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Jeff Miers

Tool’s ‘Fear Inoculum’ is well worth the wait

Thirteen years.

An eternity, in a world where we worship the instantaneous, stuck in a Sisyphean holding pattern where what is desired is received and all but instantly abandoned in favor of the next object of desire.

We are told nothing lasts, and we take a course of action seemingly set to prove the truth of such a maxim. Seek. Find. Abandon. Repeat.

In a world where the news cycle changes multiple times during a single day, no one likes to wait. Thirteen years. Between album releases? Surely, you jest. Careers are made, broken, and reborn in less time than that. How will anyone even remember you?

Ah, but I remember. I’m far from alone.

Last week, Tool was trending on YouTube, despite releasing no new music since 2006. Ostensibly, there will be people listening to their new album, “Fear Inoculum,” out today, who weren’t alive when the last one, “10,000 Days” was released. The loyalty of – and the sheer numbers comprising – the Tool fanbase baffles the mind bound by conventional thinking. This band follows none of the rules we accept as providing the road map to success.

So what is the source of this loyalty? Why do people like me hold this band in a place slightly above and to the left of pretty much any other band going?

It’s precisely because of the scarcity that the magic, the mystique and the transportative sense of otherness have been allowed the space to take root, grow and flourish. New Tool music is rare. It’s also precious, for the very reason that it’s so rare – the people making it truly care about it as much as we, the listeners, do. They refuse to sacrifice its integrity by rushing it.

Tool – formed in 1990 in Los Angeles, and for most of the time since, comprised of singer/lyricist Maynard James Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey and bassist Justin Chancellor – is often stuffed into the cubby-hole labelled "heavy metal." This seems reductive, pejorative, lazy. Yes, Tool is a heavy band, often incredibly so, but what heavy metal band, pray tell, employs such broad dynamic range, such breathtakingly beautiful melodies, such grandiose soundscapes and settings, and such a profoundly lyrical poetry with its third eye set on mystical truth?

None.

So Tool is its own genre, really. “Fear Inoculum” could well be that genre’s finest hour. Or 86 minutes, to be precise.

Maynard James Keenan. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

This a magical collection of grandiloquent compositions. Six epics, the shortest of which hovers right around the 11-minute mark. Several instrumental pieces that serve largely as segues connecting the tracks – though the album ends with one, “Mockingbeat,” that segues into a void-like silence. These are brave compositions that compare and contrast shadow and light, atop the shifting sands of intense time-signature maneuvering. The music is at once dazzlingly complex and starkly minimalist. How is this possible?

Throughout the imaginative wonderland conjured by his bandmates, Keenan acts as both shaman and tour guide. His melodies arrive from unexpected entry points, and they do unexpected things, be they languorous or strident. The lyrics cajole, challenge, whisper, scream, plead. Their message is a unified one, in which the narrator is largely seeking truth and unity through self-transformation.

In the title song, Keenan participates in the invocation of the healing muse, aware he has embraced negativity, that the poison is eating him alive. “Immunity, long overdue. Contagion, I exhale you. Naïve, I opened up to you, venom and mania. Now Contagion, I exhale you.”

In “Pneuma,” the narrator stoically insists on a return to the imaginative self, the life-force, the creative spirit. “We are will and wonder, bound to recall – remember/We are born of one breath, one word/We are all one spark, sun becoming,” he sings, above one of the most powerful rhythmic motifs in the Tool canon.

“Invincible” proclaims the indomitability of the human spirit, even as it faces the withering effects of aging. “Descending” sounds the alarm bell for the human race, as we struggle through “a madness of our own making,” and posits an 11th hour manifesto: “Rise. Stay the grand finale/Stay the reading of our swan song and epilogue/One drive; to stay alive.”

In “7empest,” a 16-minute tour de force that clearly numbers among the band’s greatest achievements, Keenan is again calling out an unnamed deceiver, a manipulator, hell-bent on wreaking havoc: “Control, your delusion/Insane and striking at random/Victim of your uncertainty, and therefore your doubt’s not an option/Blameless, the 7empest must and will be just that/So try as you may, feeble, your attempt to atone/Your words to erase all the damage cannot/A 7empest will be just that.”

At the end of this breathtaking, immersive journey, I feel challenged, prodded into thought, exhausted, exhilarated, inspired, strangely joyful. And eager to take the journey again, to dig deeper.

This is not disposable art. It’s art that engages the listener emotionally, physically and mentally. It’s rare. And it’s precious.

Thirteen years? That’s nothing. What’s worth having is worth waiting for.

Guitarist Adam Jones. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Bassist Justin Chancellor. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

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