A New Tool in the Shed: “Fear Inoculum”


Tool returns after 13 years. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Picture this: the ’90s. A music scene personifying a shift in culture, fashion, technology and, most notably, music. The musical metamorphosis diverging from the feel-good synth-pop sounds of the ’80s into an era where teenage angst against society and social norms were prevalent in the zeitgeist. ’90s icons like The Cranberries, Nirvana, Eminem, Alice in Chains, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day and even Metallica ruled the era with iron fists.

However, there was one band that would assert themselves with a sound so artistically distinct, it would change the genre of rock forever: Tool. Throughout much of the ‘90s up until about 2005, Tool produced alternative metal music that would shape the rock landscape into something that would forever evolve, never to remain stagnant again. True, rock music has been doing this since the early ’60s, but Tool relentlessly aided in ushering a new sound for both rock casuals and fans alike.

However, like many great bands, it has become misplaced by society’s changing taste. The year 2005 marked what appeared to be the beginning of the end for Tool. Nu metal held a relatively strong base with bands like Godsmack, Incubus, Evanescence, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. But the music world was not blind to the fact that hip-hop was becoming the standard for music at the time. Rap was forming a tidal wave that would seemingly sweep away rock music and rock culture as we know it. To those who believed this, you were wrong.

I do hope that anyone reading this does not suffer from a severe case of triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13), because after a 13 year hiatus, Tool returns with their latest outing, “Fear Inoculum.” The album consists of nine tracks, each one endeavoring to communicate that the sound of hard-edged grinding riffs, along with voices reeking with angst, still exists. However, after my initial listen, that’s about it. The album does not do much to truly cement Tool’s legacy as an enduring rock band.

Tracks like “Invincible” corroborate such a point when Maynard James Keenan sings, “Struggling to remain relevant. A warrior struggling to remain consequential.” “7emptest” is also a track that, instrumentally, conveys that the sound Tool is famous for is timeless, sounding fresh after years and even generations without falling flat or stale.

I did find that tracks like the aforementioned “Invincible,” and similar ones like “Pneuma” and  “Culling Voices” were the best tracks of the album. I was intrigued by the percussion work on the opening track “Fear Inoculum” and many of the other tracks, as the percussion seemed to be telling a story. A story where the rock genre is under reconstruction. Specifically, Tool as a band is under reconstruction, working harder than ever to restore what once made them glorious knights in the battle for rock supremacy. Lyrically, the album does not provide them with enough tools to win that battle, yet instrumentally, it’s a step in the right direction.

“Fear Inoculum” is by no means a terrible album. Lyrically, there is not much substance to back up the album being dubbed “a triumphant return,” but instrumentally, Tool is on the verge of becoming something great, worthy of being cherished by rock listeners and mainstream enthusiasts alike. Who knows how long it will be until the music climate undergoes another drastic transformation. Time will tell. Or, we could just wait 13 more years.