Tool - Fear Inoculum

Tool Fear Inoculum cover
Fear Inoculum
RCA Records
When people were making jokes about Guns and Roses taking forever to release the much fabled “Chinese Democracy” they didn’t know that Tool would also take some thirteen years to follow up “10.000 Days” with a new album, not that this band has been known for their rapid-fire output, having won the luxury of releasing albums whenever they wish to, while at the same time keeping busy in a variety of side projects.
This album is not quite a sequel to “10.000 Days”, something that maybe a few people were counting on. It feels like a progression actually, but also a regression of the band to forms that while compatible with their overall mo, are not necessarily territory they’ve explored previously and that’s both something that could excite, as well as estrange a potential listener, although Tool fans have been known for almost being masochistically accepting of what their favorite band puts out, even trying to make sense of it, by wild claims about the music being math inspired etc.
“Fear Inoculum” is actually an album I enjoyed quite a bit and, I am not necessarily big on Tool. I do appreciate certain members’ performance abilities but I’ve always found their vocalist’s choices and overall style rather poor in taste. This album is infused with a lot more melody, which makes their dark thick atmospheres a lot easier to fathom. It’s drawn out and while one could call it the most accessible yet, that would not be in the traditional “pop” way. I mean when there’s only one song on the album that’s shorter than ten minutes, you don’t really care about, what most people think about.
Because the band has more or less to this point explored a lot of soundscapes, there’s hardly anything new on “Fear Inoculum”. The band plays to its strengths, spewing out, long jammy pieces, with the occasional cool riff and nice percussions, while Maynard James Keenan sound a lot smoother and less reliant on effects than before, as he smoothly delivers with ambient like vocal lines, some of the better, more thoughtful if not poetic lyrics he’s written yet. With taking the “fear” element away, the danger, the excitement factor also drops.
Despite the impressive percussive polyrhythms, which are to be expected, what soon becomes most exciting is when the guitar becomes more energetic… the subdued nature of the music for the most part makes it all too homogeneous to try and dissect… but one can only try.
The title track, “Fear Inoculum”, opens with some very tribal, repetitive percussion, anemic guitars and an almost hypnotic, ritualistic and very melodic vocal about inoculating one’s self from fear, as well as trying to do it as a community. A lofty deal, indeed. Things become a little more charged during the latter part of it, as guitars become heavier and a lot more audible, while the vocals follow suit, adapting a more distorted and alienated approach that borders between rage and apathetic sardonic bursts, all underlined by the more traditional tool like percussive patterns that emerge.
“Pneuma” begins with a simple, almost monotonous almost piano like guitar riff that shapeshifts a little to accommodate the vocals that form from a rather shapeless accompaniment into a lead part; this leads into a small short lived guitar crescendo, before the band mixes it all together, for a second slow “eruption” that’s way too similar to the bridge from “Schism”. A rather electronic and pretty ambient lead follows, with tribal rhythms underlying, before another similar riff takes lead and it’s during the last couple of minutes the band comes into their hardest, most “typical” form, but without breaking away from the highly melodic approach of this album completely that “Pneuma” is the most satisfying.
“Litanie contre la Peur” is a 2 minute ambient, modulating transitory piece that’s not too complex or too memorable on its own.
“Invincible” begins with an odd, but earwormy like sequence of notes on guitar that seems to be rather persistent, that is followed by a metronome count like beat and another tribalistic rhythms that’s layered on top while MJK tries to smoothly occupy what space is left, with a deeply anti-war lyric about what soldiers go through, without seeking to make sense of it, only to be left as broken shells, after their usefulness is past due. There’s a huge shift past the fourth minute and since the sixth the main “theme” returns with a distorted guitar leading wildly on top of it all, even letting out a supper fuzzy and panned out ambient lead. Almost mocking keys follow and the autotuned robotic like vocals are supposed to represent the broken soldiers own feelings, before a Metallica worthy riff that is introduced leads the song in a semi-chaothic closure in typical, calculated, fashion. Interesting.
“Legion Inoculant” is another piece with weird noises that seems to be another “interlude”-type of song.
“Descending” is the most drown out, revolutionary call ever, basically not even that; it’s the precursor to one, as it commentates on the worsening state of affairs. It doesn’t really stray away from the formulaic nature of the albums song, with mainly the guitar giving some punch to the song and even buzzing along for one of the loosest leads (that sounds to be utilizing a slide), before it actually bursts into a melodic theme, with slight variations, that’s probably the most satisfying portion of the song. Guitars orgiastically run with it, with even a wah-heavy sort of solo, towards the end that is just not as good.
“Culling Voices” is a trippy-trip into madness and it’s led by another piano like pattern on guitar that seems simple, but is not, yet repetitive it is. I’d want to say that the vocal has a Floydish approach, but I guess, it’s more like Anathema’s lesser version on the Floyidian archetype. As much as the band tries to delay the shift into more dynamic territory with electronics, the song still enters an electric section past the eighth minute, which it doesn’t really grow out of. It’s just not the typical “outburst” that would normally release, most songs tension, but a sadder more bottled up version of that.
“Chocolate Chip Trip” has Carey percussing over electronic beats, a testament to his imaginative, if not a little self-confined style.
“7empest” seems to be a song that calls out politicians and corporations for being allergic to truth, but always trying to paint a pretty “spotless” picture, so as to maintain control and power, it’s probably the closest the band gets to their “older” self, without however completely breaking away from the overall style that permeates “Fear Inoculum”; it just makes a whole lot more noise… for the best part of its duration with Adam Jones being here a lot more prominent than anywhere else on the album. Along with “Pneuma” and “Invincible” it’s probably one of the more interesting jams on the album.
Lastly, “Mockingbeat” features a sampled mockingbird crowing away against a weird beat… I really dunno what to really make of all three plus minutes of it, since I do not know the secret language of birds Odd. I s’ppose?!
Keenan, after the Perfect Circle and Puscifer albums of past years, has grown into the vocalist he is here but that gradual, revelation takes away from the shock and awe it would have caused if he just started singing like that all by the sudden on a Tool album. The limited edition of the album on CD is actually featuring a small battery powered screen that displays exclusive content – while having some intriguing geometrical printing as almost all of their past albums have.
I am not sure how the average “Toolip” (tool fan) might feel about the album, and I found it closer to my “liking”, than I would like to admit (I am not that big on Tool)… yet it is still a little too drawn out and it might have felt a little tighter if they had edited it down a lit bit. However it’s hard to tell what that might have done to the result and for all that’s worth, it is what it is. Its viscous melancholic sounds are hypnotic and rarely engrossing or highly engaging… so it might feel weaker to the band’s dedicated listener, while it might just be too odd for the casual listener. It is what it is…