Of the rock and metal from the past few decades, very few bands have been analyzed, dissected and revered like Tool. Hardcore fans are always eager to point out Tool’s distinctive ambitions, like how the band utilized the Fibonacci Sequence when composing its 2001 release “Lateralus,” or how much of its album art incorporates the renowned transcendental, psychedelic artwork of Alex Grey.
Tool’s ambition alone is ground for unconditional respect, and the band’s reputation for pushing the boundaries of modern rock music has elevated them to levels of success that almost overshadow the quality of the band’s music.
Placing Tool on a pedestal is only exacerbated by the band’s sparse album release schedule, teasing fans into a hype that inflates each album’s expected quality. Fans get amped so hard they tend to lose their own subjectivity to the glory that will be the next Tool record.
That’s exactly what happened with the latest addition to the band’s discography, “Fear Inoculum,” released Aug. 30. Like most Tool releases, the album sits with a lofty hour-and-a-half run time where six of the ten tracks are over ten minutes long and many tracks are nearly indistinguishable from the last. That doesn’t mean the album is completely void of catchy bits or engaging moments, but it doesn’t deserve to be placed among the best metal albums of the year.
Tool has always excelled at creating an excitedly ominous atmosphere. Tracks like the 13-minute “Descending” roll on like a caravan through the desert. A description of one track on “Fear Inoculum” can easily describe half the tracks on the album, but “Descending” stands as the most foreboding iteration of this demonic, sonic concept. A long build of airy synthesizers and wind-like noise leads to a hairy, well-fed and exercised beast of a climactic guitar solo by guitarist Adam Jones. This is as close to what OG Tool fans would consider classic as any track on “Fear Inoculum.”
The best exemplification of what could be called “new Tool” is the title track and first single from the groups latest release. After a three-minute intro culling various ideas from Indian classical music, lead vocalist Maynard James Keenan begins a medley of whispered, disorienting chants. “The deceiver says, he says, you belong to me/You don't wanna breathe the light of the others/Fear the light/Fear the breath/Fear the others for eternity,” Keenan breathes.
Dissecting Tool’s lyrics has always been a lofty task, and “Fear Inoculum” is no exception. Each line spills out fluidly and is delivered with divine intensity. Tool seems to constantly be on the elevated plane of consciousness resemblant of most psychedelic drugs, but it still remains level-headed enough to create nearly impossibly complex compositions and lyrical themes that defy perception. Per the meme taking over fanbases, one must be of at least genius-level intelligence to understand or appreciate Tool.
All joking aside, Tool is very late in their career. It’s been nearly three decades removed from their first release, “72826” in 1991. “Fear Inoculum” could be a last-hurrah for Tool, but it comes off as more of an intriguing “hmm.” Not completely boring, but it’s not a particular highpoint in the band’s career.