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Headbanger’s Brawl: What do we REALLY think of Tool’s ‘Fear Inoculum’?

Posted by on September 6, 2019

Tool are not one of those bands who make one listen albums, you have to give their music time to breathe. So much time that according to Maynard James Keenan, the new Tool album was “fantastic eight years ago.” While one of us has written a review for Tool’s first album in thirteen years, Fear Inoculum, we decided to give other Metal Insider contributors a chance to reflect on the album a week after listening. 

 

Matt Brown: I’ve really enjoyed my time with the album after two listens. What amazes me the most (apart from the album actually being out) is that it sounds like the band doesn’t sound like its aged 13 years. If you had told me they recorded it only 2-5 years after 10,000 Days I would believe you. It’s a strange almost comforting feeling that the album is so consistent with the rest of the band’s discography in terms of overall sound. That’s not to say that Tool just phoned it in. Because the songs run over 10 minutes in length, there isn’t really a standout banger of a lead single like “Stinkfist”, “Schism”, or “Vicarious”. Sure, they’ve got plenty of riffs—”Pneuma” is the standout in my opinion—but Fear Inoculum sounds and feels like it’s meant to run together as one piece that is perhaps more understated than their previous works, but is no less entrancing. 

I don’t have any extensive thoughts to share about the album’s state 8 years ago. Tool was already a huge entity before the 13 year wait for a new album, so I see how second guessing would could mess things up, as Keenan said. I’m just happy the album is here.

 

Zach Fehl: In short I really like it and will be listening to it a lot in the near future. These types of long songs full of complex instrumentals and meaningful lyrics are right up my alley, but I can’t help feeling something is missing. Maybe it’s that banger Matt mentioned. There is no “Vicarious,” “The Pot,” “Parabola,” “Stinkfist,” etc, and maybe that’s just too much to ask for given how much I’ve been enjoying songs like “Fear Inoculum,” “Pneuma,” and “Invincible” (and that’s half the damn album right there). It’s big. Maybe too big? Maybe too much to appreciate all at once? All I know is that I need to listen more. It feels like a very natural progression as a follow-up to 10,000 Days, and ultimately I have no complaints about the songs included, only what we didn’t get (and is that really a fair complaint to have?) Fear Inoculum comes off as very self-aware, and self-referential to the band and their process. They dwell on life and spirituality, as expected, and seem to be taking their place in the music world to heart. Is this the Tool album I wanted? Not really, but at the end of the day I don’t think I wanted the Tool album I wanted. I wanted the Tool album they were going to make regardless, and in that sense it is exactly what I wanted. 

My interpretations of the tracks:

“Fear Inoculum” –  the band coming to terms with the fear of releasing a new Tool album after so long. 

“Pneuma” – Pneuma meaning “air” or “breath” in Latin. It’s that good esoteric, transcendental shit Tool is known and loved for. 

“Invincible” – Once again, conquering your fears and the feelings that come with it. 

“Descending” – Here is the band confronting their waning popularity, or at least perceived waning *prepares to throw wallet at concert tickets the minute they go on sale*, and how they want to push back their “swan song and epilogue.” So hopefully more to come in the future?

“Culling Voices” – An ode to the nagging voice at the back of your mind telling you you’re not good enough, and straight up telling it to fuck off. 

“Chocolate Chip Trip” – Listen on good stereo headphones for full effect. This goes for the album as a whole really, by this one truly requires it. 

 

“7empest” – What is the tempest coming but the band’s resurgence? Hard to say, but something is coming and going to shake things up. 

Not going to comment on the filler tracks not included on the physical. I don’t get them really. Those are for someone far smarter than I to decode. 

The packaging gets a shout out here. Wow. For anyone who didn’t get the physical and missed out, I’m sorry. This is gorgeous. The artwork inside and out builds on the set and setting of the music all over, and even includes an introduction video to the album when you first open it up on a built in screen and speaker. Alex Grey, Adam Jones, and team reeeaaally nailed it on this one. And those portraits by Sean Cheetham inside the booklet are phenomenal. 

 

Bram Teitelman: I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t all that psyched for this initially. As important as the band were to me for their first few albums, with each passing year between albums, I became a little more disappointed. Ænima is one of my favorite albums of all time, and is nearly flawless in my opinion. I liked Lateralus quite a bit too, but it didn’t resonate with me as much. 10,000 Days just never really connected with me despite repeated listens and liking a few songs on it. When the title track came out, and I wasn’t that impressed. Their other first singles “Sober,” “Stinkfist,” “Schism” and “Vicarious” are among the band’s best, so to start Fear Inoculum off with a song that just kind of hangs out for 10 and a half minutes didn’t leave me psyched for the other 73. 

I was still giddy with anticipation to hear the full album, so I downloaded it as soon as it was available and… waited until I woke up to listen. Listening to an 86-minute album for the first time at 12:30am is like putting on a movie then, and I didn’t want to wake up passed out having missed half the album. But by the time I was able and ready to listen to it with my full attention, it became apparent that it’s actually a really good album.

Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, there aren’t any quick hooks, super memorable choruses or concessions to the fact that if you became pregnant while listening to 10,000 Days, your kid went off to middle school this week. Lke Matt said, this sounds like a natural progression from 10,000 Days. However, unlike that album, each song is deliberate, methodical and slow-building and adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The production, as always, is amazing, and within the context of the full album, I even like “Fear Inoculum” more. Undertow was an album you could lift to. Fear Inoculum is an album you could do yoga or get a massage to, and that’s likely just fine with the band. 

“7empest” is one of the best songs in their catalogue, and the recurring riff in “Pneuma” shreds. Make no mistake, however, this is a drummer’s album. Danny Carey sounds like he’s gotten even better somehow. And while Maynard sounds like Maynard – when he’s singing. There are long stretches of instrumental music here, and they don’t lose anything without vocals. It’s almost like he was off running a winery or in a few separate bands while Adam, Justin and Danny wrote the album or something! 

To sum things up, I like this significantly more than I did 10,000 Days, and maybe (but not definitely) as much as Lateralus. Will I be listening to this a year from now? It’s hard to say, but I can imagine that it’s something I’ll continue to revisit when the mood strikes. 

 

Chris Annunziata: I found some time to dedicate to Fear Inoculum and I was pleasantly surprised. The album might not be as good as the previous albums, but it’s still enjoyable and good on its own. This is an album I have to be in the mood for and isn’t something I would casually throw on but that’s not really a bad thing. The songs on the album are too long, but the cool thing is you notice something different on each listen. All four members are amazing musicians and incorporate so much into a song, occasionally things get missed on the first listen. 

The track that I kept seeing mentioned was “7empest” and I totally understand why; it’s the strongest on the record. Between the riffs, the momentum and Maynard’s vocals this song has it all. Overall, this was a great record and exceeded my expectations. 

 

Zenae Zukowski: I’ve already said a lot about this in my review. While I stand by what I said (a 10/10 masterpiece), it’s also another Tool album. I’ve gone back to “Invincible” and “7empest” the most. I am with Bram on the Ænima / Lateralus being their best . Fear Inoculum may be a masterpiece today but it isn’t the best Tool album. While it doesn’t have those punchy songs, there’s an unspeakable essence about this album that sucks you in. Is this something I’m going to listen to for hours on end for the next several months? Not so sure but only time will tell.

At this point, I’m going to assume this is the final Tool album. Can we really wait another thirteen years? 

Regardless, I’m surprised no one has picked up on the intro to “Culling Voices” having a similar sound as Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have.”  And if you like Tool, there’s a huge chance you were big with NIN and not hearing this comparison surprises me. 

 

Sean Matthews: Sooo… I’m gonna come right out and say it. I’ve never really been a Tool fan. When they debuted, I was a teenager and the style of music never appealed to me.

Fast forward many years and I witnessed my first Tool concert and was really impressed. Not so much by the music, but the overall show. It starts off very dim (usually because the photographers are there and it seems like Maynard has a love hate relationship with us), but as the show progresses more and more lighting happens, and it ends as a spectacle.

Onto the newest album… I was in Jacksonville at Welcome to Rockville when they debuted both “Descending” and “Invincible”. The crowd as expected went insane. As a fan in the making I was pleasantly surprised by the new songs.

I have listened to Fear Inoculum three times in the past week, and I agree with Zenae. I feel like there’s something that just pulls me in. Whether it be the slow building melodies, or the overly technical musicianship that is happening I’m not sure.

In hindsight, I also went back and listened to their whole catalogue on Spotify, and agree that there isn’t that strong, anger filled punchy song like the ones on their earlier albums. I feel like some of them like “Pneuma” and “7empest” took me right to the edge of a cliff, and instead of kicking me off, it walked me back down safely. The potential to be a “banger” was there, but Nothing came of it.

I’m not sure I get the “interludes” of any of their albums in general, besides to give the listeners a break from the musical onslaught, but the ones on Fear Inoculum seem to capture my interest because they’re more technical than just some random background music.

I laughed when reading Bram’s comment on one of them making wine while the others made music, because to me, listening to the whole discography in one shot, Fear Inoculum has more time changes, backbeats and is overall more unique technically than the albums in the past. I would really have to say that drummer Danny Carey reminds me an early 90’s Mike Portnoy with some of the riffs and time changes he’s pulling off.

Looking back in retrospect, I’ve come to realize I’ve missed out on a good piece of rock history with these guys. So while I wasn’t one of the thousands begging for a new album for the past 13 years, I’m glad that Fear Inoculum pushed me to give them another shot overall.

As for the comment that the album sounded great 8 years ago… I mean… I wouldn’t doubt it. It seems like the more people ask of Maynard the less he gives. I’m sure someone is already asking when the next one will be… 

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Categorised in: Headbanger's Brawl