In that span we’ve seen bands rise and fall; pop stars come and go; trends shine and fade. Thirteen years, in the lexicon of pop culture, is an eternity. None of which matters to Tool. None of which should matter to Tool. They’ve always done precisely what they intended to do. Even if that means waiting 13 years to release new music.
The Tool drought we’ve been in since 2006’s 10,000 Days officially ended today with the release of the title track of their upcoming album, Fear Inoculum. It is a song that is as familiar as it is new, a sprawling 10-minute progressive epic that is, if nothing else, Tool doing what Tool does.
In a certain sense, “Fear Inoculum” plays out as a kind of Tool best of. The band seems to have unraveled the tapestries of their past and woven pieces of it into something entirely new and different. Long time listeners will notice elements from the band’s history laced throughout the new track, be it a familiar riff or rhythm, a tonal similarity, or even in the musical progression of the track.
Witness the drumbeats near the 5-minute mark, which recall the world expanding rhythms of “Reflection” off Lateralus. Or the noodling around minute 6 which sound more than a little like the rising climax of “Pushit.” And it’s certainly difficult to not notice how the thunderous conclusion bears more than a passing resemblance to the conclusion of “Ænema.”
Rather than being a case of mere self-cannibalization, however, we see a band in the midst of exploring who and what they are. It’s a wondrous deconstruction of the Tool oeuvre that finds guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor, and drummer Danny Carey seeking a new understanding of themselves and their history and synthesizing it into something else entirely. Each get the opportunity to reexplore and reconfigure their most memorable moments against a layered backdrop of new sonic intensity.
Lead singer Maynard James Keenan, meanwhile, sings and intones in turns, creating a meditation against the “contagion” of fear. It’s tempting to cast this in the light of our current cultural point; it certainly feels fitting today. “The deceiver says, he says, you belong to me, you don’t want to breathe the light of the others,” Keenan chants, in time to Carey and Chancellor’s pulse-pounding rhythms. Given the cultural divisions that have arose in recent years, how could we not conclude this to be some kind of a political statement?
Fear, however, has always been a driving factor for most people. And always will be. Fear has led us to where we are right now. Fear will continue to drive us away from reason and light, regardless of where we are as a culture. In that sense, there’s a timelessness to the lyrics that apply to all of us. “Forfeit all control, you poison, you spectacle,” he sings, reminding us how easy it is to succumb to our worst selves. “Unveil now, lift away, I see you running, deceiver chased away, a long time coming,” he concludes. Poignant as it is now, in this moment, to know we can control our fear and chase it away, the message is larger and deeper than the present.
While difficult to fully judge outside of the context of the full album, “Fear Inoculum” is a delicious appetizer as we head into the final weeks of waiting. It’s Tool doing what Tool does best, and the perfect reminder for both us and the band of what it was we’ve been missing these past 13 years. Full of complexity and hidden delights, we’ve been given quite a bit to chew on between now and August 30, when Fear Inoculum is finally released in full.
Fear Inoculum will be released on August 30. You can preorder the album here.