Sunday, March 3, 2024

RAMzine Modern Classics: Tool – Fear Inoculum

Tool are a band that require no lengthy or grand introduction, put simply they are (arguably) the greatest progressive rock/metal band of all time, or certainly since their inception in 1990. If they are not familiar to you, firstly listen to both the Aenima and Lateralus, albums which are right considered all-time classics of the alternative music genre (Undertow & 10,000 Days aren’t half bad either). Following 10,000 Days the music world would have to wait 13 years for the next release. For most bands, any new release is highly anticipated, but after 13 years the expectations from the fan base were that of demanding perfection (nothing less would do). A tall order for any band, even that of the calibre of Tool.

Fear Inoculum then, not only satisfied, it totally and utterly blew away any expectations, however, it was possibly not the album people expected. There are no “hit” songs in the vein of ‘The Pot’, ‘Sober’, ‘Schism’ or ‘Stinkfist’, no songs which will hit the dance floor in rock clubs. Instead, each song is its own sprawling epic, that transcends music, transporting the listener to the higher echelon of auditory experience. It is Tool’s most mature, progressive and ambitious album, one that relies upon and has full total faith in you, the listener to do what appears to be the rarest of abilities these days, to just listen and experience the music. 

Upon first listen it can be overwhelming, the sheer scope of the album is staggering, as each song begins its cycle of existence, you end one meditative state and begin another, forgetting what came before as you become totally absorbed in the current song. Initially, as the album finishes you may recall the riffs (oh my the riffs on this album!), the mind-blowing impression that the rhythm section leaves or the glorious crescendo within each song. It’s over multiple listens that Fear Inoculum begins to reveal layer upon layer of its vast intricate tapestry, ultimately rewarding the patience of the listener as any truly great album does.

With each listen (for me) it is the journey of the song towards its subsequent crescendo that offers the most reward. As each song quietly announces its arrival and then proceeds to envelop you within the explorative passages. One note fading away leaving you simultaneously eagerly awaiting the next but revelling within the sustain. Meandering onwards within the labyrinth, with you never fully knowing when the journey’s conclusion will arrive.

Every song is unique from the others but feels so natural within the album. There is not one song that is lacking behind the rest, there is not one song which outstays its welcome or would benefit from having been “trimmed of fat”, and there is not one moment in which you are tempted to reach for the skip button. There is no “best song” on Fear Inoculum, no one truly stand-out track, that is how well the album works and the quality of songs on offer.

I have purposely not written about individual songs, highlighting moments, and explaining the unique path of each song’s evolution. That is for the very simple reason of my imploring you to find this out for yourself. PLEASE turn off your TV, computer, throw your phone out and remove all distractions. Put on some headphones close your eyes and listen absolutely from beginning to end.

James Maynard Keenan’s vocals float in like consciousness from the ether. At first, it may seem that his presence in the album takes a back seat to the rest of the band, however on repeated listens you realise his vocals allow the music to breathe, and none of his parts are forced in, it is so organic and perfectly in harmony with the music. Adam Jones’ guitar lines are, as always, unmistakable though have a grandness not previously reached.

However, it is the guitar parts that are also (again for me) the most grounding part of Fear Inoculum, providing that accessibility which makes Tool truly unique in the progressive music genre. Then there are Justin Chancellors’ bass lines, complementing perfectly the guitars and drums, providing the essential bind to Fear Inoculum. Yet as with every album he has been on, his bass segments are so unbelievably musical that they contend heavily with the guitar to become every song’s hook.

Finally, there is Danny Carey. Now I have always considered Neil Peart and Tomaas Hake to be the greatest drummers of all time, but not anymore. What Danny Carey does on this album and how it ties in so perfectly with everything else is just unbelievable. I am utterly at a loss with how to describe his performance other than his performance is the greatest display of drumming of all time.

Fear Inoculum is an album that’s magnificent on every conceivable level, it is also (are you ready?) the band’s greatest album, this is not something I state lightly or flippantly. Aenima and Lateralus are both albums I adore and for me (were) the pinnacle of progressive music in general, but Tool achieved the impossible and surpassed them both with Fear Inoculum, not only is the album a modern classic, it will become an all-time classic, regardless of genre.

It may well seem to many that it is too soon for such opinions, but I don’t feel so, even after 3 years the album only continues to grow in my estimation. Fear Inoculum is as near to perfection as an album can get.

Steve Jackson
Steve Jackson
Easy All, my life essence is fueled by music of the quality kind, be it any form of metal, pop, prog, classical even a little hippity hop. I give all music a fair listen. Outside of music my other love's are films, graphic novels, gaming, my kitties and last but not least JD!! If there is a beastly gig on you will most likely find me in the pit (my general life motto also) \m/

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