Time and again they seem to fall back on familiar riffs patterns and melodies

It’s difficult to attempt a review of this album without at least some examination of the anticipation and hype surrounding its release. In the gulf of time since the previous TOOL album, children have been born and started high school and the US has had three different Presidents.

Few albums – possibly none – have lived up to the kind of expectations this band’s fans have built up for Fear Inoculum. When Guns N Roses finally released Chinese Democracy, for example, it couldn’t possibly hope to assauge the hopes of the band’s fanbase, despite being a pretty adequate rock album. With Fear Inoculum, it could be the case of this being something that only fans will love. Yet both fans and other critics really seem to love it – some of them have been discussing this as if it was the best record to be released since the last TOOL album thirteen years ago.

Here’s the deal though – as TOOL albums go, Fear Inoculum is pretty average, and that’s coming from someone who used to listen to Aenima a couple of times a week back in the 90s. The title track establishes what can be expected from the entire album. At over ten minutes, ‘Fear Inoculum’ is actually one of the shortest tracks, plodding along like ‘Eulogy’ by way of ‘Sober’ with the grinding riff from ‘Forty Six & 2’ thrown in at the end, but with less of those elements that made those songs TOOL classics. Indeed, much of Fear Inoculum is wantingly bereft of the big hooky choruses of ‘Sober’, the wildly catchy mosh riff of a track like ‘Stinkfist’ or the tension/release of a ‘Eulogy’ as it rarely lifts itself out of shoegazey, minor-key plod.

Still, it wouldn’t be TOOL without some highlights, and the always dependable Danny Carey provides many of those with polyrhythmic patterns and counterpoint, off-the-beat flourishes. Justin Chancellor lays down his strident, groove-ridden bass lines as solidly as ever, steering a ship for Adam Jones’ insidious guitar melodies. These don’t leap out from nowhere now like they once did, but when they do it makes the seemingly endless, plodding jams feel like they are actually going somewhere. For his part, Maynard James Keenan brings a new depth, control and level of maturity to his always remarkable vocal style, even as he steps back here to let the band ramble on with ten minute-plus meanderings.

That in itself would be admirable if those jams actually went somewhere, or showed some side of this unit that hasn’t emerged in the past, but time and again TOOL seem to fall back on familiar riff patterns and melodies they’ve used before. It’s not beyond these guys to have done this on purpose, but for a group so forward-thinking, that would be incredibly counter-intuitive.

In reality, it just seems sort of lazy, an act almost of contempt for those who have waited such a long time for something truly special. It’s very likely that TOOL could have done much better than this. They’ve just chosen not to.

  1. Fear Inoculum
  2. Pneuma
  3. Litanie contre la peur
  4. Invincible
  5. Legion Inoculant
  6. Descending
  7. Culling Voices
  8. Chocolate Chip Trip
  9. 7empest
  10. Mockingbeat