I started the draft for this article 2 weeks ago and then took some time to digest the album without listening. Now, I'm finishing the article as I skim through some of the album's highlights and major tracks.
It's hard to believe I've been squeezing as much energy as I have from the old TOOL albums. I first came to deep dive their records shortly after the release of 10,000 Days which came out when I was in high school. I fell in love. TOOL embodied so much of what I crave from my rock and metal bands. Heavy, broody guitar and bass work. Thundering drums with experimentation of dozens of other worldly percussion instruments. On one end, it's progressive (and often aggressive) songs that deal with the ridiculous and bizarre aspects of our social norms, DMT soaked alien abductions, and a whole host of other weird shit. On the other spectrum, the band in its more evolved stages (Lateralus/10,000 Days) create music that inspires feelings of ancient tribalism and transcendent experience. Long, beautiful composed tracks that invoke reflective head spaces for the listener.
Now, the band has finally settled years of time consuming legal issues and personal differences to deliver the next evolution of their collective vision. Thank the gods of metal, it is exactly what it needed to be. Each of the primary tracks spans over 10 minutes long, rewarding the listeners patience as they build to epic heights that take you on journeys of the mind and body. It's powerful stuff and hopefully marks the beginning of other future efforts from the band, who have shown they can shake off the rust and keep the machine rolling.
But is it a perfect album? Is it their best work? I think most would probably say not, although it is certainly a great TOOL album. If anything, I hope this new delivery will strengthen the band as they make the transition into the marketing and social aspect of the digital age the industry is operating now. All the musicians have grown over the decades and have successful side projects, but hopefully they can use this momentum going forward to create more as a group in the years to come. If the band does follow a path like that, I'm hoping it would be that resulting effort that will have the level of punch I'm looking for personally.
Yes, Adam Jones and Justin Chancellor's guitar work are as refined and sharp as ever, but a lot of the material can sound familiar to previous works. Analyzing Jones's work in particular, one starts to feel like some of his riffs and techniques are taken straight from works of Lateralus or AEnima and that many of the songs live in the same open D wheel house as most of their previous catalog. There's only so many riffs you can do revolving around F and D keys before they start to sound repetitive (the breakdown section of Invincible, for example, while killer in execution, is a rather simple, been-there-done-that riff). Several times after listening to the album I had the strange thought maybe they should try make an album in standard tuning to shake things up. This idea would be mostly heresy among the TOOL diehards, so we can pretend I never thought it, if it makes you feel better.
Maynard Keenan is on point with his vocals, having kept sharp with years of touring with Puscifer and A Perfect Circle. His lyrics carry the listener on to powerful resolutions and show the 55 year old can still deliver the goods.
Perhaps the most impressive musical standout to this album is the space the band gave legendary drummer Danny Carey to take the group along all the fast shifting, bizarre time signatures that populate Fear Inoculum. His unstoppable talent as a percussionist is more potent here than on any other effort. On almost every track Carey is given amble room to work off Jones and Chancellor's crunchy riffs, like on Invincible, 7empest, Pnuema, and Descending. Not to mention the far out synth and digital beat mania that occurs on interlude Chocolate Chip Trip. At every funky turn, Danny Carey proves why he is still king of the hill when it comes to powerful, progressive drumming in popular music and the percussion community world-wide. His endurance is second to none. It would be one thing to praise him for his abilities on the traditional drum kits alone, but Carey constantly reinvents himself with percussion tools from all around the world, bringing a breath of depth and culture to every track in strange and exhilarating ways.
I think Fear Inoculum will give fans years of audio greatness to digest, but hopefully the band can keep the train rolling, now that they know their fan base is still one of the most powerful in the industry and their work continues to be praised across the world. With the release of their entire catalog to streaming services, TOOL has now entered the digital age. Hopefully, they will dominate it and keep pushing forward as artists.
"Spiral down, keep going."
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed the article please like or share the post. I just released my photography & show notes from the recent Ty Segall performance at The Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles. Please feel free to have a look see! Check out more of TOOL's stuff at there website.