Long-awaited album from Tool




Tool Dissectional/Volcano/RCA

4 stars

Arriving 13 years after its predecessor, Fear Inoculum, the fifth and latest album by American progressive metal band Tool attained an almost mythical status.

While the wait for new material was not as infamously long as Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy (17 years), the gap was wide enough that frontman Maynard James Keenan received death threats from overzealous fans who could not handle the delay.

While the band have said there were several reasons such as creative differences and legal issues for the album's long gestation period, a big factor could also be the album's complex and myriad mix of riffs and unorthodox time signatures.

Fear Inoculum is a collection of meticulously put-together tunes, an album worth listening to in its entirety. One could surmise that the prog-rock titans are making a stand against the age of instant gratification and the general music landscape's swing towards singles in place of long-form music works.

In fact, the Grammy-winning band only recently allowed their discography to be made available online, as Tool albums are crafted to be listened to as a whole and not as individually streamed songs.

Clocking in at more than 86 minutes, the 10-track album is not a work that immediately endears itself on the first listen. The main songs run from 10 to 15 minutes and even the electronic-tinged instrumental interludes average three minutes long.

Extended intros, whether it is the slow build-up of the rhythm section or intricate minor-chord guitars, are allowed to simmer before the colossal riffs and Keenan's meditative singing take over.

As compelling as his voice is, Keenan's sense of timing and pacing are also exceptional, stepping up when the songs call for it and pulling back at the right moments to let his bandmates take point.

"Exhale, expel/Recast my tale/Weave my allegorical elegy," he sings on the reflective and intricate title track, an ode to overcoming fear.

Drummer Danny Carey's polyrhythmic playing is magnificent and his symbiotic connection with bass player Justin Chancellor provides a solid anchor for Adam Jones' adroit guitar work in tracks such as Pneuma and Culling Voices.

A song like 7empest, a rock opus almost 16 minutes long, ("calm before the tempest comes to reign all over") shines with its dizzying array of riffs and labyrinthine structure.

Invincible, at just under 13 minutes, plays around with melody and structure, with each instrument seemingly making little individual detours without diverging from the song's main path.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline 'Long-awaited album from Tool'. Print Edition | Subscribe