TOOL releases album after keeping fans waiting for 13 years

William Becker, Staff Writer

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“Fear Inoculum” is the first full-length TOOL album since their 2006 release, “10,000 Days.” Since the release of the last TOOL album, Pluto has lost its status as a planet, North Korea conducted its first-ever nuclear tests, Saddam Hussein was put to death, George Carlin died, the last “Harry Potter” novel came out, the first African-American president of the U.S. was elected, there was a global financial crisis, Osama Bin-Laden was killed, world population reached seven billion, Russia annexed Crimea and Donald J. Trump became president. During that entire time, the band insisted they were working on an album. In 2008, lead singer Maynard James Keenan insisted that a new album was coming right away. In 2010, the band reported they were working on instrumentals for the new album, and in 2012, it was reported that they were halfway done. By 2015, the band began playing snippets of a new song live, and almost four years later, the album was released. With TOOL’s complex polyrhythmic drum sections, odd time signatures, spiritually ambiguous lyrics, and enigmatic lead singer inspiring somewhat of a cult fanbase that could be compared to the fanbases of “Monty Python,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” or Quentin Tarantino, it is not hard to see why the release of “Fear Inoculum” is such a big deal. 

Until early August of 2019, TOOL’s music was not accessible on streaming services. As soon as their music hit digital formats on August 2, they climbed the charts, with all four TOOL albums (as well as the short “Opiate” EP) cracking the iTunes Top 10, overtaking artists like Billie Eilish, Drake, NF and Tyler Childers. Meanwhile, individual songs like “Sober,” “The Pot,” “Schism,” “Forty Six & 2” and “Prison Sex” overtook Lil Nas X, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Post Malone, Ed Sheeran and Luke Combs on the charts.  

All that context is extremely important in understanding why this album matters and leaves the question if all the hype and the wait was worth it because, in the end, a mediocre album with insane levels of hype is just a mediocre album and nothing more. 

“Fear Inoculum” is a monster of an album, clocking in at just under an hour and a half and with only one song (excluding brief interludes) lasting less than ten minutes. This album requires dedication and attention to truly understand and appreciate it. The pieces are expansive, feeling like a tasteful masterpiece that pulls the best of each member’s talents. Everything that works about the band’s music in the past has been built upon. The music is transcendent, each measure feeling like something to dissect. 

“Culling Voices” sounds utterly cinematic resembling “Right In Two” from “10,000 Days” with a melodic, melancholic build-up in which Maynard James Keenan’s vocals seem to glide right over the chord progression, sounding both beautiful and entrancing, before exploding into a cacophony of intense drums, throbbing basslines, distorted guitar riffs and the repetition of the lyrics, “Don’t you dare point that at…”

Pneuma” seems to echo the iconic rhythm of “Schism” from Lateralus and could very well be the next single from the album. “Invincible,” the real centerpiece of the album, is a sprawling track beginning with a melodic section with minimal instrumentation highlighting  Keenan’s best vocal performance on the album before jumping into a much more hard-rock infused section that shows that the band can still toss in an extremely heavy breakdown here and there, as well as show-casing Adam Jones’s ability to solo like the best of them. “7empest” is an album highlight that explodes into the group’s most cathartic and energetic work rhythmically, vocally and lyrically since the 1990s.  

Despite all of this, the album is not without its negatives. “Chocolate Chip Trip” is a five-minute-long drum solo over what sounds like an arcade game soundtrack that pretty much just exists to create a break in the album and show off Danny Carey’s drum skills. “Legion Inoculant” is a three-minute interlude that seems to be on the tracklist for no reason, feeling like a second part to “Litanie contre la Peur,” which is another interlude on the album that is much more interesting. Both interludes are sandwiched around “Invincible,” making the idea of having two feel a little redundant. Neither interlude disrupts the flow of the album quite as much as “Chocolate Chip Trip,” so they are not a huge deal, nor are they worth noting.  

All in all, this album will not change your opinion on TOOL. If you hate TOOL and listen to “Fear Inoculum,” you probably will still hate TOOL. If you are a die-hard TOOL fan, you will probably appreciate the new album in relation to the rest of the band’s catalog. Chocolate Chip Trip” and the second interlude might bother some people, but the rest of the album is a masterpiece. It refines the sound that the band has built on since their first EP, creating a work that combines elements of each album while also being distinct enough to be extremely memorable and worth listening to. 

8.5/10. Listen to it.