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Tool's Fear Inoculum: intricate, immersive, and thrillingly warped

After well over a decade’s wait, Tool spiral out and keep going further than ever on Fear Inoculum

Tool - Fear Inoculum
(Image: © Tool)
Tool - Fear Inoculum

(Image credit: Tool)

1. Fear Inoculum
2. Pneuma
3. Litanie contre la Peur
4. Invincible
5. Legion Inoculant
6. Descending
7. Culling Voices
8. Chocolate Chip Trip
9. 7empest
10. Mockingbeat

'Fear Inoculum’ indicates vaccinating yourself against fear, and Tool have said it’s a message to themselves to ignore critics, especially given the weight of expectation that’s built up around this record – their first in 13 years. Rabid fans have long been hounding the band about whether new music would ever come at all. 

The LA quartet wrote the album over a period of three years, but the origins go back to scraps jammed on the 10,000 Days tour over a decade ago, and there’s a meticulous complexity born of this gestation period. 

Clocking in at more than 80 minutes across nine songs, three of which are instrumental interludes, Fear Inoculum is a hypnotic prog odyssey – Tool taken to their logical conclusion. The title track opens proceedings, Tool’s characteristic tabla and polyrhythms looping over and over as Maynard James Keenan sings of exhaling his contagion. This reference to the breath flows into Pneuma (from philosophy: a person’s vital spirit, soul or creative energy), where he sings, ‘We are one breath, one word, one spark’ – a return to the theme of interconnectivity they explored on 2001’s psychedelic Lateralus

The riffs repeat in such a way that it’s like being part of an intense, shared ritual. Invincible and Descending (broken only by spacey, bass-y interlude Legion Inoculant) have been played on tour. The former, about a ‘warrior struggling to remain relevant’ – make of that what you will, given their recorded absence – is the closest thing to a conventional single, though confuses with its multiple false endings. 

Tool press shot

(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

But if Tool in 2019 feels more about acceptance and less about anger, there’s still Culling Voices, seemingly about the negative conversations with people we concoct in our heads. It builds from a whisper to a crescendo, where Maynard’s repeated yell of ‘Don’t you dare point that at me!’ brings back some of their early fire. 7empest is also scathing, littered with guitar squeals and leading with the line, ‘Keep calm, here we go again’.

For all the seriousness, there’s Tool humour at play, too. One interlude is a Danny Carey drum solo wrapped in brilliantly warped electronics – named Chocolate Chip Trip. The interlude that closes the album, Mockingbeat, features chirping birds and recalls the crickets at the end of first album Undertow.

Fear Inoculum is an intricate record that calls for you to reserve judgement until you’ve been fully immersed. It might be long (running to 86 minutes) but it’s a worthy investment of your time.