Pillbox

Fear Inoculum Review

After 13 years, Tool came back with a monster of an album, Fear Inoculum. With ten songs clocking in at a length of an hour and 26 minutes, it’s certainly their longest album. It dethroned Taylor Swift from the charts once it came out, quite possibly the most glorious feeling I’ve felt in the past few weeks. A mainstream album by a famous metal band that is actually topping the charts is a rare occasion, but it shows how big the following for the genre is and how dedicated the fans are.

I was thrilled for the album. Tool has inspired a lot of my songwriting. Lateralus is one of my personal favorite albums, and I was hoping the album would be something along those lines. But on my first listen, I ended up feeling a thing I thought I wouldn’t feel.

Disappointed.

Each song on Lateralus had riffs and moments that would hit you and stick with you for the rest of the day. You hear the initial bass line of songs like “Schism” and it’s immediately memorable. I didn’t feel that same way about Fear Inoculum. Despite having songs that would be upwards of 16 minutes, I felt like I couldn’t pick out many memorable moments throughout the album. In fact, many of the songs could have been cut down by three to five minutes, and it wouldn’t have made a difference. “7empest”, “Descending”, and “Invincible” have a few of the memorable riffs, but overall, the first experience just felt fine.

What was that, Tool? You make an album after 13 years, and that’s what you give us? Of course, my expectation of what I wanted was subverted, and I wasn’t the only Tool fan who felt this way. Quite a large section of the fanbase felt a little bit of disappointment. The album wasn’t exactly what we wanted. But despite that, something drew me to the album regardless. The composition was all solid, and there was a lot to like in it regardless of how disappointed I felt on the initial listen. Tool does take some time to sit down and click with, which is a quintessential facet of progressive rock and metal. So I did that. I sat down for a second listen, this time taking away my expectations, and mentally preparing myself for the journey. I felt a different feeling this time.

Satisfaction.

Okay, Tool. I get what you’re going for. The point of it wasn’t to retread the past. There are moments that recall the past and made me ecstatic, but the sound is different. Tool has evolved, and they aren’t afraid to keep pushing the boundaries of what they can make. The songs feel less long this time around, and things seem to flow more clearly. It hasn’t fully clicked yet, and I don’t know whether the next listen will make me love it more or love it less. So I decided to give it one more go, and my feelings changed again.

Elation.

It took three listens, but I eventually loved the new Tool album. It’s a lot to take in at once. The album is so dense and has a lot to unpack. For a mainstream album, it is comparatively inaccessible compared to their previous works and other mainstream metal and rock albums. The choices were truly daring. Each part of the composition, from the little transitions to the larger scale instrumental jams, felt like it had a purpose and deliberate weight to it all, even if it felt overly long at times.

The concept of the album is also interesting. A big theme in Tool’s music is maturity, both in the lyrics and in the composition. While the music on this album is lengthy, it never feels particularly self-indulgent. The odd time signatures and polymeters all serve a purpose to the overall concept and theme of the story. The band is growing and maturing over the years, and this album is more proof of that. Even if there isn’t something that sticks out the same way riffs do on Lateralus, listening to this album feels like an experience. There isn’t a single song you can listen to without being in the mindset to sit down and truly listen to the music. It demands attention and demands you to listen to it rather than rock to it, although there are certainly many moments throughout this album where you can do both.

Tool’s return feels like an old friend coming back. Granted, I am not old enough to really grow up with Tool, but they were a defining experience in high school and were my gateway into progressive metal. Fear Inoculum is a massive piece of music, and it’s a lot more rare to see something like that become super popular now. I will be listening to this album several more times, searching for new meaning in it, and paying attention to the musicality and picking up on new things.

Welcome back, Tool.

Standout tracks:
“7empest”
“Descending”
“Invincible”