Music Reviews
Fear Inoculum

Tool Fear Inoculum

(Tool Dissectional/Volcano/RCA) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

If 10,000 Days felt like a long time for Tool fans after the release of 2001's Lateralus, then imagine the thirteen years it took for the prog-metal giants to finalize their latest opus after hitting a series of roadblocks. Some of these include a legal dispute and singer Maynard James Keenan's baffling devotion to his side project Puscifer (not to mention his Arizona winery, which is a far tastier proposition). But let's be honest here: It's no surprise that Tool members guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor are methodical perfectionists who carefully consider the band's shifting dynamics and meter changes. Add to that Danny Carey's undeniable drum skills and Keenan's metaphysical fluffery—always the last part of their grueling creative process—and you can begin to understand how much it takes for all those pieces to fall into place.

An obvious parallel to Tool's long-awaited fifth LP is the 17-year wait for Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy. And just like Democracy, Fear Inoculum provides a similar level of satisfaction: competent, expectedly indulgent, and schemingly epic in scope. Keenan alludes to meeting their high expectations, something he reflects throughout the album with his usual inscrutable lyrical imagery. Whether they care to admit it or not, the band knows that its long gestation process (obviously circumstantial) strengthens its mythical status, and as such, it works to their advantage. Again with Joe Barresi handling production duties (who also worked on 10,000 Days and Slipknot's recent We Are Not Your Kind, this year's two biggest metal releases), Tool brings a familiar face that will cause diehards to either breathe a sigh of relief—or yearn for the days they had David Bottrill behind the boards.

Regardless, Tool remains steadfast to charting their own course. Even if there's nothing particularly novel about Fear Incolum's seven main tracks from a technical standpoint, the band does show a willingness to fill their arrangements with a sense of space—they're vastly more drawn-out, but not meandering in the way you'd expect. Though Tool has always filled a CD's worth of music, rarely do they extend their tracks past the ten-minute mark. Fear Inoculum has six of them, sharpening their focus with a sprawl that's minimalist in design. "Immunity/long overdue," Keenan sings with a gentle chant on the title track, announcing their return while surrounding their heavy guitars with Carey's roundabout tom hits and repeated tabla hits—that, or narrating the story about exorcising some "deceiver" or whatever.

That said, it wouldn't sound like a genuine Tool record if it weren't for Keenan's sober, free-thinking nonsense. But what's endearing about his writing is that he knows that it's also kind of a joke—lines like "We are born of one breath, one word" could be considered "deep," tapping into his inner consciousness while referencing Greek terminology. Conversely, it also makes it sound part rhythmic mathematician and part undergrad philosophy student; though, to be fair, indie darling Michael Gira's lyrics aren't that much different. At least he sounds convincing, like on the knotty Invincible, where he gets into the mind of an aging warrior ("Now the armor's wearing thin/heavy shield down") with surprising directness. Once again, you can make a connection about Tool's current relevancy, but it also works on its own.

But those entangled words are merely for the seasoned Tool fan, small easter eggs that naturally extend Fear Inocolum's musical longevity. And the same goes for their tangled, spindly time signatures and slight Middle Eastern motifs. Most of the album sounds satisfyingly loud and dense, always locked to a similar tempo despite Carey's busy polyrhythms. Even at their most meandering, Tool holds tight and rarely releases—from the Schism-like Invincible to the pristine, descending arpeggios of Pneuma, Jones' lucid, multi-part riffs usually elevate and decline with a real sense of completion. The three accompanied segues not included in the CD version feel superfluous, and sometimes even anachronistic, especially when they tinker with skittering synths—though on the album's other shorter track Chocolate Chip Trip, Casey revives the lost art of the drum solo track with an oddly charming sketch.

Fear Inoculum already feels like an event—It's the kind of grand statement that will equally delight and confound, where Tool allows themselves to highlight their technical prowess with uncompromising integrity. Though the lengthy tracks convey great character and complexity, it's best to experience its ambient soundscapes and strapping guitars with a full, uninterrupted listen. Nevertheless, it's best to approach the album's "more is more" approach with a healthy degree of skepticism. While Tool's compact, yet heavily-layered arrangements grow on you with time, the same cannot be said for Keenan's outlandish reflections—the jury still stands as to whether they may quickly wear off, or end up serving as these profound riddles meant for critical observation (though I lean toward the former). But their permanence as metal stalwarts is undisputed—sometimes familiar, sometimes new and uncanny, they continue to stick to their proverbial guns.