Published Sep 10, 2019It took Tool 13 years to record and release new album, Fear Inoculum, and it will take continued patience when listening through. Running at just under 90 minutes, it's the band's longest effort to date, a winding, psychedelic slog in drop-D packed with expected technical prowess. Connected through another series of experimental interludes, each primary composition clears ten minutes in length.
Have Tool returned from all this time away to explore new sonic territory? Not entirely. Fear Inoculum finds the four-piece pushing their full-length formula laterally as opposed to forward, a sure sign of how the album was conceived.
Having recorded his vocals after his bandmates handled instrumental duties, Maynard James Keenan is a much less commanding presence across the record, in comparison to past releases. He leans much more towards his airier style on the opening title track, and "Pneuma," simply mirroring the rhythm section in his delivery on the latter. Other times, he cedes the spotlight entirely in favour of synth solos or repetitive grooves.
In turn, Keenan's stylistic changes have allowed the work of guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey to come to the fore. Carey's drums even sound as if they are mixed louder than the vocal tracks. His technical mastery gets a showcase with "Chocolate Chip Trip," one interlude that would better suit the band's live show.
Jones, meanwhile, shows marked improvement with his six strings, best shown on the 15-minute "7empest." A brief Fripp-esque intro soon gives way to one of the album's most memorable riffs, which Jones then follows with multiple searing solos. His work even forces Keenan to turn in a slightly grittier performance.
Musically, Tool have taken the best of Lateralus's dynamism and the heaviness of 10,000 Days to explore the middle ground with great length on Fear Inoculum. Those who stuck it out through the decade-plus wait won't mind hanging around a little longer until the album's close. (RCA)