"Fear Inoculum" (RCA Records; 2019)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Christopher J. Kelter was wrong. In his 2006 review of "10,000 Days," he said it would be 2011 before he reviewed a new Tool album. He was off by about eight years and he's not reviewing it, I am.

As wrong as Mr. Kelter was, I was more wrong.

You see, in all my years of being a music fan, and there's a metric shit ton of them, I never paid any attention to Tool. I made the assumption (and you know what they say about "assume") that Tool was an industrial band. You know. Tool. Like you'd use on a machine. Not only was I wrong, I was stupid. And it took me until "Fear Inoculum" to discover that.

The release of this album was a big fucking deal. Rumors of its existence caused the Internet to go mad; the announcement that it was real flipped the music industry on its ear. Its first week's sales, at about 270,000 copies, knocked a music giant off the top of the charts. This was a big fucking deal!

So I was thrilled when a copy showed up in my inbox for review, and I sat and I listened and I was educated.

For the three of you who don't know, Tool is not an industrial band. That being said, I'm not sure how to describe them. The music is atmospheric and mind-expanding. Sometimes it's heavy as hell and at others it brings to mind the art rock of Pink Floyd. It's progressive and damn near perfect. I don't think I've ever heard a more precise recording in my life.

But "Fear Inoculum" is also challenging and deep. Much has been said about the strength and brilliance of the lyrics and, honestly, I haven't paid that much attention to those yet. I'm still letting the music wash through the gyri and sulci of my brain. It's just so pure and so beautifully executed.

All that being said, I know Tool--and "Fear Inoculum,"--isn't for everyone. I've seen the memes, the bad reviews, the social media posts. I've heard people call it "slabs of noise" and "self-absorbed slop." Some of those comments might be honest reviews; some are just people who hate something that's popular. And Tool, and "Fear Inoculum," are very, very popular.

So do I recommend this album? Absolutely. But not if you're looking for party rock because this is on a completely different planet, perhaps a completely different universe, than that.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the special edition CD version. At the moment, it's going for about $150 on Amazon. Why? Because the "physical format" of this CD is a "Limited Edition physical package that includes a CD in a tri-fold Soft Pack Video Brochure featuring a 4" HD rechargeable screen with exclusive video footage, a USB charging cable, a 2 watt speaker and a 36 page insert book and MP3 download card." WTF? That's a hell of a collector's edition. But it'd be nice to have a simpler version available as well (which I predict will be forthcoming).

Bottom line here is that it's probably going to be at least five years or more before we get another new Tool album. The good news is that, if history is any indication, it'll be worth the wait.

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"10,000 Days" (Volcano / Tool Dissectional; 2006)

Reviewed by Jeff Rogers

Just shy of thirteen days, the release date between “Laterus” and “10,000 Days” took five years to reach and, once this disc saw the light of day, it was practically required that you go back underground to really enjoy the dark art that these guys create. Usually, when a band takes such a long time to release a disc, many fans flat forget about a band and stumble upon their latest disc while browsing the pages of Rough Edge. And music styles change dramatically in five years. Still, Tool's incredibly loyal fan base would probably question the band's haste if an album came out any sooner than five years.

In a time when music can be downloaded in a matter of seconds, some people may not even consider how much time and effort it took to imagine, conceive and then create music like that found on "10,000 Days." Tool creates art; music just happens to be their channel. From the song structures, the technical skill and even the CD artwork (which has to be seen just because it’s so cool), Tool is the band that all others who dare step into this realm are measured by.

Five years is a long time between discs. Still, Tool starts "10,000 Days" with power and then fatefully leads you on a music quest. They don’t drag you along and exhaust you; rather they invite you to listen to and absorb their art. That is probably why Tool can get away with taking their time to release a full disc. It takes at least three years for each album to sink in and really become understood anyway.

Tool doesn’t change anything about the way they create music. This disc does seem heavier in parts such as "Vicarious," "The Pot" and the title track. After listening to this release about ten times, I kept hearing a tribal sound emerge. The guitar sometimes sounds like old Santana, but its got an original sound that's all Tool as well. 

If you’ve waited the allotted five years for a Tool record then delay no longer. It'll be 2011 before I'm reviewing a Tool CD here again.

Tool: Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Maynard James Keenan and Adam Jones.

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"Lateralus" (Volcano; 2001)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity (actually, it was more like four and a half years since "Aenima" saw the light of day) I finally got my hands on Tool's "Lateralus" and dug right into the sprawling, sonic mess. And what a glorious mess it is!

With "Lateralus," Tool defy the public's and the industry's expectations of them by putting out a CD that vigorously skirts convention and is practically as noncommercial as a CD can get (in terms of form as opposed to the way it sounds). The tug-of-war tension of the lengthy songs and short noise-scapes are nearly impossible to put on the radio. "Lateralus" is almost confrontational in its ability to jut right up against the listener's preconceived notions of what a CD might sound like. I have a funny feeling Tool wouldn't want it any other way.

The basis of the songs that comprise "Lateralus" are the hyper-kinetic, supercharged bass and drums of Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey.  Chancellor and Carey's prominence makes you wonder how the songs were written. It's as if the songs were cobbled together from disparate musical ideas, taken apart, and judiciously re-made to make the final form of "Lateralus." 

Jones' riffs aren't as exciting as they are on "Undertow" and "Aenima," but the tones and sounds he elicits are colorful and dramatic. Jones' immediately identifiable riffs are both the saving grace and the troubling aspect of the Tool sound. It's not hard to recognize Jones' six-string slinging, but he seems a bit shackled by the sound and style that he's so artfully crafted over the course of the last decade. 

Keenan doesn't scream nearly as often as he used to. In fact, Keenan is barely audible in most places, and deliberately so. It just may be that the intent of Tool was to suck listeners closer and closer to their speakers and dispense of the vitriolic wisdom they're so famous for. But that's not to say "Lateralus" is without venom - "Ticks & Leeches" matches the venom of "Hooker With A Penis" from "Aenima." On the other hand, on "Parabola" Keenan veers most closely to his adopted (and decidedly more quiet) singing style that he employed on A Perfect Circle's "Mer de Noms."

I often wonder was it really worth waiting nearly five years for "Lateralus" and often the answer is 'no.' But then again, "Lateralus" has its merits and I can usually lose myself in the artistic quagmire and the swirling maelstrom that surrounds the band's view of the world outside its cozy environs. 

"Lateralus" is without a doubt a must have for fans of Tool and should be purchased by anyone that enjoys their music outside the norms. 

Tool: Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Danny Carey, and Justin Chancellor.

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"Aenima" (BMG; 1996)tool.jpg (8874 bytes)

Reviewed by Pud

Go visit the "pipe," come back and trip to the righteous sounds on Tool's newest CD. This band is the underrated heavy band of our time. Tool is unique because they are heavy, kind of artsy, and have very deep lyrics. If you are new to Tool, get "Undertow" before you get this album. "Aenima" is more experimental then "Undertow," with fewer mainstream hits. Best songs are "Stinkfist," "Hooker with a Penis" and "Aenima." Keep it heavy.

Tool: Maynard James Keenan (vocals); Adam Jones (guitar); Justin Chancellor (bass); Danny Carey (drums).

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"Undertow" (Zoo/BMG; 1993)toolundertow.jpg (5074 bytes)

Reviewed by Pud

"Undertow" is classic Tool. Ten songs that represent everything fucked up in today's fetid world. Maynard Keenan's vocals and lyrics are the best out there today. This is the CD that produced two friggin' awesome videos in "Prison Sex" and "Sober." Musically, it is impossible to point out any song on "Undertow" that stands out. The whole CD stands out. If you like your metal "intelligent" and filled with real pain, get this CD - then e-mail me with your thank you.

Tool: Maynard James Keenan on Vocals; Adam Jones on Guitar; Justin Chancellor on Bass; Danny Carey on Drums.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Copyright © 2019 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.