Tool return after 13 year hiatus with a callback to 90’s metal, “Fear Inoculum”

Cover of Tool’s “Fear Inoculum”. Photo courtesy of

Cover of Tool’s “Fear Inoculum”. Photo courtesy of

After 13 years without an album, one of the essential bands of the 90s and 2000s metal and progressive rock is back with an appropriately powerful and unique album in the form of 2019’s “Fear Inoculum”. 

The album is an enjoyable melding of rock and metal styles and a perfect return album for Tool fans who’ve waited over a decade for new content. It combines the hard instrumentals of metal drumming and metal guitar with often-soothing vocals from lead singer Maynard James Keenan to create a metal album that’s simply Tool. It also ends up feeling accessible to new listeners as well as long time fans.

The one hour and 26 minute version of the album, the digital version, features three additional tracks: “Litanie contre la Peur”, “Legion Inoculant” and “Mockingbeat”. This leaves the physical copy with seven songs and the digital with 10. This shouldn't concern physical copy fans, however, as all of the album’s best tracks made the cut for the physical edition.

The album’s title track, and first track, begins with a ringing bell. At least that’s what it sounds like at first. After the first few rings you realize it’s more like the scratching of a guitar string. Then a progressively faster drum beat brings you to the vocals, which begins two minutes into the track. This is a major theme in the album, which features tracks as long as 10 or 15 minutes, but also two tracks that barely pass the two-minute mark.

The track’s vocals are haunting and soft at first but grow in intensity as the song’s instruments grow more hectic. The track goes back and forth between these calm, melodic stints and more gritty bursts, flowing back and forth as well as any could hope. In total it’s the kind of song you could focus on or put in the background and still connect with. 

The difference between a good and great album often comes down to track organization, from the get-go it’s clear Tool are on the right track.

The seven track version of the album ends with one of the album’s best, “7empest”, which is the second-to-last track on digital. “7empest” brings some of the hardest guitar playing of the album and is in many ways a playing ground for guitarist Adam Jones and Bassist Justin Chancellor to show what they can do. Both duel back and forth throughout the record and manage to tell a story despite the minimal vocals on the track.

When Maynard James Keenan does appear it’s often to deliver brief but gritty vocals, like a short chanting of “A tempest must be just that” at the beginning of the final third of the song.

At just over 15 minutes in length, “7empest” is a powerful show of force at the end of Tool’s big return to the world’s stage, showing that age and distance between its members haven’t robbed the band of their ability to tap into the heart of metal itself.

“7empest” is one of those tracks that you can’t control once you start it. It’s a song on a mission and only one way of completing it. It’s quintessential Tool, quintessential modern metal and a perfect way to end this album.

If you’re an absolute metal-head that listens to every corner of the genre, “Fear Inoculum” will likely feel like a calm middle ground, nonetheless highly listenable. If you’re unfamiliar with metal but generally like the range of rock music, “Fear Inoculum” will be a slightly out-there proposition for you. 

If there’s one thing that should be said, it’s that Tool aren't reinventing much here. “Fear Inoculum” sounds like Tool always has. If that’s a deal breaker for some, it’ll likely be a cherry on top for others. It’s fair to say Tool’s newest work is doesn’t wander much into what some might call “Metal that will make your parents nervous” territory. Friend or foe to metal, give this album a chance and it’ll be worth the time.

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