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We’ve Heard Tool’s Entire New Album Fear Inoculum. This is What it Sounds Like.

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Prelude

Last month, Vince, myself, and a handful of other members of the media were invited to a Manhattan recording studio where we were played the new Tool album, Fear Inoculum. Needless to say, there were a lot of secrecy and security measures surrounding the event: while we were naturally allowed to take notes, everyone had to sign an NDA, there were no cell phones allowed, we only got to hear the album once… hell, no one even told us what the record was called or gave us a track list until after the fact.

Given the complexity of Tool’s work, it’s virtually impossible to write a review in the traditional sense just from the chicken scratch I was able to scribble during my one listen; there are surely textures and riches that only repeat listens can reveal.

This being the case, please consider the following my preliminary thoughts on the album — not any kind of “official” assessment. Maybe myself or someone else at MetalSucks will write one of those up once we’ve had time to actually live with the album for awhile. But for now, this is everything I’m prepared to say.

With that out of the way, here’s my initial take on what we heard, track by track.

1. “Fear Inoculum”

A characteristically moody intro gives way to a song that sounds a bit like a less heavy, more melodic “Schism.” It includes guitars that sound like electrical currents, a violin, a tribal-sounding spoken word section, a healthy dose of echo chamber, and no real hook (that’s not a knock — I’m just saying). There’s also a heavier, more evil-sounding section of the song, which gives way to one of Adam Jones’ weirder guitar solos.

It’s not exactly the magnetizing first track you might hope for; unlike, say, “Stinkfist” or “The Grudge,” it doesn’t suck you into the record right away. And not that I had any way of knowing it at the time I was hearing the song, but the song begins what I think is the album’s most unfortunate trend and biggest weakness: there are a lot of riffs on here that sound like variations on the delay-laden bridge of “Schism.” It’s… odd.

2. “Pneuma”

This track also begins somewhat quietly, with guitars that almost sound like they belong in an Alice in Chains song. There are some strange, cool-sounding percussion instruments I couldn’t identify offhand, and another delay pedal-soaked section that sounds kinda like “Schism” — maybe even more so than on the title track.

Eventually, the song comes to an AWESOME (I wrote it in all caps in my notes) mid-paced heavy bit. It’s rounded out by some organ-like synths that build to a fairly classic Tool freakout.

3. “Litanie contre la Peur”

(This track was not played)

4. “Invincible”

Not only does this track have another “Schism”-esque section, but at various points it recalls “Vicarious” and “Jambi” as well. There are some slithery, grungy guitars, a chunky, heavy section, and at one point Adam Jones employs a very Tom Morello-sounding effect that gives his sound a feeling of fluidity. A section that utilizes a vocoder further contributes to this kind of sci-fi vibe.

The lyrics for this track also caught my attention. At one point, Keenan makes reference to “A warrior struggling to remain relevant;” later, he says, “The truth never got in my way before now.” The first lyric sounds as though it could be about Tool itself (although the high level of interest in this album suggests the band is in no way struggling to remain relevant); the second lyric touches a nerve because we now live in a world where the very idea of “truth” is under attack. I’m excited to be able to do a deeper dive on Maynard’s poetry here.

5. “Legion Inoculant”

This is a “segue” track and not really a song. It’s full of UFO noises, what sounds like a distant radio signal fading in and out, and kind of a Doppler effect-esque boomerang sound.

6. “Descending”

There’s a lot of weird synth sounds here (at one point I scribbled “waves at the beach”), which the band’s manager later told us were all uniquely made by Jones and not saved afterwards — so they can never truly be reproduced (I guess the live version of the song will be its own thing). Guitars plink! like stones hitting a pond, and Maynard employs a vocal effect that makes it sound like he’s underwater.

A repeated chant of “All Hail” eventually gives way to a section that is at once chunky and melancholy sounding, with harmonized vocals and guitars and what I believe was some slide playing on Jones’ part. The guitarist’s leads on this track feel emotional and inventive.

The track ends with more “ocean noises.”

7. “Culling Voices”

This song opens with ethereal, dare I say angelic synths that almost feel like they’re the build-up early on in a dance song — but then it goes quiet. The guitars that follow have the quality of gentle raindrops, and those, in turn, give way to guitars that sound Celtic (not Frost). There’s another riff that sounds kinda Middle Eastern in origin. At one point they either employ a didgeridoo or some other instrument that sounds awfully similar to a didgeridoo.

Perhaps worth noting: I wrote down both the phrases “Maynard weakest link” and “Adam Jones MVP” here. Still, at least one of Maynard’s lyrics caught my attention enough to make sure I noted it: “Psychopathy misleading me over and over and over.”

8. “Chocolate Chip Trip”

After some opening wind chimes and bell/clock noises, there’s a substantial electronic influence here — I noted similarities to both Aphex Twin and Amon Tobin. And yet, Danny Carey is the true star of this song. The drums consistently build, getting faster and louder and faster and louder and culminate in the killer use of a gong.

9. “7empest”

At least upon an initial listen, this is the album’s strongest track by far. A gently-plucked intro gives way to a heavy, evil, and elastic-sounding riff over rolling drums and a stuttering Maynard, who at one point tells the listener that “Our tempers must be just that.”

As the song progresses, it gets heavier, and heavier, and heavier — it is definitely the most metal track on the record. There’s another “Jambi”-esque riff, only it’s considerably faster and sloppier sounding than “Jambi” — the phrase I wrote here is “Like a punch in the stomach.”

There’s also an incredibly weird guitar solo. I mean that as a compliment.

I wouldn’t be shocked if this was the first single from the album. Looking around the room, everyone was rocking out to this one, and hard. Honestly, it was the only song that gave me that electrifying “HOLY SHIT THIS IS NEW TOOL!” feeling that I’ve so desperately craved.

Which brings us to…

10. “Mockingbeat”

Which is another segue track that most fans won’t consider a real song per se. At various points it’s got jungle noises, what sounds like a whirlwind, some hip-hop beats, and, finally, siren-esque sounds.

And then the album is over.

Conclusion

As you may have guessed from the general tone of my notes, my first listen to Fear Inoculum didn’t quite knock my socks off the way Tool albums have in the past. But there’s a lot going on here, and as I said in my intro, I’m confident that only with repeat listens will anyone truly be able to grasp the record. I don’t know if time will make me love Fear Inoculum to the degree that I love the band’s other albums, but I look forward to spending a lot more time with it once it’s released on August 30.

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