What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
Why You’ll Like Tool’s New Album
I told everyone I didn’t want Tool to release a new album. But when I was invited to an early listening of Fear Inoculum, their first collection of music in 13 years, I accepted. I’m a hypocrite, I know. But a very happy hypocrite whose decades of Tool fandom could not stop me from going to Sony’s New York office to hear the album before everyone else, like I’m the chosen one. Any pride, any hesitations about new Tool music, any very public misgivings were instantly vanquished by the promise of hearing this album before anyone else. I went to the listening session with zero shame.
I was beyond nervous to hear this album. I didn’t doubt their musical abilities. I doubted my emotional preparedness to hear my favorite band compose music for the first time in more than a decade. The announcement of Fear Inoculum kicked off a grief process. Flat out denial about the album even existing. Anger that a new record would pierce the womb-like nostalgia bubble I had been in the last 13 years. A brief bargaining stage where I entertained the idea that they wouldn’t release a new album or the back catalog to streaming sites. The looming cloud of depression followed me through the month of August. Finally, acceptance.
The session takes place in a sleek, modern, dimly lit conference room complete with a state of the art sound system. I pretend I’m in an ancient mystical listening chamber a half mile below the Earth’s surface. A cloaked Sony druid presents me with a plastic chalice filled with a ritual elixir named Poland Spring Natural Spring Water. A Sony high priest enters the chamber carrying a glowing tablet containing 10 audio tracks. He informs me the album is produced by Joe Barresi and has a running time of 85 minutes. He presses play.
This can’t be right. Eighty-five minutes seems short considering us humans are freed from the shackles of physical media. The 33 1/2 LP held roughly 44 minutes. CDs hold 79 minutes and 59 seconds. The maximum album length for digital releases is currently infinity. So why would Tool—a band not known for brevity only have an 85-minute album in 2019 after a 13-year wait? Maybe I misheard. He probably said 850 minutes. Or maybe 8 hours and 50 minutes. In a recent interview, Maynard said fans will need serious patience to understand and like this album. The most likely conclusion is that Fear Inoculum’s total running time is 85 days. Lucky for me, I’m a very patient person.
I’ll be honest: I liked the album. However, this won’t and can’t be a detailed review. We were only granted one listen in that room. But, a band this complex needs another hundred listens—so ask me in five weeks, then in five months, then again in five years. When it comes to great works of art, meaning changes when you do. Can anyone tell me Aenima holds the same meaning now as when you first heard it? I can’t. I was a kid. I had to ask a friend’s older brother why “Stinkfist” was considered a dirty word. Yes, “Forty Six & 2” was a song, but it was also the total number of pubic hairs on my body.
When Lateralus came out in May 2001, I was living with my parents in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I woke up at 9 a.m. and drove to the nearest Tower Records, purchased the CD, brought it home and listened on my Panasonic 10 second anti skip protection Discman. I went through a package of AA batteries in one day absorbing every moment of that album. On August 30, Fear Inoculum will appear inside our phones. It is also available as a limited edition CD, and like a sneaker head, I bought two: one to rock, one to stock.
Fear Inoculum opens similarly to Lateralus. A few seconds of vaguely machine-like noises that fade into instruments that are native to this planet. It sounded like the door ajar chime on a 1950s era UFO, persistently reminding you to close the latch because you’re letting Earth’s polluted oxygen into the main cabin. A dark, moody cello snakes its way through the first minute of the song as drummer Danny Carey, guitarist Adam Jones, and bassist Justin Chancellor give the snake its arms and legs. Enter Maynard’s voice; distinguished and angelic. This is a very Tool, Tool song. And there are nine more after this that will fill out an album in the same way a smile is currently filling out my face. It’s clear they’re picking up where 10,000 Days left off and that’s fine by me.
10,000 Days came out in 2006. I was a different person—an alcohol soaked Coachella-goer to be exact. I was front row awaiting their first performance ahead of the release of 10,000 Days. Well, the official release, at least. It had been floating around on torrent sites for a little while. After playing “Jambi” live for the first time anywhere, Maynard said to the crowd: “We can’t help but notice you guys are singing along to a song that doesn’t come out for another few weeks.” At the time I didn’t prefer the album’s softer vocal approach, but my 37-year-old ears love it now. This vocal style is very present in Fear Inoculum and it works well. Fans will always whine about how there isn’t enough of Maynard singing or how he isn’t screaming anymore. I cordially invite those people to shut the fuck up. Considering the man is in three active bands, I’m surprised he has a voice left to use let alone a great one. It’s refined, soothing, and there’s a real strength in its subtlety. On this album in particular, I found the angelic and amorous nature of it a perfect harmonious contrast to the technical, brooding sagas unfolding around it. This recipe serves up a brutal delicacy: the foie gras of music.
One of my main concerns before listening to this album (back when I didn’t want it to exist) was that I’d be too old for it now. But when Danny and Maynard said in a recent interview that this album’s themes address wisdom through aging, I was encouraged. Thirteen-minute songs about lower back pain in a 7/4 time signature? Sign me up!
As far as lyrics about growing older and wiser, I couldn’t get a clear sense of that after only one listen to Fear Inoculum. Give me 50 more. Speaking of growing up, it was nice to hear “Descending” as a full fledged adult song. It feels like just yesterday I was watching little baby “Descending” at a Fresno, CA arena show crawling along as a one-minute instrumental jam and now he’s all grown up into a sprawling, 13 minute epic. Danny ‘Release the Kraken’ Carey’s exceptional percussion is at the forefront of this album’s mix, leading the charge. He draws from world percussion sounds to something you’d hear in Middle Earth—and at 58 years old, charge he does. If he agreed to a DNA test the results would prove my long-standing theory that his great, great grandfather was the subject of Pierre Denys de Montfort’s 1801 painting, ‘Colossal Octopus.’ Justin’s alluringly off kilter bass keeps everything connected. “Descending” builds to a glorious conclusion reminiscent of one of my favorite 10,000 Days tracks, “Right In Two.”
At this point, I was afraid to blink because I didn’t want Fear Inoculum to end. “Chocolate Chip Trip” is by far the most intriguing song title due to its aggressively normal sounding name. I mean, the whole title is in English and I can pronounce it. It’s a fun 5-minute roller coaster ride through Danny’s drum kit something primarily reserved for the band’ live shows. I also really want some cookies. I shouldn’t though. I bet the theme of this song is about how much harder it is to lose those few extra pounds. During the Aenima era, I could down a sleeve of Oreos for breakfast and burn every calorie by lunch. As of today I’m still trying to shed two pieces of apple pie I had during Thanksgiving of 2017.
My favorite track, the track that made this whole wait worthwhile is “7empest.” It’s Tool’s entire musical trajectory in one song. Fifteen searing, unforgiving minutes of Opiate, Undertow, Aenima, Lateralus, 10,000 Days, and Fear Inoculum packed into one solid punch to the throat. They can call it “7empest,” but to me it’s “Fear Alleviated.”
I left the mystical listening chamber and re-entered the streets of New York City. I felt a sense of ease. I loosened the anxious grip I had on my fading youth a tiny bit more. Finally experiencing that album felt like attending a high school reunion that exceeded every expectation. I was nervous going in, but everyone looked and sounded great and if I’m being honest with myself, 16-year-old me would be happy with how far we’ve come.
Being wrong has never felt so right! If one of my fears was I’d be too old to enjoy this album then admitting I was wrong is proof positive there’s some youth left in me. After all, signs of growth are signs of life. I had forgotten what a joyful sense of discovery there is in listening to a new Tool album. And there is a lot to discover. We need an album like Fear Inoculum right now—85 minutes of carefully constructed art metal to be enjoyed slowly, carefully and with an open mind. I liked it, and much like previous Tool albums, the more I listen the more I’ll like it. It will keep growing on me because I will keep growing. That is, until the next Tool album in 2050. Maybe by that time I’ll be ready.
Nick Youssef is a Los Angeles-based comedian, writer and actor as well as hosts the Occasionally Awesome podcast on the All Things Comedy network.