Open a newspaper from 13 years ago and there might be a story about Nintendo’s new state-of-the-art Wii gaming system or a feature on Barry Bonds’s journey to 715 home runs, surpassing the great Babe Ruth. Stories about Saddam Hussein’s death sentence and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be inescapable. And hidden in the arts section, there might be a music review (much like this one) of what many assumed would be Tool’s final album. Now, in 2019, Tool has returned with “Fear Inoculum,” an 80-minute prog-metal fever dream that proves the band is back and better than ever.
The release of 2006’s “10,000 Days” prompted Australian music critic Patrick Donovan to call Tool “. . . the thinking person’s metal band . . . a tangle of contradictions.” Now, it seems like those contradictions are unfurling, and the band’s purpose and musical execution are at their crispest and most refined.
The title (and opening) track slowly crescendos and becomes increasingly layered until it reaches an impressively mixed guitar solo at the four-minute mark. This is where a song usually ends, but this is Tool, so who are we kidding? The 10-minute track, which is the longest song to ever make it onto Billboard’s Hot 100, ebbs and flows in intensity (and time signatures) seamlessly.
The rest of the album continues in the same fashion. On songs like “Pneuma,” “Culling Voices,” or “7empest,” listeners may encounter Maynard James Keenan’s falsetto serenade and percussionist Danny Carey’s soft darbuka-inspired rhythms creeping in the background. Let 30 seconds go by, and guitarist Adam Jones will have taken the stage, battling Keenan’s yelling to see who’s the loudest. Meanwhile, songs like “Mockingbeat,” “Chocolate Chip Trip,” and “Legion Inoculant” serve as brief, synth-heavy experimental interludes — reminders that we’re not just dealing with another dull prog-metal outfit.
One of the big questions surrounding the release of “Fear Inoculum” was how, and if, the band would address the past 13 years. But it’s apparent that not much has changed for them. If “10,000 Days” gave fans a band that was scared of the future, then “Fear Inoculum” gives them one that is rising from the ashes, still anticipating the worst but more determined to make their message heard. Now, people may take them just a little more seriously.