Label: RCA Records
Release date: August 30, 2019
I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m a diehard fan of TOOL. Sure, I really got pretty hot and heavy into the band’s 1993 debut LP, Undertow — Beavis & Butt-Head can have that effect on a young mind. Plus, it’s a fantastic freaking album that holds up really well even to this day. But I only got into subsequent releases on a marginal basis. I listened to them if I could find them legally without paying for them. And considering their last studio album released was 13 years ago, I couldn’t even tell you what that legal method was. Probably CD loaners from friends or the library.
But this year’s Fear Inoculum was one that my circle of music peeps was very heavily anticipating. This includes my IRL friends, my co-workers, my online friends… we were all looking forward to it very, very much.
Thankfully, given the long wait and the incredible level of anticipation, Fear Inoculum does not disappoint in any way whatsoever.
The title track starts off slow with a build up of synthesized instrumentation before the percussion leads into Maynard James Keenan‘s ethereal vocals. It’s an interesting way to re-introduce the world to TOOL, but it works in its own weird way.
“Pneuma” is probably the most TOOL-like of the entire album, harkening back to the glory days of “Sober.” Listening to it is like seeing an old friend again after several years apart.
“Litanie contre le peur” (literal translation from French is “Litany against fear”) is one of the shortest tracks on the album and is an instrumental interlude that features what I swore could only possibly be a theremin, but online research says it’s just a synthesizer. Still an interesting song and transition into the slow-building “Invincible” that, after a minute or so, becomes a powerhouse showcase of Justin Chancellor‘s intense bass work.
You know how they say that the perfect mixtape contrasts the highs and lows in alternating fashion? It would seem that the same is being done here as we go from the short and synthesized “Litanie contre le peur” to the near 13-minute slow-build onslaught of “Invincible” only to be gently swooned by the sweeping and fully instrumental audio effects of “Legion Inoculant.” We then get the return of Keenan’s vocals in “Descending” as well as “Culling Voices” only to be followed by another instrumental in “Chocolate Chip Trip.” Lather, rinse, repeat with “7empest” countered by an odd percussive mix in “Mockingbeat,” a digital-only bonus track, to close out the album.
There’s so much transition going on here from traditional metal to synthesized, short to long, vocal to instrumental that I would normally call this an album in search of an identity. But for some completely inexplicable reason, it works. I’m at a loss. I’ve listened to it dozens of times since its release. On headphones, in the car, at work on headphones, at work through shared speakers for all to hear, at the gym, going for walks, at freaking Walmart. And it’s very nearly the perfect accompaniment for all of them.
By the way, if you’re anything like me and enjoy adding songs to a workout playlist, consider “Invincible” and “7empest.” The first would make a great lead-in while doing an extended warm-up session and the second kicks in hard from the get-go and doesn’t let go. It’s great for longer cardio workouts or to get yourself psyched up before a lifting session.