Is it even possible "Fear Inoculum" could live up to the hype? Tool fans have been waiting 13 years for these 10 minutes of headphone meditation. As the first official, studio-recorded taste of the prog-metal band's long-awaited fifth LP, the title track carries on its shoulders a heavy weight — an unprecedented pressure to deliver the goods.
First off, calm the fuck down: They still sound like Tool. In fact, the 10-minute epic couldn't possibly sound more like Tool — cycling through familiar, interwoven riffs and hinging on signature shifts in intensity and tone. The piece begins with the whooshes and dings of Danny Carey's electronic drums, building to a tabla groove (subtle shades of "Eulogy') and eerie harpsichord-like textures. The first section steadily rises: Adam Jones' volume pedal swells, Justin Chancellor's growling bass, and, finally, Maynard James Keenan's distinctive voice, rising to fill the room like weed smoke.
As on "Invincible" — another new Tool cut, which the band recently debuted onstage — "Fear Inoculum" finds Keenan contrasting light and dark, hope and destruction. "Contagion, I exhale you," he sings. "I opened up to you, venom in mania." Then, in a breathy incantation, he intones the words of a "deceiver": "You belong to me/You don't wanna breathe the light of the others/Fear the light, fear the breath, fear the others for eternity."
Around the six-minute mark, the song shifts into a more psychedelic vibe with a combo of fidgety riffs in what sounds like 11. Keenan urges us to "exorcise the spectacle, exorcise the malady, exorcise the disparate poison for eternity." And "Fear Inoculum" feels like an exorcism of our fan fears — as the track climaxes with a deluge of double-bass pedal insanity and phased-out wah-wah, we've earned the chance to collectively sigh. And then, of course, press play again.