[Tool Dissectional, RCA, 2019]
Intro: Dimitris Kaltsas
Translation: Vangelis Christodoulou
05 / 09 / 2019
Fear Inoculum constitutes not only Tool’s fifth full-length, but also the likely most anticipated album since the birth of rock music. Until recently, the quartet’s return to the ropes was deemed as a joke. 13 years in limbo is a long time for anyone to believe they had the intention or even the will to make a comeback. All doubts were cleared the moment the self-titled 10-minute-long track was released, and the impressions were rather lukewarm. Fear Inoculum is out, and the odds are against a band that has nothing to prove.
Flaccidity instead of surprise
It might sound as a lie, but it’s for real through and through. Tool finally release their new album, and the world is trying to figure out the gist of their comeback. Is it another sensational trip into their familiar, mystical musiverse? Maybe a snatch and grab that will simply stimulate our interest for a while and then fall apart by the end of the tour? An honest testimony by a band that just wanted to leave its mark one more time? Any way one might look at it, Fear Inoculum is a singular release, of the variety that will be discussed, extensively analyzed, and possibly earn a place in our everyday playlists. The first listen, however, does not give them the advantage they’ve always enjoyed.
The intimidating wall of sound that they built in the 90’s – still present and dominant – fails to tingle. That’s due to the fact that an abundance of groups mimicked them while they were absent, constituting their brand of a monstrous rhythm section alongside down-tuned guitars particularly accessible (this year’s Soen’s album success attests to that). Rich rhythm textures is still Tool’s approach and is by far the record’s most positive aspect. Early on since the self-titled single came out, it became apparent that the atmosphere would be dark, much like in the 10.000 Days album (especially the second part). However, this time there are no abstract layers but a widespread dedication to hypnotic grooves that is diffused throughout the release. As a whole, it sounds largely uniform but the listener who craves for surprise, is seldom experiencing it. The long and winding tracks predispose for that surprise and it’s fundamentally disheartening that Tool fail to keep things interesting. The peaks of Pneuma and 7empest are the exception where the band is in its familiar good form, featuring Adam Jones’ inspired guitars (he is fairly absent otherwise) and the consistency of Carey-Chancellor’s rhythm section. In any case, it’s the latter that corners the market.
Danny Carey’s mannerisms and extensive contribution to the sound of Fear Inoculum – apart from the pleasant “drum solo meets synthwave” surprise on Chocolate Chip Trip – is what outlines the edifice of the album. Relentless tribal attacks by a maniacal Carrey define song structures, the scanty riffage, and even Keenan’s vocal lines. The latter’s performance does not deviate to the slightest from his performance on the latest A Perfect Circle album and as such, the album lacks the intensity that Ænima or Lateralus are known for. It is maybe that last component that dramatically increase the final result’s flaccidity and bittersweet aftertaste.
6 / 10
What’s most astonishing about Fear Inoculum, is that it bears no surprise at all. Its sonic footprint is contained both concerning structure as well as performance and it’s totally unoriginal for 2019. The tardy tempos and slow development prevail, while the long durations are unfortunately unaccommodating and in general, inexcusable, as is Tool’s mannerisms and their unabashed King Crimson-“loans”. In the strictly cadenced environment that is forlornly promoted alongside lush ambiance, it’s the Chancellor-Carey that inevitably play a leading role and impress, whereas Jones keeps repeating himself, obviously being less inspired than ever and Keenan is rather reminiscent of his A Perfect Circle days. It is definite that if an album of such caliber was released by any other band, it would hardly disappoint, but just with 7empest and a few more sparkling moments, Tool can barely satisfy. Undeserved as it may be, it is absolutely true that Fear Inoculum cannot bear the weight of its unparalleled predecessors on its shoulders.
6 / 10