I was really locked in that coffin and they actually buried myself alive…”