Art-metal legends TOOL took their time between releases in the past. There were three to five-year-long interims between TOOL's albums from 1993's "Undertow" through 2006's "10,000 Days". Yet, since that last release, there has been a whopping 13-year wait for fans. Finally, frontman Maynard James Keenan, drummer Danny Carey, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor have returned with their long-anticipated fifth album. The wait has been worth it. "Fear Inoculum" is a tour de force in prog rock, hard rock, metal and psychedelic madness.
"Fear Inoculum" encompasses seven songs. The digital version includes three bonus instrumental tracks that are also available for download to those who purchase the CD version. Aside from the instrumental numbers, every song exceeds 10 minutes in length, one of many facets indicative of TOOL's ongoing nonconventional approach to the rock music format. "Fear Inoculum" is an adventurous, involved expression that eschews their former inclusion of relatively more rock-radio inclined songs, like "Sober", now with an approach to songwriting that one would expect of a symphony orchestra. Sure, the individual songs can be enjoyed and experienced independently, but they can be appreciated greater when perceived as interrelated units within the entire piece that is "Fear Inoculum".
The album moves forward with fluidity along the masterfully crafted grooves that are reminiscent of TOOL's sounds and style of yore, but the musical constructs are arranged and performed in a way that sounds exciting and new in spite of the fact that they are a little older, a little more grey. The talented quartet has continued to grow individually and as a collective musically and, presumably, otherwise. However, there's no doubt — and there should be little surprise — that the standout performance is attributable to percussive virtuoso Danny Carey, most saliently evident on the instrumental drum exhibition of "Chocolate Chip Trip".
The members of TOOL have noticeably grown older since 2006's "10,000 Days", explaining the shift in thematic content. Their early career's witty references to perversion and science fiction, along with crude inside-joke lyrical banter, have been exchanged for lofty reflections upon their personal aging and drift toward maturity, as on "Invincible" — similar thoughts that Keenan had recently addressed last year on A PERFECT CIRCLE's "Eat the Elephant". And drastically unlike the misanthropic and arguably nihilistic yearning for devastation on 1996's "Ænima", on "Descending", Keenan grasps, with hope, for survival and unity in the face of a stumbling society. He proclaims, "It's Elementary. Muster every fiber. Mobilize. Stay Alive. / Stir us from our wanton slumber. Mitigate our ruin. / Call us all to arms and order."
Some pockets of the instant gratification, social media-obsessed generation may not have the patience to even give TOOL a chance. Yet epic metal voyages like "7empest" don't feel like they are the 15-minute-long songs that they are because they're perpetually gripping and riveting without feeling redundant. The outrageous gap between albums suggested that it would be impossible for TOOL to meet the gargantuan expectations that developed, but the legendary esoteric band has lived up to the hype by virtue of honing their improved skills and properly channeling their matured perspectives both musically and personally. TOOL doesn't sound new. However, they do sound fresh. Hopefully there won't be a decade-plus wait for their next album.