Thirteen years. Thirteen years of speculation, rumors and conjecture. Finally, Tool’s new album, Fear Inoculum, the most mysterious album since Guns N ‘Roses’ Chinese Democracy, is here. It is reduced to nine tracks, six songs and three interludes, and you have to ask yourself; Having made so many people wait so long, can Tool create something that matches expectations?
The Tool certainly knows how to build the drama; pressing play and listening to Adam Jones’ guitar gently causing the opening of the title track, transforming from a cello imitation crunch into something more recognizable as Tool, since the rest of the band threatens to lock himself with him two or three times Before finally All gels, it’s an impressive start. The rest of the song sets the position of the album. A long and constantly evolving masterpiece, uses moderation expertly. Just staying in the same time signature for more than one riff, it feels like a whole album of ideas alone.
Second track Pneuma follows similarly, with a beautifully clean Jones riff that opens before Maynard James Keenan enters with a pungent and rhythmic vocal pattern. Again, it is woven in all kinds of directions, less as predetermined musical passages and more as random breathing patterns or flowing water, a living organism instead of a song. Then, Justin Chancellor’s bass hits you in the chest, a resonant riff enters and Tool spends some bars just for being a great metal band.
Keenan is in a sumptuous form, and although used sparingly, it gives an album of such outrageous density and grandeur a true emotional weight. “We are all born of one breath,” he sings in Pneuma, and he feels that Fear Inoculum is addressing the need of nature’s man in an increasingly digital world, and the two fighting for space. It is there, in the melancholic croon of Descending, where Keenan sings “Drifting through this noise without limits.” The song is preceded by the Legion Inoculant Blade Runner-style synthesizer and juxtaposes industrial noise with the sound of water at the beginning.
Invincible’s Schism-esque regret is probably the closest thing to a single here, and the downright crazy Chocolate Chip Trip, which sees Tool go electro and drummer Danny Carey fill up with Buddy Rich, and then leads to 7empest. In the points that remind Cold And Ugly of his debut Opiate EP, it is the highlight of the album, comfortably the heaviest moment and with Keenan sounding really bitter … with a touch of lead guitar twin style Thin Lizzy in good measure.
As with everything in Fear Inoculum, it could only be Tool. Each member brings something unique; Jones’ slow-moving chameleon guitar, Carey’s remarkable extravagant African rhythms and the Indian table and the lucid and low sound of the chancellor’s chancellor take command at one point during each movement. Although Keenan’s presence is not as pronounced as before, his vocal ability to bite at heights remains from another world.
Fear Inoculum has so many layers, and with so much depth, that reviewing it here and now feels premature. But what cannot be denied is that this enigma inside a Pandora’s box feels like a justification for why the world never got tired of the idea of Tool’s new music. And that is why we will wait with the breath held again when 2032 comes to another dose.