It’s almost hard to believe it’s been a year since the formal release of Tool’s latest – Fear Inoculum. And not just any year either – 2020 has been an extraordinary year in many ways, with worldwide changes that have had an impact on us all.
While I’m not of the belief that the lyrics of the title track are prophetic, there certainly is an uncanny, if somewhat informal reference to the world as it’s unfolded, which resonates among many Tool fans.
It’s a shame Tool haven’t been able to realise their tour plans for this album yet. Having been one of the lucky ones to witness the full rig in February, I look forward to them being able to reignite the tour at the right time, and the rest of you to enjoy the visual and aural feast it delivers. Who knows when this will happen? Some say 2021 – personally I’m not so sure.
Below I present a list of thoughts on the tracks of the album, as I see them a year down the track.
The opening track on the album, the first track released by the band, and a powerful statement as to the direction of the album. Starting with Justin and Adam weaving sonically between each other, it’s clear to me why this was chosen as the lead track for the album. It has the strongest chorus on the album, and at least for the first half resembles a more traditional song style.
My favorite part of the track is the second half – Danny’s blistering drum fills, as well as Maynard’s final stanza. While initially I thought this was one of the weaker tracks on the album, I’ve really grown to love it, for the most part anyway. As a set opener it’s fantastic as well – the 3D like lightscapes combined with the high pitch synth sounds build an eerie atmosphere as the gig starts to unwind.
Pnuema is a real highlight for me, and it’s sometimes hard to put a finger on because it’s really the most “Tool-like” song on the album. In many ways the riffs and lyrics feel kinda recycled, yet the sum of their parts to my ears is also something relatively unique. The song lurches along at a relatively sedate pace, building to a rising and inspiring crescendo towards the end of the track.
So much is subtle about this track – Justin’s bass work subversively intertwines with the rest of the music. Adam’s riffing sounds like a bunch of things you’ve heard from Tool before, but when you start to think about how it’s played, you come to appreciate how different it actually is. Danny’s fills during the post-chorus sections are almost easily ignored, but are in fact some of the best of the album – almost overwhelmed by the huge riff Adam’s plays. Then Adam caps it all off with a wonderful solo just when you think the track is about to end. I love it – it feels like such an uplifting track, and I always seem to have a smile on my face by the end.
Litanie Contre la Peur
Segues are pretty challenging tracks to write about! I believe this one is Adam’s contribution to the album, and it’s a purely synth piece that evokes and air of mystery and spaciousness.
We’re all getting old. Tool are, fans are, the world is. I doubt I’m the only one that resonates pretty strongly with the lyrics of this song. Call it a mid-life crisis or whatever, I find the theme of this song to be one the easier ones to relate with, and a great demonstration of Maynard’s lyrical prowess.
Musically, the track is propelled by some wonderful work with Justin on bass. The song twists somewhat halfway through, signaled by an interesting bass solo, and moves into a more upbeat climax, with a few interesting synth parts.
Maynard’s turn to provide some hot segue action, and this one sounds like a sonic soundscape from the not distant future, consisting mostly of heavily processed vocal grabs from the album. Interesting enough listen, but I don’t really think it adds enough to the album for my ears, and I tend to skip it when listening. One of my few complaints is not that this segue exists (all Tool albums have some I skip over) but that it seems oddly placed – Descending already has a lengthy intro to it, so putting Legion Inoculant before it on the track list seems like an odd choice.
It’s a pretty common thought among Tool fans that Fear Inoculum contains some of Adam’s finest work, and is very much driven by his guitar playing. The second half of Descending is a prime example of this – seven minutes worth of some of his finest work is the highlight of this track for me. The guys put a great deal of work into making sure this track, which is a relatively slow builder, peak at the right time and place to make the most of some compelling licks. That Maynard couldn’t weave his way into the last half of the track is a very slight disappointment, but very understandable given the context of the track.
It can be hard to admit certain feelings and emotions at time. We all carry baggage around that sometimes feel insurmountable. The sad news here is that I need to break up with this track. I find it one of the duller Tool moments since Undertow was released. While I liked the moody intro, and the way Maynard, Adam and eventually Justin all interweave and mingle, I find the second half to be one of the blander moments of recent Tool note. Breaking into the loud crescendo does little for me, as the riff just sounds to simplistic and basic to my ears. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled all this time. Still, if this is the worst they can do….
Chocolate Chip Trip
Live we get spoiled by a decent Danny Carey solo every night, but on albums we tend to just get some tasty fills. It’s a pleasant surprise to have a drum solo in an album though, and Danny does his usual job of showing off his stellar drumming chops. It’s hard to say if this is a track I’ll listen again and again and again, but for now I seem to skip over it very frequently.
I remember in one of the first reviews I read of Fear Inoculum prior to it’s release I read “No other band could do this. Not a chance.” For me, it sums up 7empest perfectly. It’s Fear Inoculum’s answer to Rosetta Stoned, in that it’s a truly unique style of song I only ever really hear Tool do. IT rambles, it meanders, it lurches from verse to verse. It’s as heavy as anything they’ve done in the past, yet oddly melodic in others.
I really love the long stretched out solos in the middle, that rollicking drumbeat, and the punchy bass work from Justin reigning Adam in when it feels he’s about to leave the stratosphere.
Maynard does his bit as well, managing to somehow work his way into this complex beats, and the final multilayered “Control, your delusion” verse is a highlight of the album for me.
Mockingbeat feels like a joke. On paper it is. Demented bird sounds, jungle drums. It doesn’t make sense. However it is an oddly compelling segue, in fact my favorite after Chocolate Chip Trip.
This album has really grown on me over the last 6 months. It really is a brilliant album. To me it has a different vibe to their earlier work. It sounds so much like a Tool album, yet peel back some layers and there’s so much to bite your teeth into. There are those that complain about Maynard’s contribution, or lack there of. I’m not one of them – I think his vocal work suits the album perfectly. It’s not without flaw though, I think there’s a few lazy moments, but overall I find his work as compelling as much of Tool’s work.
Where do I think Fear Inoculum lies within the Tool world? It’s tough to outrank Lateralus and Aenima, however I think Tool’s latest is not far behind – for me it certainly eclipses 10,000 Days and their earlier work. This album has been a constant companion of mine in the last 12 months, and in fact still feels so fresh to me – I rarely reach for their other work. I am one of “those” sad Tool fans.
I’m hoping that this won’t be Tool’s last album, and actually I’m assuming it’s not. Tool have earned the right to take as long as they please in my opinion, but time gets away from all of us. Tool 13 years from now will struggle to write another Fear Inoculum. I think if we do see further releases from Tool, it will appear sooner rather than later.
So was 13 years worth the wait? No doubt in my mind. What does the Fourtheye community think?