Yeah, I know it’s 2021. Yeah, I know the title says 2019. You’ll get the gist of it here in a minute, just bear with me.
August 30th, 2019. It was to be the culmination of the great “Stan Wars” between Taylor Swift’s mega-huge fanbase and Lana Del Rey’s smaller but dedicated stan squad. Twitter was a raging dumpster fire of toxicity and hatred hurled back and forth between these warring factions. It was an epic showdown to see if LDR’s album release could dethrone Taylor’s second-week of release album from its throne at number one on the charts. Fans were lining up to buy multiple copies of everything they could get their hands on.
On August 30th, 2019, Tool released their long-awaited fifth studio album Fear Inoculum. It was a 13 year wait after 10,000 Days arrived in 2006. Whatever contributed to the delay, Tool fans were finally getting this eternally sough-after release. And, to the chagrin of mega-stans everywhere, it would claim the number one spot on the Billboard charts the following week.
Tool – Fear Inoculum
Released August 30, 2021 via Volcano Records
Favorite Tracks – Descending, Pneuma, 7empest
Me? Yes, I’m a Tool fan. I know there are annoying Tool fans out there. I know that I am annoying. But I am not an annoying Tool fan, I promise. I’ve been a fan since Sober first hit airwaves in the early ’90’s but I’m a sorta-casual.
And being sorta-casual is ok with Tool, since they spend 13 years between albums. Math is a thing so let’s figure – I was 28 when 10,000 Days came out. I had just turned 42 when Fear Inoculum released. That’s a lot of damn time. Trust me I know, I was there.
I was a bit concerned when the news of the album hit. The preview tracks were fine but unrefined phone recordings aren’t going to offer enough of a quality preview of a Tool song to pique my interest. I was cautiously optimistic that I’d be fine with it but I did have my concerns.
How was it really gonna be? It had been 13 years. What were they like now? What kind of headspace was I in to process a Tool album in my early 40’s? It was entirely possible that my enjoyment of Tool was from a bygone era and that they and I had both moved into different waters that just didn’t meet up anywhere.
Those fears were unfounded. Fear Inoculum is an absolute masterpiece. A collection of songs that are each over ten minutes in length, entwined with a few interludes. It is a dense album that conjures atmosphere at the expense of accesibility. But Tool have been drifiting toward that kind of sound anyway so it isn’t some huge leap, especially the powerful title track from 10,000 Days.
I do have to give Tool credit – they released an album and title song about inoculation and contagion less than 6 months before a world-altering pandemic struck. It’s almost like they themselves opened a portal to something and ushered in a whole new reality. It’s just an odd bit of coincidence, of course, but it’s a bit morbidly funny given the times we’re in now.
Of the 7 main songs that comprise the album I don’t find any real fault with any of them. A few do stand out, though. Pneuma is a fantastic cut that probably hearkens back most to past eras of the band and also offers a message either about unity, the interconnectedness of the universe, or something like that. 7Empest furthers the band’s fascination with the number 7 on this album and offers a more confrotational view of things, though what those things are lay beyond the scope of my understanding.
It would take me several listens to truly process the album as a whole and also figure out what my favorite song is here. Oddly enough, in the end it came back to Descending, one of two songs made available before release. It is truly a call to arms and order as our world descends into chaos. Many fans have made the connection that Descending is like the antithesis to Aenema, the band’s celebration of misanthropy that cheers the end of the world (or at least California).
And yeah, the world looks pretty bleak to me. Has for the past several years. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I mean, I’m fine in my day-to-day life, I get through the days no problem. But this society, civilization, whatever, just looks like Hell. I don’t know if I really possess the strength of spirit or perspective to see through it to something better, it looks really ugly and like it’s headed down rather than up. And yeah, Descending might be a more fitting song for the times than Aenema, it might truly be time to sound the dread alarm. But in the end, might still wanna learn to swim in Arizona bay, I don’t know.
Fear Inoculum sees vocalist Maynard James Keenan take something of a backseat in terms of performance. He’s still there of course, but he’s not necessarily as out there front-and-center as he has been in the past. There is nothing wrong with that, this album is a marathon and the music as a whole sets the pace rather than any frentic vocal performance.
But there is a standout musical peformance on the album – this whole record is the Danny Carey show. The drums are unreal from front to back on this release. I’d highly recommend throwing on some headphones and just taking in the drums. It’s one hell of a trip.
We are now 2 years removed from Fear Inoculum releasing and giving long-starved fans new music for the first time in over a decade. I’d have to assume the band will not spend that long on a follow-up, given that them or us aren’t getting any younger. I guess we can place bets on whether their next album or Elder Scrolls 6 drops first. I’d put the money on Tool at this point.
I definitely enjoy the album and would dare say it’s at least my second-favorite of Tool’s releases, and an argument could be made for it taking the top spot. That’s a discussion for another time, though. For now I trudge on through the muck and mire of our world, taking solace in the fact that I love these really long, dense songs that so many people can’t stand.