When Tool released 10,000 Days in 2006, nobody thought the title was the length of time that would elapse before they put out the next one. But maybe everyone should have seen it coming. The band was hardly prolific before the 13-year hiatus, with a decade spanning the band’s first three full-length releases. Combined with the well-documented outside activities of Maynard James Keenan (A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, winemaking) and drummer Danny Carey’s have-sticks-will-jam work ethic, we’re lucky we got a Tool album at all.
Luckier still, it seems worth the wait. On a scale from Chinese Democracy to MBV, Fear Inoculum is a lot closer to the latter, a comeback that lives up to the band’s own lofty legacy rather than tarnish it.
A lot will be made about the progressiveness, but that’s low-hanging fruit for a sprawling statement with half-a-dozen songs that top the ten-minute mark. And mostly it’s Carey to blame. Not content to simply add tribal drums, he experiments with fascinating patterns that undercut even the most palatable sweetness from the rest of the band, turning every song into mini-symphonies segmented by time-signature shifts with a liberal use of mystical-sounding tabla that has become his calling card.
The climactic riff nine-and-a-half minutes into “Pneuma” belies the band’s progressive bonafides (once we disregard Carey’s disregard of standard forms and practices) by being a simple, heavy metal moment, equal emphasis on both the simple and heavy. “Invincible” is built on melody that is effusively uncomplicated, all clean guitars and Maynard’s surprisingly supple vocals that gradually reach a resplendent crescendo of melancholic, marching music that is steeped in Tool tradition.
Sometimes the complexities lie in how seemingly incongruous facile parts of songs are transitioned from one to another. The title track was a great choice for a first single for this reason: It deftly weaves a labyrinth through different temperatures and textures creating an illusion that is more elaborate as the sum of its parts.
Still, there is madness in Fear Inoculum. “Chocolate Chip Trip” is Tubular Bells interpreted by aliens weaned on Kraftwerk; it serves as a transitional buffer, but at nearly five minutes long, it’s a disservice to call it an intro even if it lacks lyrics.
It introduces “7empest,” the longest track on the album, a quarter hour of classic Tool prog-metal with Adam Jones breaking off mind-altering, buzzing psych-rock solos like a hydra sprouting new heads, Maynard harmonizing with himself, and Justin Chancellor doing his best Geddy Lee-on-Seconal. It’s the perfect Tool song, emphasizing every facet of the band seemingly at once. It would be a shock and minor travesty if it doesn’t become an improvised staple in Tool’s setlists from now on.
Far more impressive—and unlikely, in all honesty—than the quality and quantity is how contemporary it all sounds. It’s easy to forget that Tool came of age during the dawn of Lollapalooza over a quarter century ago, and many of their tour mates seem dated even now:
Alice In Chains are a grunge time-capsule with a new singer; Ministry tries unsuccessfully to recapture past glories; the Red Hot Chili Peppers appeal to soccer moms instead of their kids; Primus, by their own admission, suck. And here comes Fear Inoculum sounding perfectly modern and appealing to Generation X, Y, and Z.
It could be that Tool was always forward-thinking, which is why a brand-new album of theirs that sounds exactly like a Tool album should sound and doesn’t sound out of step, even now. It’s only fair to conclude, then, that calling Tool timeless is not hyperbole, but just a statement of fact.
After a super-limited edition became a collector’s item, the recently released the new iteration of Fear Inoculum includes 5 x 3D lenticular cards with exclusive graphics, an expanded, 56-page booklet with additional never-before-seen art, a download of the groundbreaking immersive visual experience (video), “Recusant Ad Infinitum,” and a CD.