- Artist: Tool
- Title: Fear Inoculum
- Released: 2019
- Format: Digital Download
- Genre: Alternative Metal
- Beverage of Choice: Irish Breakfast Tea
This is one of those times when I am going to break my own rules simply because this album will become a ‘classic’; in my opinion, the highlight of Tool‘s storied career and catalog. I’ve refrained from reading the music press reviews on this album but my suspicion is that most music critics who aren’t totally lame-brained will have rated this effort 4/5 or 5/5. With the length of time it takes the band to record and release albums it’s possible the band will age out and never produce a work so purely focused and executed ever again.
Tool’s trajectory from hard rock/metal radio-friendly offerings to prog-rock nerds is well-documented and I love all their music but they have been mining the negative vein (at least lyrically) for a long time now. There is something of a sea change on this album with lyrics and themes that, although typically obscure, are less neurotic and depressing and even, I daresay, hopeful. Their music in the past has hinted at what they could become with interludes of great beauty and complexity, always with a hard edge that keeps the tension to the forefront.
Fear Inoculum, in my view, combines all of the collective gifting, experience and emotional intelligence from the band and delivers it in a breathtaking set of 7 ‘real’ songs and 4 interludes. The album is constructed somewhat like a symphony with various parts and movements making up the whole around a central theme. It is long at 86 minutes but there is no fat, lethargy or navel-gazing to detract from the listening experience or turn engagement into boredom. I’ve listened to the entire album a couple dozen times now and have come away from each session energized, delighted and amazed afresh at the incredible sheer talent of the musicians and how uplifting, expansive and mesmerizing the songs are.
I’m not going to expand on exhaustive track-by-track listening notes, instead I want to try and give you an idea of the range of emotions and impressions that the music extracts from me. From the very first bar of the title track, the music creates tension and expectation with a slow build of momentum and expanding thematic elements. Precision and clarity have always been important to Tool and this album goes to the next level in terms of a focused, transparent and open production. The tracks build layer upon layer of complexity and dynamic range creating loops of evolving time signatures and nuanced shadings of light and dark, soft and loud, tight and loose all at the same time.
At times the music lulls one into a comfortable groove and then explodes into a huge driving riff with Danny Carey’s drums setting the pace and drama; his drumming is next-level and Carey seems to never play a bar the same way. If you do listen to this album more than once, take the opportunity to focus only on the drumming throughout and I guarantee you will come away totally amazed and stupefied. I doubt there is another drummer in any genre that can hang with Danny Carey. If he ever was forced to play a straightforward time signature he’d probably invent some way to fold it into a pretzel shape and play it that way.
This is music for musicians, sure, but it’s also accessible to anyone who simply likes to experience well-written, well-structured and well-executed art. And art it is; this is not throw-away generic pap but music to be embraced, memorized, experienced and loved for a lifetime. Listen to this album in one sitting if you get a chance and, if I’m overstating my case, let me know in the comments section!