"Fear Inoculum": A long wait for a long album
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Daniel Sanford, Contributing Writer
Think about it: what if you had to wait thirteen years for your favorite band to release another record, or even any material at all? This has been the life of the fans of Tool, possibly one of rock’s most inventive and complex acts through the 1990s and 2000s.
“10,000 Days”, the last Tool album, was released on May 2, 2006. When fans heard from them last, critics were still lauding it as if it were like any other magic that Tool would put out. Although it was less favorably received than 2001’s “Lateralus”, it still managed to draw in numerous awards and nominations, including one of two Grammy Awards it was nominated for. While Rolling Stone simply called “10,000 Days” a “prog-metal odyssey”, as Tool’s next record grew near, Alternative Press did it better justice: "As with everything in Tool's oeuvre, ‘10,000 Days’ packs enough beauty, heartache and triumph that it will be dissected, studied and envied by younger bands for years to come."
With respect to those words, “Fear Inoculum” is no different. The only way to describe “Fear Inoculum” is to call it an experience – perhaps a progressive rock experience, even. Tool harnesses all that the genre has to offer and takes it one step further. Life experience, likened to inoculation, among other things, and lucky number seven seem to be the ever-intriguing concepts the band chose to flirt with on this record; there are seven full songs, the final of which is literally written as “7empest,” and an effort was made to use time signatures based off this rhythmically strange number. This can already be easily in the two-minute introduction to the album’s title and first track, “Fear Inoculum.” Both tracks were made flawlessly, “7empest” especially. “Culling Voices” begins as a calmer but rather dramatic and emotional cut from the record, and builds into a monolithic slab of heavy metal guitars seven minutes in. For once, the band’s lyrical theme on a song is somewhat clear, and appears to address mental illness. “Pneuma” sounds reminiscent of the band’s work in the 1990s, and “Descending” has a delicious guitar solo as well as darker keyboards that you would hear only in progressive metal. You’re not missing anything massively important if you don’t have the interludes, but “Litanie contre la peur” is an indulgent, psychedelic experiment. And still, every single band member is showing that they still have what they gave fans thirteen years ago.
This album was made without a shred of regard to any radio appeal they ever had; not a single song is under ten minutes in length. Every one of the songs is divided into movements, and this alone deserves praise for the effort. As a result of this length, they couldn’t fit most of the interludes, with the exception of “Chocolate Chip Trip,” in the physical versions of the album, and are only included with digital copies. The song send to radio was the title track, “Fear Inoculum,” which probably sounds like the closest thing to a radio rock song in structure if you take away the two minutes it takes for Maynard James Keenan to sing the first lyrics.
The record’s “10,000 Days” moments also come with the lengths they go to, as well as the sounds of the interludes. While they are still listenable, titled cleverly, and definitely not bad, they disrupt the rest of the flow of the album, and just further perpetuate the indulgences the band took on “Fear Inoculum” as a whole – at one point, a band member suggested they make the album one long song. While incredibly admirable to have put something together as artsy as this record, it’s not easily accessible to many listeners, and people who don’t have long attention spans and who weren’t fans of the band beforehand will have trouble entering the fanbase with this record. If this is your first time listening to Tool, get “Lateralus” first, and then try this one. It remains a great record overall, but only for people who know what to expect from the band.