We’ve been waiting. Oh man, have we been waiting – over thirteen years, to be exact. I had begun to believe that the title of the their last album – 10,000 Days – was Tool telegraphing us the time it would take to see the next one. Thankfully, they beat that by a good fourteen years. Better yet, what they have finally delivered has made the wait all the more worth it.
Fear Inoculum – the digital version, anyway – clocks in at a hefty one hour and twenty-seven minutes. Not only is the album itself long, but six of the album’s ten tracks eclipse the 10-minute mark, with the longest clocking in at over fifteen. But it’s not merely the duration of the album or that of the individual tracks that is significant here. Every second counts on Fear Inoculum, which is more consistent in its excellence from start to finish than any of their previous releases.
Lyrically, the album continues the trend of introspection and contemplation started on 2001’s Lateralus, while dispensing with the rage-fueled catharsis of previous works dealing with institutional decay (Intolerance), the decadence of Los Angeles (Aeneima), or humanity’s lamentable will to fight each other over any and everything (Right in Two). On Fear Inoculum, Tool focuses in on the inner struggle of facing one’s fears (the title track, 7empest) and dealing with one’s aging and mortality (Invincible, Descending).
From a musical perspective, Fear Inoculum is stunning in its quality. The soloing in Adam Jones guitar work is as dynamic as its every been, while in plenty of other places he dishes out scores of power chords as meaty as a thick, sizzling ribeye. Danny Carey’s drumming exceeds even his own typical excellence, combining the rhythmic intricacy of Bill Bruford at his best while also employing plenty of Bonham-esque heavy thuds right when appropriate. Justin Chancellor’s bass work provides a nice, thick bottom to the music, wrapping perfectly around Carey’s drumming while keeping the listener engaged in guessing where the next beat will fall.
Although the album is stacked with good tracks, there are two in particular that stand out for me. Invincible is the first of these tracks. This one is positively infectious; it just gets into your bloodstream. The first seven minutes are a textbook example of slowly building tension. After the explosion, the song slows down, although Carery’s heavy drumming is active underneath, before the band makes one final, mad dash to the finish line. Throughout, the aging warrior tries to hang on to what was as Father Time strips it away.
Tears in my eyes chasing Ponce de Leon’s phantoms.
So filled with hope I can taste mythical fountains.
False hope, perhaps,
But the truth never got in my way before now.
Feel the sting. Feeling time bearing down.
7empest is the penultimate track on the album and possibly the ultimate track in Tool’s catalog. In its fifteen-plus minutes of running time, it encapsulates virtually everything that makes Tool great. After a delicate intro of about a minute and a half, Jones guitar snarls and lets the listener know that go time is rapidly approaching. Carey’s drums join in, and soon enough, the band punches it, the g-forces pushing the listener back into their seat from the sudden acceleration. The music builds to a first climax, before transitioning into a middle phase notable for Jones’ hypnotic, exotic soloing. Meanwhile, Carey’s drumming and Chancellor’s bass work provide a solid underpinning. A brief, (relatively) mellow interlude follows before the song picks up the pace and the band brings it to a close. It’s a very satisfying listen.
In fact, the whole album is a very satisfying listen. Fear Inoculum is an album that breaks enough new ground to sound fresh while still having the recognizable Tool sound. Lyrically, it is by far the most mature album they have made, perhaps owing to the wisdom accumulated over the years (most definitely including those from the last album to this one). After such a long delay, it’s fair to wonder when we will see the next Tool album, much less if we’ll see another Tool album. Should this turn out to be Tool’s swan song, they will have gone out on the highest of high notes. You can’t ask for much more than that.