Fear Inoculum is a Thing that Exists
4,748 days have passed since 10,000 Days dropped. Did lawsuits, scooter accidents, and vinification leave Tool unrecognizable? Will the Chinese Democracy of angsty prog metal permanently alter our genetic material, leading us into a frightening and unknown era of immaterial consciousness previously unknown throughout the universe?
No and no, respectively.
Fear Inoculum is another Tool album. There are drop-D guitar riffs from Adam Jones. There’s Maynard Keenan singing in a stage whisper for no discernible reason. There’s Justin Chancellor bass lines that bounce around with a lot of reverb. There’s a lengthy drum solo from Danny Carey inexplicably titled “Chocolate Chip Trip,” presumably based on a geometric pattern that matches the sacred dimensions of King Solomon’s dong.
It’s the same shit. The difference is in the amount of it—this is the longest Tool album to date, and it feels even longer. “Culling Voices” is the shortest real song here (more on that in a minute) at only 10:05. “7empest” cracks 15 minutes but feels roughly twice that. While Tool has written songs this long before, epics like “Third Eye” felt like an effective contrast to the band’s otherwise concise songwriting. Here, every song could have easily been half as long without losing anything of value.
This long-windedness isn’t helped by the fact that most songs on Fear Inoculum have a clear parallel to other songs in their discography: the recurring theme of “Pneuma” is a rewrite of “Right in Two,” the end of “Descending” is the ending of “Forty Six & 2,” and the harder sections of “7empest” are ripped straight from “Jambi.” Even the bits that aren’t obviously recycled are still trapped in a perpetual rewrite of Lateralus.
As ever, Jones is the real hero here. His riffs and solos keep these songs moving no matter how many times Carey and Chancellor play their exact parts from “The Grudge” or “Schism” beneath him. On “7empest” in particular, he gets his chance to shine, stretching out beyond his normal comfort zone of low-string riffs and the occasional higher-register melodic line. Conversely, Keenan continues to prove he’s the least essential member of the band by a country mile. Gone are his screams and shouted vocals, meaning that there’s no “Ticks and Leeches” to shake things up mid-album. Without his usual variety, emotion and melody are added to “yes means yes” and “age of consent” on the list of things Keenan doesn’t fully understand.
Having read some recent Tool coverage, I was told that multiple listens would be necessary to fully absorb Fear Inoculum’s nuances. Let me be the first to call bullshit. For the purposes of this review, I listened to this album at least ten times over the course of several days; unless the audio files magically transform into Rush’s Farewell to Kings once you hit 15 listens, it’s the same listless exercise I found disappointing the first time through.
One inexcusable aspect of Tool’s music in 2019 are the interludes. There are three on Fear Inoculum: “Litanie contre la Peur,” “Legion Inoculant,” and “Mockingbeat.” All are tuneless, meandering synth and noise pieces that bear no structural, musical, or thematic relation to the songs that come before or after. It’s telling, then, that these three skits were left off of physical copies of the album. It wouldn’t have been a stretch to turn an almost 90 minute album into a double release. Instead, the band conceded that these “songs” were/are dogshit and wisely dumped them like the trash they are.
Fear Inoculum isn’t exactly an awful album. The problem is that what we’ve got here is a quarter hour of interesting music spread out to cover the length of an average movie. Just because I don’t respect my own time doesn’t mean Tool gets to do the same.
2.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell