There comes a point in a person’s fandom where one just stops caring. You get older. You move on. You become someone different. Tool – the Los Angeles progressive metal band, but really, so much more than that – have never faced such a problem.
It’s now been 13 years since the band released their seminal fourth album ‘10,000 Days’, named thus, it’s believed, after the amount of time singer MaynardJames Keenan’s mother lay paralysed prior to her passing. It’s been 13 years in which the band’s absence has been explained away by legal troubles (essentially a dispute over artwork credits, but in typical Tool fashion, more complicated than that also) and, bizarrely, scooter accidents (two undisclosed members having accidents that curtailed scheduled “jamming time”).
And yet few within their fanbase ever lost hope that the band would return. That hope was a fair investment; here, then, is album five, ‘Fear Inoculum’.
Truth be told, Maynard James Keenan could have set up a webcam, sat squat in front of it, pushed an egg out from the cheeks of his arse, and said, “there you go, the fifth Tool album”, and fans would have celebrated the arrival as ‘genius’. This is what happens when you’re a band that matters. This is a band, remember, who, for their debut music video ‘Hush’, strapped Parental Advisory stickers across their genitals and duct tape across their mouths in protest against censorship of music. Who, upon learning a venue they were due to play at in 1993 was owned by the Church Of Scientology, spent the entire show with Keenan not singing, but repeatedly walking up to the microphone and saying “baaa” like a sheep. Whose third album ‘Lateralus’ featured a song, the title track, written to the Fibonacci Sequence.
‘Fear Inoculum’ is an album – an important album, deemed so just by virtue of the logo on its sleeve – that people have made their minds up about before it’s even been heard. Like everything Tool have put their name to in their three decades with us, it’s also so much more than just an album. The more you invest, the more you let the songs engulf you. It’s also not everything you might have been expecting. In places, it’s a languid, blissful work, featuring perhaps the best collection of vocals that singer Keenan has ever committed to tape, with many lines exiting the vocalist’s lips closer to the honey daubed croon of Keenan’s ‘other’ band (or one of them) A Perfect Circle than the coarse rasp of yore.
Take ‘Invincible’, all stuttering, muted bass, with the singer’s roar at the helm of it all, steering the song through its tumultuous run time. See also: ‘Descending’. The human singing the words atop guitarist Adam Jones’ atmospheric tones sounds more like angel than man.
It’s often said that Tool are a ‘thinking persons metal band’, a quote attributed to Australian journalist Patrick Donovan, with the quote continuing – quite sublimely – thusly: ‘Cerebral and visceral, soft and heavy, melodic and abrasive, tender and brutal, familiar and strange, western and eastern, beautiful and ugly, taut yet sprawling and epic, they are a tangle of contradictions.’ This assessment remains true, though modern metal – Astronoid! Khonsu! Sleep Token! Loathe! – is full of bands who’ve not so much pushed the envelope but made a concertina out of it.
Perhaps in 2019 Tool are better described as a feeling person’s metal band. Consider the electronic soundscape of the title track, the post-post rock of ‘Pneuma’, the epic swell of closer ‘Mockingbeat’. All this cajoles the opinion that ‘Fear Inoculum’ is perhaps the Tool album for which the people who made it have relied on their hearts more than their heads.
The days, months and years will reveal more about the new record. As with releases previous, there are wrinkles that will only emerge after the record is lived with and absorbed. But if you’re wondering whether ‘Fear Inoculum’ was worth the wait, then the answer is yes. If you’re wondering whether it’ll touch your heart, soul and spirt, the answer is also so.