My Thoughts on Tool and Review of Fear Inoculum

It’s 2019 and the unthinkable happened: after thirteen years, Tool released a new album.

Much like Guns N’ Roses with Chinese Democracy, Tool’s newest album, Fear Inoculum, was long-awaited and followed with a very excitable release – Tool’s catalogue was finally on streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music, the special edition was going to be something different, and now there’s hype that Tool will out-perform Taylor Swift’s new album, Lover. Like, holy moly. It’s Tool, folks. This is supposed to be exiting, right?

Well, yes! For everyone, Tool’s back and going to be better than ever! Heck, Tool is so big, they’ve still been selling out arenas based on their back catalogue. That’s a big deal, no?

Before I divulge you all in my opinion of Fear Inoculum, let me first give you my history with Tool. (My blog, my rules, y’know?)

The Band that Started it All

If it wasn’t obvious from my previous posts of my favourite albums, I love both heavy metal and progressive rock. The way I got into music was a bit on my own. I got into Stone Temple Pilots when I picked up the bass guitar and was blown away (and still am) by their bassist, Robert DeLeo. From the hard rock of STP, I fell into Tool. To age me, Lateralus came out when I was in high school – grade ten. I hadn’t heard bass like the intro to Tool’s Schism before and had to learn more. Tool was on the radio and I definitely took the plunge.

Tool became my go-to band for two to three years. They were THE band that introduced me to heavy metal. I understood Metallica existed, I got Black Sabbath, but Tool was just so relevant to me at the time. I was a starting musician wanting to learn more. I certainly wasn’t going to find bass from Metallica, and definitely not from “going back” to older songs (boy, was I ever naive). Tool had what I was looking for, and I dove in hard.

I was very arrogant with my knowledge of Tool. Not only did I think they were the best band, but I made sure others knew. I remember specifically saying how Danny Carey was a better drummer than Neil Peart because he used less drums than Neil and could sound “bigger.” I know! I cringed while writing that, let alone re-reading it. But I was young and impressionable. It’s what I felt. I went out and bought Tool t-shirts and blasted their albums on my CD walkman I wore on the bus. I made sure it was extra loud so others on the bus could hear how great the music was. Yes, I was one of those kids.

But where does Fear Inoculum fit in?

Embarrassment aside, Tool ultimately helped me learn about even heavier music. I went from Tool to Opeth, to Carcass, and the rest is history. I will always argue that Tool is a gateway band into something heavier.

However, I really dug into the Tool philosophy. I went onto the website regularly and read up on all of the beliefs of the band or what the songs were about. I wasn’t just a fan of the band, I was a believer. I connected to Tool on a much more deeper level than anyone else I knew could have. I mean, they were talking about philosophy to someone who was 15 years old. How couldn’t I get addicted to them? They were so much more than just a band.

I finally scored tickets to see them live with my dad.

The Tipping Point

It was August of 2002, and Tool performed at Copps Coliseum (in Hamilton, Ontario) with Mike Patton’s (from Faith No More) Tomahawk opening.

I was really excited to go. I wore my Tool “pill” shirt and joined the masses at Copps to enjoy what was most certainly going to be the show of the year. I had already been spoiled with seeing bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and Linkin Park before. Surely Tool was going to give them a run for their money.

The show started and Tomahawk began their performance. About halfway through, the audience started to boo. I mean literally shouting “BOOOOO” at them. Stuff started getting thrown on stage. By the end of Tomahawk’s set, it felt like half of the arena was booing them off. I remember turning to my dad and asking him why people were booing. He didn’t know either. The only thing we could think of was that they just weren’t Tool.

Tomahawk put on a great performance and show. I wasn’t into their music at the time (and certainly hadn’t heard of them up until that point), but they most definitely weren’t worthy of getting booed off the stage. In fact, Mike Patton said about the tour,

Compared to the studio, Tomahawk’s live presentation pulls no punches. ‘It is probably a little bit nastier and a little more poke-you-in-the-eye vibe,’ says Patton. ‘When you are in a situation like this, it is very easy for the people to sit back, eat their popcorn and cotton candy, and ignore you. We’re trying to combat that.’

As a Tool fan, I was embarrassed. I felt that Tool certainly would have said something about disrespecting Tomahawk when they came on stage. Spoiler: they didn’t even mention or thank Tomahawk for performing.

Tomahawk left the stage. Twenty minutes later, the stage went dark. A chugging, familiar bass line began. Tool opened with their big single, Sober. I got chills, and so did the thousands of people around me. You could tell the mood had changed. When the lights flicked on, I could see the band on the stage; them all just standing there. . . . . . vocalist Maynard Keenan with his back to the audience, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor standing motionless, and Danny Carey rocking out – the only one who seemed to have any energy to the show. What was going on?

It wasn’t to be a metal show, it was to be an experience, I thought to myself, suddenly feeling a bit underwhelmed, trying to justify what I was witnessing. Sober ended. The Grudge began, followed by Stinkfist. Solid songs, but really lacked dynamics from the band. In fact, look for yourself. I found the whole show. Enjoy.

Tool was performing, but I really couldn’t get into it. But the audience was. They were screaming their heads off to every song. I mean, I knew the songs too, but Tool really wasn’t reaching me during their show. Despite reading the philosophy and digging into the band, I felt left out. And I’m not sure exactly when it clicked that night, but I looked out to the audience and saw everyone with their t-shirts on. “Tool” it said. I was with them. I looked back to the stage and saw Maynard, his back turned to us, and the band not really giving much “oomph” to their performance.

It hit me as I realized the clever double entendre marketing-style the band had been using. We were the literal “tool” and also a literal paycheque to the band. By all means, yes, that’s the music business – but I felt Tool was trying to be so devious in hiding it and I just “woke up.” It was that night, watching the band I loved play live, that the philosophy they tried to teach through their music kind of melted away – and I felt like I saw Tool for the sellouts they were.

And holy moly, before you guys start: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was in my personal experience that Tool had betrayed me. That I was literally just a tool for them to get my money. Their “experience” didn’t work on me. Did I go home and throw out all of my Tool albums? Heck no, they’re still on my CD shelf. The band still wrote great music. It’s just that I felt that what they did to not just me, but to their audiences – it wasn’t just a band. Tool hit me like a musical version of Scientology. A religion of music, based around their philosophies and beliefs. “Experience our deeper music this way. If you don’t get it, then too bad – you don’t get Tool and we didn’t want you anyway.”

Only I did. They were my favourite band. But I slowly waned off of them as I got into other heavy music. For the remainder of my high school years, I picked up Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, Kyuss, Savatage, Blind Guardian, Opeth, Carcass, and Kreator. I found those bands to be a breath of fresh air than the “mindset” I needed to be in with Tool. These other bands were just as, if not more complicated technically as Tool, and evoked more feelings rather than trying to have the listener “find the hidden message.” It was nice to find a way out.

After Tool came Opeth’s beast of an album, Blackwater Park

In 2006, Tool’s next album, 10,000 Days was released and was not too shabby. It wasn’t anything spectacular in my eyes. It was a nice mix between Ænema and Lateralus (I literally had the muscle memory to remember how to make “Æ.” I’m laughing to myself right now). But it was still something familiar in the “overarching” feel of Tool. “Either you get it or you don’t.”

Somehow between 2006 and 2019, Tool continued to perform arena shows that were completely sold out. They coasted on the strength of their back catalogue as it kept paying the bills. Despite not releasing anything for thirteen years, Tool would continue to tour without new music. On one hand, that’s fantastic to get oneself to that kind of staying power. On the other hand, and me being the jaded Tool fan, I felt they were continuing to milk the rest of their fans. The indoctrinated Tool fan would not dare miss a show because Tool was so much more than a performance.

Pre-Review Preamble

It should go without saying that this review is heavily biased based on everything I’ve written above. Save for Undertow, I have not listened to a Tool album since 10,000 Days was released. I have not listened to Ænema, Lateralus, and Opiate since I OD’ed on them back in high school. I am most definitely in need for a re-listen, but I feel I should be fully transparent with this review. Why?

I made an Instagram video featuring me listening to the album for the first time. It was four short videos, short and sweet.

I had six people message me their thoughts on the album, some positive and negative. In case you don’t follow me on Instagram, (which you should!), I post about albums I listen to all of the time. While six isn’t a big number, I’ve never had anyone give me as much feedback or begin a in-depth discussion about an album like with Tool’s newest.

Tool hit me like a musical version of Scientology. A religion of music, based around their philosophies and beliefs.

Fans of Tool are at the ready to defend. Non-Tool fans are on the attack. I’m a scorned ex-lover of Tool that still appreciates music and am eager to hear what the band has to offer. It’s getting glowing reviews across the board. But where do I stand?

Let’s go:

My Review of Fear Inoculum

Even after thirteen years, Tool’s newest album still carries with it both their fanbase and their sound. Fear Inoculum sonically feels like a continuation from 10,000 Days with a bit more technological play to it. Lots of samples, both in the background and with Danny Carey’s Middle Eastern drum performance, add a lot of intrigue that wasn’t necessarily as focused upon in previous Tool albums.

Unlike previous Tool albums, however, I felt Fear Inoculum had a hard time moving forward. For the first six tracks, everything felt blurred together. Certainly different grooves stood out in different songs – such as the riffing/groove around 8:30 in Invincible and the Schism-sounding grooves around 4:00 in Pneuma. Yet the variety of music felt lacking. When I heard the single/first song on the album, I had hoped the album would change from there. Unfortunately the song seemed to set the pace for the rest of the album.

Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; just after a long wait, I had hoped for more variety in Fear Inoculum like with previous albums. Fortunately the final three songs, Culling Voices, Chocolate Chip Trip (CCT), and 7empest, made up for what I felt the rest of the album faltered on.

Culling Voices was really intriguing, finally letting Maynard shine in an album where I felt he played a significantly diminished role in. It was also a slower paced song compared to the rest of the album. However, that pace wasn’t bogged down by the same sort of poly-rhythmic riffing Tool is known for. The lack of Tool being Tool was a pleasant surprise.

With CCT, I cannot help but compare Tool to Blink 182. Without drummer Travis Barker, Blink 182 would not be nearly as powerful as they are. Danny Carey with Tool is the same. Fear Inoculum’s most exciting moments were because of Carey. CCT lets Carey shine and really smacks home the Tool feel with the absolutely unnerving atmosphere he’s performing alongside with.

When 7empest kicks in, we get to the meat and potatoes of the album: the band is hitting hard and man, it’s a hefty Tool song. I could see why it was put on as the last track. All four band members are firing on all cylinders. Maynard’s getting his attitude, Adam Jones is ripping solos, Justin Chancellor is gluing the band, and Danny Carey’s doing what he does best. High school me is totally digging the song. Unfortunately for me, the final track arrived about 65 minutes too late for me.

As the album concluded though, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed as I had awaited for something to really pop-out and surprise me. There really weren’t any major headbanging moments that I found myself rocking out to or even just bobbing my head along with. In fact, I found myself sort of trailing in and out of paying attention. If anything, the album would make for good, moody background noise.

My initial feeling was the whole album reminded me of the last three songs off of Lateralus: Disposition, Reflection, and Triad. Rhythmic grooves, lots o’ reverb, and not much else to them. Aside from the three songs I mentioned above, I cannot say that Fear Inoculum is going to be making a top album list for me. While Fear Inoculum had its moments, I have to confess they’re pretty forgettable.

Production-wise, I’m a bit at odds. The album sounds like it’s straight from the early 2000s, while other moments and songs sound like they’re from an audio interface plugin with default samples. It’s strong, yet playful. It’s an interesting dichotomy for a high-level band, and something I’m actually not familiar with (or why) they would have approached recording an album this way. It’s a good kind of strange, though.

While it had some heft in some songs, Fear Inoculum is easily the least-metal Tool album in their catalogue. Is that a problem? Not at all. For me, however, it made for a bit of a lackluster release. It wasn’t a bad album, but it wasn’t a great album either. But will it impress the Tool fan? Absolutely. Because it has to. It’s Tool.

With me, however, I’d give it a solid 6/10.

Conclusion

Well there you have it! If you managed to get through all of this, good on you. I have always felt like sharing my experience and feelings about the band but never really had a relevant time to do so. Thirteen years later, here we are.

So who did I upset? Who agrees? Questions, comments, or concerns? Let’s have ’em! If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!