More about: Tool
Fans online celebrating still being alive – and others sharing touching stories of lost love ones – in the time it’s take for the follow up to Tool’s fourth album 10,000 Days in 2006 truly extenuates just how long it has been. Said album, released last decade, had the challenge of living up to the quality of Undertow, Ænima and Lateralus – all Tool masterpieces – and was, in parts, even more enjoyable than its predecessors. ‘The Pot’ and ‘Vicarious’ are absolutely sublime tracks.
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Since then, it’s been a series of well-documented setbacks, such as a moped crash and lawsuit that have held up the fifth LP. Most of all, though, Tool – much like Rage Against The Machine – just don’t pay by the rules of the record industry, they do what they want. Not following the mould has worked for them in surprising ways this campaign. For instance, in the lead up to this record coming out, they uploaded their back catalogue to streaming services for the first time, gate-crashing the charts with four of the top five albums in the rock album charts in the process. I started to hear Tool in bars and café’s for the first time in a while, which has been great. Summer 2019 has truly felt like the summer of Tool. To say the new album coming out tomorrow (30 August) via Music for Nations / Sony music is feverishly awaited is an understatement.
Fortunate to get an advance listen, it’s the CD version, without the instrumental transitions that are exclusive to the digital version, that I get to hear. There’s seven very long tracks – a number in keeping with the esoteric theme; the band spoke about the number 7 playing an unplanned role in the theme.
Trembling with excitement, hitting play on Fear Inoculum for the first time, the title-track rings out, and we're off. The opener has been heard already by the world as the first single to come out and is a satisfying thirst quench for Tool fans who like that ‘Schism’ riff sound. Nothing unexpected, it allows us to get comfortable in our seats.
‘Pneuma’ sees a sparse, evocative finger-picked beginning give way to a chunk of feedback and a huge, multi-layered drum arrangement, replete with what sounds like a tabla adding pace and adrenaline. Lyrically, it’s Maynard James Keenan at his most dramatic; he states with the intensity of a lightning storm: “Wake up, remember – We are born of One Breath, One Word. We are all One Spark, Sun becoming.” He appears to keep his A Perfect Circle - Eat The Elephant delivery to an extent -- here and for much of the album.
'Invincible’ is one of the cuts that Tool have road tested and feels like a fantastic demonstration of Adam Jones’ compelling virtuoso ability on his guitar. Maynard gives a lot of space for instrumental sections. Sonically manipulated to sound unlike a traditional guitar, the whammy-ish high notes aren’t dissimilar to Morello’s idea of not being held back by what you’re taught the limits of the instrument are. And dry, brutal palm-muted riffs give a solid anchor as more colourful melodies gush out.
Similarly, ‘Descending’ feels like a track showcasing the sheer mesmerising superhuman talent of Adam Jones. But it is bookended with ambient, meditative wave sounds, which are a welcome change of pace.
Things stay down a notch for ‘Culling Voices’; at least at the beginning. It soon becomes an open chord-led banger, it’s one to crank up to annoy the neighbours. The best drum fills since the second track ‘Pneuma’ are found here.
There was no chance of coming back after 13 years with ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ as the lead single because it’s the most obscure cut on the record. Its wind chime hippy shop feel, computer malfunction sonics and electronic-sounding lead motifs are a stunning feature. Drums are produced in a way that it sounds like you have 10 kits coming at you and Maynard takes a back seat.
7empest has Maynard at his busiest; it’s the track with the most lyrics and there’s some raw anger in here that seems aimed at the right enemy: “No amount of wind could begin to cover up your petulant stench and demeanor.”
When the final track finishes I'm left breathless, completely overawed at the gripping sequence of tracks. There’s a spiritual aura to it that will transform the mood of anyone lucky enough to come into its path. Innovative use of the studio to completely smash presumed limitations of what a rock band can achieve in a studio mean that future generations will have a record to look back at for inspiration. It'll be inspiration to think outside the box, which is very needed in an industry wrought with pastiche. Ultimately, Fear Inoculum is a record that will never lose its potency; it'll be passed down from this generation to the next, and the generation after that. And, crucially, the Tool back catalogue retains its prestige and indispensable greatness.
More about: Tool