Review: Tool’s “Fear Inoculum”

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Review: Tool’s “Fear Inoculum”

Garret Roberts, Arts and Entertainment Editor

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After a long 13 years with no album releases, progressive rock legend Tool has returned to the music scene with a brand-new album for fans. “Fear Inoculum,” with more than a decade of work towards it, released on Aug. 30 to high acclaim from critics across the internet, quickly rising in the charts and making a massive impact on the rock scene.

However, not all rock music is good rock music. While Tool clearly put some effort into the album, the style and flair of previous releases by the band isn’t present throughout the hour and a half album. While the album has some great songs, the overall product is disappointing at best.

The album starts off strong with the title track, “Fear Inoculum,” providing a nice introduction to the rest of the album’s tone and tempo. The track offers some interesting guitar playing and a good beat, making it a good song to turn on in the background while you work on something more interesting.

“Pnumea” does a great job continuing these positive elements forward, but starts to show some of the album’s weaknesses. While most albums would be on the third or fourth song by now, listeners will start to notice they are only two songs into the album before they start to overstay their welcome.

“Invincible,” my personal favorite on the album, delivers with a headbanging beat and great guitar work. It also suffers from an issue of length, possibly working better if it were cut in half, but changes up the sound enough to stay interesting and brings a burst of energy that the album desperately needed by the 23-minute mark.

What all these songs suffer from is their run time. Each of these tracks is roughly eight to 15 minutes long, making them a slog to get through. The same repeating beat and riffs can become annoying, quickly wearing away at your enjoyment of the song. When they do experiment and subvert expectations, it can have a great affect on the track. This doesn’t happen nearly enough throughout the album to reward listeners for paying attention to the music, making the experience dull at multiple points in the same song.

There is nothing wrong with longer songs, especially in the genre of progressive rock. Bands like Dream Theater, Pink Floyd and Rush all have long runtimes for their tracks and know how to make each one sound unique, interesting and engaging. For Tool, however, the same droning tones get grating after the second and third listen, making them a chore to have on a playlist.

This isn’t even an issue with the band. Previous albums by Tool have featured stellar songs with endless replay-ability, such as “Schism” and “The Pot.” After the prolonged break, however, they seemingly lost that flair for song writing that set them apart from the typical FYE discount-bin bands.

What the band has always suffered with, which continues on “Fear Inoculum,” is the collection of ambient noises and stock sound effects compiled in a frantic mess. The four tracks, which I can only refer to as “Tool noises,” are a waste of space on the album.

Instrumentals can be an essential part of some albums, but “Chocolate Chip Trip” has no relation to the rest of “Fear Inoculum.” The same sounds could be replicated by a toddler, with most of the track sounding as if it was random button presses on a keyboard. Once the drum line is introduced it starts to almost resemble music, but by that point most listeners will have already switched to the next song.

The digital version of “Fear Inoculum” features three more instrumentals, yet none of them add anything other than more time to the album. “Litanie contre la peur,” “Legion Inoculant” and “Mockingbeat” are all horrible, only wasting your time and making the track list look longer. These noise compilations feel less like artistic expression and more like a student struggling to get 1,000 words on their essay.

“Fear Inoculum” isn’t a complete waste of time, offering some great potential and interesting additions to the Tool library, but the execution makes the album fall flat on it’s face. The “Tool noises” and excessive run times overshadow some great guitar work and interesting beats, leading to a lackluster product.

For Tool fans, it may be worth the slog of listening to “Fear Inoculum” to find the diamonds in the rough. There is some potential in the album, it just takes some effort to find and enjoy. For casual listeners, however, this is definitely a hard pass. Tool was already a band that required a selective taste in music, and this album only makes the elusive rabbit hole much harder to find. Rather than wasting your time on a lack luster album, listen to Dream Theater or Rush for your progressive rock fix.

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