Tool de Force
An old friend, something of a fallen poet (unless, all poets are fallen), recently recommended Tool’s 2019 prog-metal album Fear Inoculum to me, saying it was “absolutely phenomenal”—and, though I wasn’t a Tool fan before, I have to say, he was right.
A complex, densely layered, and hard-driving work, gestated over 13 years since their previous release, 10,000 Days, I find it intriguing to note that the album was released in the months just before a global pandemic would make the subject of “inoculation” (let alone the fear of untimely death) a predominant concern.
I’ve been playing the album on repeat for the past few weeks, the way only the most thought-provoking albums (and fewer of them, more spread apart, as I get older), compel me to do, with standout tracks for me including “Pneuma,” “Invincible,” and “Descending.”
A struggle between darkness and light, survival and liberation, permeates the lyrics, where also, amidst shredding guitar licks and cataclysms of percussion, the masculine warrior archetype meets the sensitive soul in crashes of cathartic release. In “Pneuma,” lead singer Maynard James Keenan invokes the age-old gnostic themes of material entrapment and spiritual transcendence:
We are spirit
Bound to this flesh
We go around
One foot nailed down
But bound to
Reach out beyond
Whereas, in perhaps a confessional moment (which some middle-aged poets, my trim self not included, might well relate to), “Invincible” captures the plight of the aging rocker:
Long in tooth and soul
Longing for another win
Lurch into the fray
Weapon out and belly in
Despite clocking in at 87 minutes, with all its main tracks over 10 minutes long, the album continues to unfold deeper layers of itself throughout its runtime, culminating in a 15-minute take-down thumper titled “7empest.” Combining instrumental virtuosity, compositional complexity, and lyrical depth, Fear Inoculum deserves not just a listen, but repeated listenings, especially by fans of psychedelic hard rock and progressive metal.