Ah, the joys of writing about a band with no preconceptions. You may think it strange, but until I listened to this album I don’t think I’ve knowingly heard anything by Tool. This band are evidently HUGE on the prog metal scene, especially so in their home territory over The Pond in the U. S. of A. Here, they seem to mean far less, as most of the rabid discussions on the web, picking this album apart like vultures, are dominated by Americans.
What do I know about Tool? Very little, to be honest. Apparently they have a singer/lyricist called Maynard James Keenan, whose name sounds like a sci-fi screen writer’s corruption of John Maynard Keynes. Lyrics about macroeconomics and boom and bust cycles? Probably not! The one thing I do know is that they are/were so HUGE that they once gave King Crimson a support slot on their Lateralus tour of 2001.
I believe that the Lateralus album is quite significant in prog metal circles, and I would guess espesh to one Steven Wilson, who it seems co-opted the quiet/loud clinical “stun chording” style for several tunes on various naughties Porcupine Tree albums. Assuming Tool are responsible for this far-too-oft-repeated sound in the first instance, Mr Wilson and several hundred other bands copied and still copy this style to ever-decreasing levels of originality it seems, to the extent that cliché-ridden prog metal is the go to method of musical execution for more than a fair proportion of the gubbins we here at TPA towers get sent daily by the virtual wheelbarrow-load, albums that for the most part should have stayed in the bedrooms they crawled out of.
All of that might prejudice my view of Tool, all things considered, so much for no preconceptions, eh?! So, what about this new album, released as a download and as a limited edition cathode ray toilet or somesuch oddness? If you want a CD version you’ll need a mortgage. Firstly it’s too long, at over 80 minutes. An hour is quite enough for a single album. Secondly, and not that I’d know for sure – you don’t expect me to listen to the back catalogue, surely? – but it seems to me that in comparison, this album must come across as rather restrained to the average headbangin’ prog-metallurgist? Various shorter interludes, like Legion Inoculant, verge on industrial ambience, and the longer songs build incrementally rather than go for the jugular, which is a good thing as far as I am concerned. The highly impressionistic opening title track being a case in point, setting the scene nicely, or more to the point, grimly, for what follows. Yeah, it has the gloom and despond typical of the genre, but at least it’s moderately interesting.
They still occasionally do the quiet/loud/riff thing on the longer excursions, but thankfully it’s not a default position, and there is more than enough actual music in between times to gloss over the fact. For that reason even the 15-minute plus Tempest is bearable, despite hanging on a fairly run-of-the-mill riff that sounds weary as soon as it starts. It is redeemed by some tricksy fretwork. Still, I only have to listen to it once, there is that.
Fear Inoculum is a very male and a very “white” album, in the mould of the aforementioned Porky’s bangers, and as such it doesn’t groove at all, but songs like Invincible unfold quite nicely like they have nothing to prove, and there’s an enticingly strange and mercifully brief guitar break that doesn’t show off at all. In fact throughout, there is no flash-for-the-sake-of-it Dream Theater ego-flexing. If there is a star on this record, it’s the drummer/percussionist, who is clever without being overpowering. Witness Chocolate Chip Trip, which has a touch of Stomu Yamashta about it. And Mr Keenan can actually sing, rather than growl or shout, which makes a nice change in this genre.
It’s all quite atmospheric, and will no doubt top all kinds of polls, but the envelope is barely looked at, let alone prodded. Frankly, I’m amazed it took 13 years to make. Maybe they took the first 12 years off? Actually, I’ve since read elsewhere that serious work “only” commenced in 2013. That’s ok, then. Will I play it more than once? Probably not, there’s just too much real innovative quirky nonsense out there to justify the time.
Conclusion: Fear Inoculum is a decent and varied listen, if you want to spend 80+ minutes going nowhere, and it sounds like it could have been made twenty years ago. Nothing new to see here, move on. Overall, meh…
01. Fear Inoculum (10:20)
02. Pneuma (11:53)
03. Litanie Contre La Peur (2:14)
04. Invincible (12:44)
05. Legion Inoculant (3:09)
06. Descending (13:37)
07. Culling Voices (10:05)
08. Chocolate Chip Trip (4:48)
09. 7empest (15:43)
10. Mockingbeat (2:05)
*The track listing above is for digital version – tracks 3, 5 & 10 are not featured on the physical version.
Total Time – 86:38
Danny Carey – Drums, Synthesizer
Justin Chancellor – Bass Guitar
Adam Jones – Guitar
Maynard James Keenan – Vocals
Lustmord – Waves & Water Sound Effects
Record Label: RCA Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 30th August 2019