About a month ago Tool uploaded their music onto streaming services for the first time – simultaneously creating an Instagram account and actually giving us a new single too ('Fear Inoculum'), while basically signalling to everyone in the world that the 13 year wait for a new Tool album is finally over.
For a band like Tool releasing an album is an event with each move documented and commented on in internet forums the world over. Their fans are unlike any other fanbase – except for that of maybe Rick & Morty (where I’m sure there is an overlap) and each critic who comment on the album WILL be called an idiot by a fan at some point or other if they choose to make a statement on the album. Because, “what the **** do critics know anyway?” so, here goes:
It’s a magnificent experience. Three songs in I needed popcorn and I’d already written down that my writing wasn’t good enough to describe the album. The version this writer was invited to listen too was an edited 75-minute version without the various two-three minute segues that act as interludes between the tracks which appears in the full 90-minute version.
With the release this Friday imminent it led to a clearing of the diary for the night – ordering some damn fine speakers, a vinyl player and a large wingback chair, frantically searching online for a place with the most dramatic fireplace just so one can truly enjoy the full 'Fear Inoculum' experience.
Somehow this doesn’t feel like this it’s overkill - a requirement rather than a recommendation to respect the musicality and gravitas of the release.
Each of the seven movements (for that is what they deserve to be called) comes in around nine to 15 minutes long, save for 'Chocolate Chip Trip' with its highly distorted, almost Infected Mushroom-esque sound could almost be accused of being an interlude at a mere four minutes.
The songwriting is thick with imagery, long solos, sounds created by instruments that no one else really uses, ambiguous lyrics and constantly changing time signatures that will catch you tapping along out of time, even if you have perfect rhythm. The first truly old school “Tool” song (after the title track 'Fear Inoculum') is 'Culling Voices' a neurotic dialogue between the character Maynard embodies and his own psychopathy.
The whole album can be split in two between those that sound like old school Tool ('Fear Inoculum', 'Culling Voices' and '7empest') and those that don’t. The rest of the tracks, are undoubtedly still them, but has a softer touch, much less distortion in the voice, less of the heavy bass and almost subtle drumming, sans the onslaught of drums that has come to be their trademark. Descending is one of these pieces and my favourite track on the album [probably off any of the albums based on one listen] simply because of the guitar that could almost be another vocalist.
Opening with the title track 'Fear Inoculum' we hear the distinctive Tool experimentation – playing with [maybe?!] a tuning fork put through a synthesiser, some bongo drums and then the distinctive bass, and the 9 minute build up that suddenly ends leaving you wanting more.
'Pneuma' is more uplifting – almost a call to arms by the band to remind people to stand as one:
We are will and wonder, bound to recall – remember
We are Born of One Breath, One Word.
We are all One Spark,
'Invincible' is where Maynard really let’s his guard down. The use of an aging warrior motif displaying an insight into his own fears of getting old?
'7empest' the final track in the edited version of the album can best be described as a thick bucket of paint. It just has layers and layers of production – the drums, guitar, bass and voice all independently magnificent and one could happily sit and listen to this single song again and again just to take in the nuances of the musicality in it. By far the most 90s metal of the album, it has a timeless quality to it that could sit in any of Tool’s previous albums quite happily. One could go on. But already I’m past the word limit, so instead I leave you with this thought:
How Tool transposes into the more modern audiences of today will be fascinating. Typically people have short attention spans with shorter introductions than ever before – often introducing musical phrases from the hook immediately to grab the casual listener and prevent them immediately pressing “skip”. One hopes that people will give this album the time of day it deserves and understand that whilst writing this album Tool have thrown away and dumped entire albums worth of material, constantly going back over the last 5-year writing period and tinkering, rewriting, rerecording in an effort to get it exactly right.
This methodology alone means that even if you have a penchant for rock or metal you should try it.
If you’re not a fan, or never heard of them before this is the perfect album to start introduce yourself to them.
So, warm up your sofas and settle in to enjoy your first listen of the latest album from one of the world’s most legendary bands - ideally uncluttered by other distractions.
Because: trust me on this, it will hold your attention.
Words: Christopher Spring
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