Thursday 5 September 2019

Tool - Fear Inoculum (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 30 Aug 2019
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I've long enjoyed Tool without being a fan of Tool, if that makes sense in a world where people either love them or hate them. I adore songs like Schism and Lateralus but don't immediately reach orgasm the moment anyone mentions their name the way certain of my friends do. The ten minute title track that opens this album is another of those songs for me to adore. The rest of the album? Well, let's see...

Fear Inoculum itself is a gorgeous creation and it's a very careful one. It has everything Tool do well: strange rhythms that build and multiply, weird lyrics delivered in that characteristic way, a bass that thinks it's a lead guitar. And it grows, like a progressive rock song that wants to hang out in a metal crowd. The heavier parts are less underlined by production, though I have no doubt they'll be heavy on stage, making this one feel even more like King Crimson than usual.

Pneuma starts out similarly: drums like a rattlesnake's tail, a riff setting the scene for its later build, then another to actually underpin the track. If Fear Inoculum hadn't been on the album, the majority of what people would say about it would be said about this song instead. It doesn't hold together quite as well for me but it's another good song, a deeper one that's warming up for me, as are others.

And, with over twenty-two minutes gone, we're two tracks in to seven. Given how Tool play with their lyrical structures, doing things like making their rhythms follow the Fibonacci sequence, I wonder about the song lengths. Fear Inoculum is ten minutes long and Pneuma is eleven. Invincible is twelve and Descending is thirteen. Culling Voices and the oddity that is Chocolate Chip Trip are fourteen between them. 7empest, to wrap things up, is fifteen. I do wonder what they had to change to make that work.

Tool have never been known for short songs but this is something extreme for them. It allows them to be as non-commercial as they like (are they going to play any of these songs on the radio anywhere?) and nail that hypnotic build that they do so well. Each song here is clearly Tool but it's more Tool than usual. In a world where Soen play Tool-esque material almost as well as Tool ever did, this is Tool squared for emphasis.

On my first time through, I felt that Fear Inoculum was the obvious standout track, but I'd heard it before as a single and got used to it. Other tracks blurred together on that first listen, but are finding their own voices as I listen afresh. Descending is emerging as another standout because of all the interesting things going on in its midsection, but it took me a few listens for it to come into focus. There's just so much material here to process all at once, the album running just shy of eighty minutes.

The song that ought to stand out is 7empest, as the longest track, the final one and the only one to follow the five minutes of experimental electronica that is Chocolate Chip Trip. Its most obvious difference to justify this odd separation from everything else is that it's angrier: the guitar more overt, the vocals more antagonistic, the drums more metal. It still plays with the pulsing rhythms and generates the strange patterns we expect, but it does so with a punch rather than a wave. It's a darker trip for what is really more prog rock than alt metal. Oddly it's the one song thus far I'm not finding a way into.

I wonder how this album will be received. The die hards are going to love it because it's Tool but more so. They've waited thirteen years but they've got a couple of albums worth at once and it's good stuff. However, anyone not in the fan club is going to be twice as confused by what's going on as normal and this is definitely not where those intrigued by Tool should start out.

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