September 6, 2019

Tool : Fear Inoculum – Is stasis the new Prog?

13 Years. There’s no real point starting with anything else. 13 Years. If you were a Tool-loving crocodile who’d had a mosh-happy childhood to 10,000 Days, you’d have gone to your grave without hearing anything new from Messrs. Carey, Jones, Keenan and Chancellor. (although as a mosh-happy crocodile, whether you’d have been able to raid your crocodile pension pot for the 80 quid the physical copy costs, is open to debate. Maybe if you’d had a bit part in Crawl…)

Anyway, 13 years. Longer than the Beatles were in existence. Long enough for the hype around the release of this album to have reached pre-apocalyptic proportions. And here it is. 7 tracks, and three pieces of typically Tool-esque ephemera – although the jury’s out on whether Chocolate Chip Trip counts as the former or the latter, what with it being a drum “solo” with added 8-bit sequencing straight from the 1980’s video game era. The other 6 tracks all comfortably over 10 minutes in length. Sounds like prog-metal heaven? Well…..

After a couple of spins, one can’t help a somewhat languishing sense of “is that it?”. It’s as if Tool’s music is no longer about anything much other than sounding like Tool – there’s nothing here that would have been out of the ordinary on 2001’s Lateralus, except that in 2001 Lateralus was a game-changer in the way intelligent metal music was made, and received. Not for nothing was that album termed metal’s “OK Computer”. So to hear an awful lot of those riffs once again in tracks like Pneuma, Invincible, and Descending is something of an anticlimax, even though they’re immaculately executed, and beautifully arranged. It’s funny really – a lot of the time in any given online forum you’ll hear fans bemoaning their “favourite” band’s new release with the familiar refrain “why don’t they go back to sounding like (that album from 15 years ago I really liked)?” To which we now have a putative answer – “Because when they do – it sounds like nothing new”.

However, several more listens in, one comes across a different perspective – it sounds like Tool, and maybe that’s enough. Maybe the band have found a plateau where they are entirely comfortable with what they do, and the point therefore isn’t to branch out any further, but to concentrate on an iterative rather than progressive approach to their music. And listened to using that mindset, this is a band who have very much finessed what it is to be themselves. So the developing riffs of Descending, and the controlled maelstrom of 7empest, do have large swathes of early work within the grooves, but played and emoted with the sort of confidence and elan that comes from being supremely confident in who they are, and with a mindset of having not one iota of necessity or willingness to compromise for anyone or anything.

For me, the standouts are the lilting vocal of Culling Voices, whose gentle introduction recalls the best of early A Perfect Circle, and reinforces a much more mature Maynard Keenan in terms of both content and delivery, and 7empest, which concludes the album with cold controlled fury – and something of a tour de force for Adam Jones.

Available now on streaming services – I got mine via Apple music so at least the band will see a smidgen of money, actually who am I trying to kid? Of course they won’t – and if you are lucky or stupidly affluent (probably both), a limited edition video-screen toting lots-of-artwork at an eye-watering £80. Presumably there’ll be a normal copy at normal-person prices imminently.