Who's Afraid of Fear
by Pete Crigler
Growing up in the '90s and early 2000ís, Tool felt like they were one of the coolest bands around- the music was sinister, dark and foreboding and the lyrics were strange and odd. There certainly wasnít another band like them. Time went on and the amount of time it took to get a new record out got to be draining and sometimes miserable for fans. Finally, in 2019, thirteen years after their last disc, the band released Fear Inoculum, but was it worth the wait?
In 2006, when the band released their third record, 10,000 Days, I was a sophomore in college and had loved Tool for a while. I still think 1996ís Ænima is their high point. Songs like "Stinkfist," the title track, "H." and "Forty-Six & 2" are some of the best and heaviest music of the '90s and they all still sound great on the radio. Five years passed before Lateralus came out and itís probably their third best record. "Schism" is one of the best songs ever (one of the most complex and interesting metal songs of its era, itís maintained its intensity and heaviness as much as anything Tool had yet done) and the rest of the disc ainít too shabby either. Another five years passed before 10,000 Days was released and by that time, I was already moving on to other things and discovering new sorts of music. But there was just something about songs like "Vicarious" and "The Pot" that were just amazing, coming out of the radio at almost deafening volume.
But then there was silence...
Afterwards, frontman Maynard James Keenan started up a new project called Puscifer and he also began making wine, writing books and generally being the most prominent member of the band. The other three, bassist Justin Chancellor, drummer Danny Carey and guitarist Adam Jones seemingly retreated into the background, appearing very sparingly at wrestling events and industry conventions but that was about it.
Then around 2010, Maynard reformed A Perfect Circle and hit the road again. Between this and Puscifer records, it was believed that Tool was coming up next. The band supposedly were in the studio around 2012 working on stuff and it was believed that we would get some new music soon but nothing happened. Instead, we got more APC tours and even a new record in 2018 that wasnít all that great to start with.
Finally, sometime in 2018, Tool actually got their asses back in the studio and began tracking their progress via social media and fans got excited again. It seemed like they were finally getting somewhere. The months went on and finally around March of 2019, it was announced that an actual full-length record would be out before the end of the summer. Everyone I knew was excited in some way, shape or form. That is, everyone but me.
By this point in time, I had moved on from Tool and was excited by other, newer bands that were making their name known, like Turnstile. Hell, I was more excited by the new Imperial Teen record than I was by new Tool. Friends really couldnít understand it; how you could not be excited by new Tool, especially after 13 years?! The answer I gave was that I had just moved onto other bands and was no longer excited by what Tool had to offer. I felt that we had waited long enough and nothing was forthcoming. Other bands like Failure, Faith No More and that dog had released new records, but they had actually broken up and then gotten back together, which explained the lapse in time between releases. Tool were still together during all of this and I felt that we should have at least had a single or something to give to the fans who had been anxiously awaiting this thing. Alas, we got nothing.
In early August of 2019, the first single, the title track was finally released as a single. I was on a mini vacation at the time and was unable to check it out until after I had settled into my hotel. I pulled up YouTube and began listening. What I heard was over ten minutes of meanderance. The track had some excellent playing, as usual, but Maynardís vocals really didnít do much for me and the track just plods along without a lot of purpose. Not until about 5:15 does the song pick up and actually seem lively. Maynard seems interested near the end but it certainly didnít bode well for my feelings towards the rest of the disc.
My friends were all excited and uproarious in their acclaim for the track but I just didnít get behind it and moved onto better songs. By the end of August, the album had finally been released and it went right to number one. But I ignored it. I wasnít about to get caught up in the hype; I had a strange feeling it might turn into a Chinese Democracy sort of thing and I wasnít about to fall into that trap again. There was so much excitement about this record that when the CD hit stores, it immediately sold out. What got me about all this was the CD was selling for like fifty bucks because it came with a freakiní speaker and an HD screen with original artwork. 'Ooooh, I must have this,í I thought. Jesus, it was absolutely ridiculous. So of course, I saved my hard-earned money and spent it on better things. Anyway, the months went on, people kept talking about the record and I just continued on my own way.
Photo from Alternative Nation
Finally, two months after the record was released, I decided to go ahead and listen to the thing to see if there was anything interesting. I was again on another mini vacation, so I locked myself up in the hotel room and got to listening. Right away, I was perturbed. The album is seventy-nine minutes and the digital version was eighty-six. Come to find out that the digital contains three extra instrumentals or interludes as the band call them. Those four tracks end up adding absolutely nothing to the overall vibe of the record and just drag everything down with their pretentiousness and ridiculousness. Adding to that feeling was going into a vinyl shop during this time and finding a lone CD in the store; it was this disc and they were selling it for 90 bucks. I was outraged and pissed off at how they think any common music buyer would shill for this. Fortunately, I managed to get out of there for ten bucks and left very quickly for it seemed that the store had seen better days anyway.
Listening to the album, one gets the feeling the band threw as many ideas as they could into one song instead of making a bunch of different, sometimes shorter tracks. For example, "Invincible" is just the sound of the band jerking off and never really doing anything interesting. At worst, this feels like it would have been a B-side and a pretty crappy one at that. Another one of these tracks with ten and twelve minute running times are enough to destroy anyone physically and mentally. I just donít have the patience for long songs, perhaps thatís why I detest jam bands so much. Anyway, I found myself struggling during these longer songs.
The interludes are the worst thing about the disc and theyíre more aggravating than anything else. The four-minute plus "Chocolate Chip Trip" is the most insane of all and itís only interesting because of Danny Careyís wild drumming which dominates the track and helps keep it at least interesting. But I had a bad feeling about most of the record. A lot of other tracks like "Descending" feel like a lot of buildup for very little reward. Constantly building and shifting, the songs donít have as much bite like earlier records. At thirteen minutes, this track feels more like an endurance test than it does a metal song, or rock song, or prog rock, or whatever the hell Tool feel like referring to themselves these days.
Fortunately, I was able to find a few things on this monstrosity that I did find appealing. "Pneuma" feels like a Tool song I would have dug on earlier records. Very dirge like with the rhythm section and some swinging guitar. Has an almost "Schism" feel to it which is appealing. The songís instrumental breakdown is just annoying as it feels like theyíre trying new things instead of basing a new song around these ideas. I feel like there was probably at least 30 different demos that they went into the studio with and then transformed them into at least eight full tracks instead of multiply different recordings.
After about an hour of this madness, the only thought I had was, "Totally boring... totally boring... totally boring."
The albumís centerpiece, the closing track (at least on the physical version) "7empest" is supposed to be the grandest track Tool have ever constructed. At fifteen minutes, it basically is the ultimate test of strength and will. The intro sounds like a Christmas music box and it definitely has a lot of heaviness which is what this record has been sorely lacking. It feels like it could have been a complete song around the five-and-a-half-minute mark but no, they just keep on going. Itís definitely an opportunity for Adam Jones and Danny to show off their musicality after fifteen years and it certainly is impressive but thatís about it. I canít say it blew me away or made me feel any different about the record at all.
I decided, in my confusion about the disc, to seek a second opinion. So I asked Matt Cade, an old friend from high school and a ride or die Tool fan what he thought. He was one of the first people to ask my opinion about the title track and so I asked him his opinion on the whole record and he said, "I think the circular structure of the album culminating with '7empestí and bringing together all of Jones guitar work was extraordinary. The lyric structure of growing and maturing with the world is relatable to any adult that faces the same stresses of the realization of age and the changes around us." Obviously, I didnít feel the same way but thatís the great thing about having differences of opinions on music in this day and age when everything is homogenized, processed and shoved down our throats within an inch of our life.
Ultimately, while the album wasnít a full-on Chinese Democracy style debacle, it was still colossally disappointing to this listener and showcased that it really isnít worth getting superpsyched for most records because if theyíre going to be like this, then there will be a lot of disappointment in my future. Fortunately, this year has seen some great records from the likes of Sebadoh, Pup and Slipknot, among others so thereís still plenty of great rock music that will get me excited. It leads me to hope that if System of a Down or Rage Against the Machine ever get around to releasing new material, they wonít take this same path and will create something that wonít test their fansí patience.
Also see our 2016 article about Tool
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