Album Review: TOOL - Fear Inoculum A Track By Track Review
On July 12th, Metal Injection owners Frank Godla and Robert Pasbani were invited to hear the long-awaited unreleased album from Tool, Fear Inoculum, in its entirety. The post below contains both initial impressions and reviews based on the one listen, and offers different perspectives on the album.
It should be noted that the interludes on track 3, 5 and 10 will not be on the physical CD and will only be listenable on the digital version of the album.
Frank's Initial Review
When I received a private invite to hear one of the most anticipated albums in metal history, it began to feel like a childhood countdown to Christmas Day. Tool has been a personal favorite since I picked up their debut EP in 1992, and here I am 27 years later, filled with the same excitement to soak in what is sure to be one of the most unique releases of the decade. When the album finally came to a conclusion, I learned that I wasn’t invited to hear the unreleased Tool album, but to experience it.
Nestled in the comfort of the control room at Downtown Music Studios in New York City, the playback was an optimal aural event that made the album’s 85 minutes feel like a cleansing ritual I looked forward to repeating immediately. Unfortunately, it’ll have to wait until August 30th, when the album is released for world wide consumption. To say the album is dense is an understatement. It’s no secret that Tool likes to create a full experience for the listener, often requiring multiple listens to fully immerse them in understanding, but this is easily the band’s most substantial and multidimensional offering to date. If you thought 10,000 Days gave you something to think about, you should prepare to dive further down the rabbit hole than you ever have before.
Sonically the album picks up where 10,000 Days left off, being produced by the band and engineered by Joe Barresi. It spares no expense to the listener’s ear, where you can pick out every little nuance imaginable from every instrument present, and there A LOT of tracks to listen to simultaneously. While the album obviously contains Tool’s signature sound, there are some groundbreaking changes to the band with this release, making it more of a career-encompassing opus than just the next album in their discography.
So what’s different? Well, for starters it’s instrumentally heavy, very heavy. I couldn’t help but notice Adam Jones has switched up his playing to favor more chords and guitar solos on this album. His usual brand of single picked riffs that lay ambient foundations are still present, but cross-breeding his styles has allowed the guitars to take on a new dimension. This decision may be in part because the work of drummer, Danny Carey, has taken on a whole new persona in and of itself as well. From drum set to obscure percussion, Carey’s work on this album is front and center, is never understated, and is far more complex than ever. The album even features an entire track devoted to his playing. Together, the work of Jones, Carey, and Chancellor further illustrates the meaning of dynamics in music while being completely unreserved, containing a few Pink Floyd-esque ambient jams, and at one point dons a fiercely calculated polyrhythm you’d expect to hear from Meshuggah.
Another big development is the addition of abundant synth tracks. You’ll hear keyboard tracks through out the album, sometimes filling out ambient space, sometimes the featured instrument carrying the melody, and sometimes setting a mood that resembles a film score. It creates a new essence to the growing Tool sound, in a way their ambient tracks have never sounded before.
With all the instrumentation taking on new heights, it felt to me that vocalist Maynard James Keenan took on a different role as well. This time he favored the more angelic singing approach you'd find in A Perfect Circle than classic heavy screams. If my memory serves correctly, I don't recall a single scream on the album. The music is so heavy, it's not even something I even "missed". Ultimately, the instruments do much of the heavy lifting and flex at full throttle for much of the record while Maynard's vocals offer a more delicate approach.
While it’s nearly impossible to accurately describe such a dense album in only a single listen, my initial feeling is one I’ll never forget. It contains the forward thinking progressiveness and sonic capabilities of their last two albums, but the aggressive instrumental attack of their first two albums, ushering in a new experience that also pulls the band's career together, all while retaining the signature Tool sound. Just when you thought you heard it all, Tool are back to shake things up once again!
Rob's Initial Review
We've all waited over a decade to hear new Tool music. When I got an invite for a private first listen event available for all the press, the gravity of the situation didn't really hit me until about an hour before the event: holy crap, I'm going to be listening to the new Tool record!
The first thing I can say to reassure Tool fans is this is very much a Tool record. They didn't go and completely change their sound, or become a pop band or go so far off the deep end with experimentation that the sound is unrecognizable. No, this very much sounds like a Tool record. It's almost like it's the most Tool record to date. What I mean is this isn't the record to show friends who never heard of Tool before. This is a record for the die-hards, and very much it seems, a record the band created for themselves.
Tool is a band where it really takes multiple listens to digest a record so we can only go into so much detail as to what happened and I'd rather avoid commenting on if I loved the record or not. It was ultimately good, but how good – it's too soon for me to say.
Two things really stood out on this one listen. One is that Tool no longer have any reservations about jamming out. At points it almost felt like listening to a Grateful Dead record with more loud guitars and distortion, and I do not mean that as an insult, I just mean that they really leaned into jamming and riding riffs. Two was it almost seems like Danny Carey is playing lead drums on this record. The drums lead the way the whole way through, and seem rather centered in the mix and it makes for a really fun listening experience.
Overall, the sonic quality of the album is absolutely superb. We were obviously listening to it in the most optimal way possible – an engineer even asked us to leave the room before starting so they could properly equalize everything. But, you can hear every bit of every instrument, every chunky riff and it was a pleasure to hear the purity.
And just like that, I had heard the new Tool album. I obviously liked it, but how much I liked it – it's hard to say with one listen. I absolutely want to go and listen to it again and am so excited to hear it as I'm sure you are.
Track By Track Recollections
Track 1: "Fear Inoculum"
Rob: The album starts out with some tribal beats, and lots of atmosphere. Once the song kicks in, the sound feels very familiar. It's Tool and they're back and ready to kick ass. The first track really takes its time before it kicks into full gear, almost indicating to the listener to sit back and enjoy what will be a long ride. This is a very long song, I want to say about 15 minutes and it climaxes huge in typical Tool fashion.
Frank: The album starts out with Tablas, and creates no sense of urgency to feature all the members just yet, foreshadowing of the album’s nature. The production is crystal clear and picks up where 10,000 Days leaves off. There are a lot of different parts to the song, I stopped counting after 5 different verses.
Track 2: "Pneuma"
Rob: This is where I really started noticing that Danny Carey is front and center with the drums. This track also introduces some keyboards midway through, that add a very interesting layer to the song. Adam Jones' guitar work kicks in late with an amazing solo. The main lyric of the track is "We are one breathe. One word. One spark."
Frank:I absolutely loved this song, one of my favorites. Incredible drum chops, prominent keyboard layers, power chords and guitar solos!? This is a whole new Tool I’ve yet to experience, and comes to a strong peak closing reminiscent of “Forty Six & 2”.
Track 3: "Litanie contre la Peur"
This is a new interlude the band added after the listening party had occurred. We did not hear this track.
Track 4: "Invincible"
Rob: This might've been my favorite jam. While we didn't get track names, this has to be "Invincible" based on what I heard from the live bootlegs. The main hook of the song is "Warrior. Struggling. To remain. Relevant. Warrior. Struggling. To remain. Consequential." This song builds to a huge galloping break that Tool are known for with the bass and guitars switching off and then blows my mind with the song climax. Just when you think the song is over, they come back with another two minutes of absolute heavyness and jamming.
Frank:Invincible begins as a slow burner and reaches a dynamic apex around the half mark that shifts the song into another mode. There are traces of "Ænema" styling on the track, contains some prominent synth action paired with Maynard’s more angelic voice style, and has a few psych out moments that start the song back up when you think it’s about to end.
Track 5: "Legion Inoculant"
Rob: This is the mid-way interlude, which indicates that the first three tracks end up being about 40 minutes long. You hear weird synths and alien sounds, reminiscent of what was heard in the intro to the album. Tool's manager, who was present for the listening sessions, noted that all the ambient synths were created by Danny Carey live only once and then he never saved those audio files, so if they play these songs live, he would recreate it in a different way each night.
Frank: This track is meant to be an ambient interlude, breaking up the density of the album. Lots of ambient synths by Dany Carey, and is a refreshing break before diving back into the mind bending patterns of the music.
Track 6: "Descending"
Rob: Once again, this is where the band leans into their metal Grateful Dead side, with lots of jam. I really noticed the organic tones of all the instruments here and it just seems all very Tool. The most Tool that Tool has ever been. It's the Danny Carey show, until some great lead rhythms from bassist Justin Chancellor carry the song until we hit an absolute ripper of an Adam Jones solo.
Frank: Descending is another build up track reminiscent of the band’s past, with tribal style tom riding, and big open heavy parts that boast the dynamic of the song into full gear. The song features a full on guitar solo around the 7 minute mark, and a second guitar solo toward the end. The song builds for days, and apexes around the 11 minute mark with an epic start to close the song.
Track 7: "Culling Voices"
Rob: This seems like the "slowest" track on the album. Lots of ambience and soundscapes. The song itself is very plodding and atmospheric. The main lyric that stuck out to me was Maynard shouting "Don’t you dare point that at me."
Frank: The track opens with ambient keyboards, like a film score, followed by soulful eerie guitar notes. The song features more Maynard taking the lead on this one, with lots of peaks and valleys found through out the track.
Track 8: "Chocolate Chip Trip"
Rob: This track is all instrumental. The beginning of this track immediately makes me think of the intro to Pink Floyd's "Time." Lots of natural sounding chimes and soundscapes and according to my notes, "big gong energy." A digital beat kicks in that sounds mesmerizing, followed by another huge Danny Carey drum solo. The song ends with some really fun tribal drums.
Frank: What an appropriate song title to an extremely different approach for Tool. The song opens with electronic sounds, and resembles a more techno-industrial approach you’d expect from a Trent Reznor production. The track eventually leads into a full on drum jam that lays on top of the electronic sound bed, and basically serves as a Danny Carey highlight on the album. What a trip indeed!
Track 9: "7empest"
Rob: This is very clearly the single on the album as the first three minutes are the most old-school Tool-sounding of all the songs. The first few minutes are a great sample platter of everything we love about Tool – solos, bass riffage and staccato Maynard vocal patterns. Then, just as you're getting settled in, it really lifts off into another great jam session. Later, the song completely transitions into a slower pace, as all great Tool songs do, until it builds and builds to a great Meshuggah-like breakdown. Adam Jones comes back with another incredible solo in the middle of the breakdown. The song climaxes huge and then settles in for a post-hurricane rain shower of riffage. It builds and builds to a great duel between the rhythm section and the guitar until the song ends. Another long song.
Frank: "Tempest" starts out with a radio-rock riff that eventually pulls the band back into some old-school Tool vibes, before heading into further jam sessions. The song comes to a valley to create some tension before unleashing a full on syncopated rhythm which they all come together and perform in unison, in full precision. The djenty effect is something you’d hear on a Meshuggah album, and just sounds massive in the middle of a Tool song.
Track 10: "Mockingbeat"
Rob: This final track almost seems like a troll. Lots of ambience and animal sounds with a subtle beat in the background until we are done.
Frank: The album leaves us with jungle sounds, and monkey noises. In usual Tool fashion, I feel like I’m being pranked by sitting here listening to this, but also wonder if there is something hidden I’m supposed to look for. Why are they doing this to me…or am I doing it to myself!?
Fear Incolumum comes out August 30th, 2019. Now that you've heard us describe the tracks, which are you most looking forward to?