Thirteen years is a very long time. Would you wait for thirteen years for an ex-lover to come back to you? Would any college professor wait thirteen years for a student to turn in a paper? Would I wait thirteen years for Taco Bell to get my order right? Probably not.
There is an extremely short list of things I would wait thirteen years for. After thirteen years, the prog-metal masters, Tool, have finally graced us with their new album, Fear Inoculum, following their 2006 release, 10,000 Days. After finally listening to this release from start to finish, goddamn was it worth the wait. At times the album is soothing, while other times it’s a cerebral assault on the eardrums with layers upon layers of reverbed guitars and precision drumming. What more could I ask for in a Tool album besides shorter wait times between releases?
Very few bands have such a devoted fan base that would forgive such a long wait in between albums and reward the group with a number one spot on the album Billboard charts. I mean, they even beat out pop powerhouse Taylor Swift the week after her new album was released (a fact that Tool’s lead singer took the time to poke fun at).
But why? What is so special about this prog-metal behemoth from Los Angeles? They aren’t the first band to make their fans wait an absurd amount of time between releases. I believe a lot of the popularity and dedicated following comes from their excruciating effort to make the band about more than just themselves. I mean, for crying out loud, Tool’s frontman, Maynard James Keenan, will often hide in the shadows on stage and not face the audience when he performs.
Tool’s music is painstakingly crafted with hidden meanings, layered instrumentation, and creative lyrical structures. If you don’t know what I mean, talk to any Tool fan about their song “Lateralus,” and you’ll be subjected to a ten-minute diatribe about the Fibonacci sequence. How many other bands put this kind of real passion and thought into their work? Especially when juxtaposed against the current slate of repetitive pop music that viciously assaults the radio airwaves.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that the album is sitting at number one without a single radio-friendly track ready to fill a three-minute slot. The shortest track on the album is the instrumental “Chocolate Chip Trip” clocking in at 4:48. Not exactly made for the mainstream airwaves. All other songs exceed ten minutes with the final song “7empest” pushing near sixteen minutes. (I listened to the physical version. The digital copy has a few additional tracks.)
Fear Inoculum is a true album. Sure, you can pick out songs and listen to them here and there, but to get the real experience, it’s best to sit down and consume this album all the way through. I sat through this behemoth of a record in one sitting (I may or may not have been on some sort of illicit substance at the time) and by the time I finished I was exhausted, but in a fulfilling kind of way. It’s the same feeling you get when you sit through a Lord of the Rings film marathon. It’s long, but it’s an adventure chock full of Danny Carey’s tribal drums, Adam Jones’ eerie guitars, Justin Chancellor’s hypnotizing bass lines, and Maynard James Keenan’s haunting vocals.
Standout tracks include “Pneuma,” “Invincible,” “Descending,” and “7empest.” These four tracks seem to blend together the musical composition of Lateralus and Ænima with a clean production quality reminiscent of 10,000 Days.
“Pneuma” starts off with calm driving guitar power chords and quiet tom drum fills that lead into a “Schism”-like bassline. As the song progresses they layer on a slow drum rhythm, more soft power chords, and Maynard’s symphonic voice, which continue to build in tempo and intensity. The lyrics celebrate the creative spirit that binds all of us together, and although we are all bound to our unimpressive human flesh, we all have that spark that makes us special.
We are spirit
Bound to this flesh
We go round
One foot nailed down
But bound to reach out and beyond
Just as an aside, according to Dictionary.com, “Pneuma” is the vital spirit or soul of an individual.
This leads us into “Invincible” which starts off with a plucking guitar riff which reminds me of Tool’s hit single from 10,000 Days, “Vicarious.” Tool is certainly taking the best parts of each album to create this magnum opus. As the song progresses it details the struggle of what I believe is an aging individual struggling to remain relevant. Perhaps this song is more of a reflection on the part of Tool. The individual is described as a “warrior” that is “chasing Ponce De Leon’s phantom soul.”
Struggling to remain relevant
Struggling to remain consequential
Tears in my eyes chasing Ponce de Leon’s phantom soul
So filled with hope, I can taste mythical fountains
We are all warriors and explorers in our own lives and as we get older we either accept our decaying influence over the world around us or fight to remain consequential in an ever-changing society.
Instead of focusing on individual struggles, “Descending” is a call to action against the destructive nature of our species:
Come, our end, suddenly
All hail our lethargy
To the quickened dissolution
Pray we mitigate the ruin
Calling all to arms and order
Like most Tool songs, “Descending” is a build-up from a calm introduction that layers upon itself until it becomes a visceral display of prog-metal instrumentation with complex drum fills, distorted guitars, and howling vocals. This is easily my favorite track on the album for the sound itself. The chugging rhythm guitar, soloing lead guitar, and haunting synths that comprise the bridge and outro alone set this track apart from the rest of the album.
Finally, there’s “7empest” which is easily the most intense song on the album. Unlike other songs on this album, this track is not as open to interpretation and instead relies on a straightforward message. It’s a call out to those that attempt to distract us from the issues that truly matter:
Follow the evidence
Look it dead in the eye, you are darkness
Trying to lull us in, before the havoc begins
Into a dubious state of serenity
Acting all surprised when you’re caught in the lie
We know better
It’s not unlike you
It’s not unlike you
We know your nature
“7empest” wastes no time building up the instrumentation. It abandons the slow buildup after only after a minute and twenty seconds, moving into the distorted lead riff and rhythm guitars. I was surprised to find that “7empest” borrows some elements of groove metal while still giving it that signature Tool sound. Hats off to Adam Jones and his masterful guitar work.
Fear Inoculum is truly a masterpiece that showcases what makes Tool such a unique and interesting band. For those of you that were worried about a slump in quality after so many years without a release, you can breathe easy knowing Tool is still in their prime. There’s never been a better time to be a Tool fan or to become one considering the quality of this new release.
Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another thirteen years for a follow-up.