Fear Inoculum is currently #1 on the Billboard Top 200, an impressive feat especially given that it’s Tool’s first album since 2006’s 10 000 Days. But while Taylor Swift’s young fans may be confused, looking at the band and their career it’s easy to see this is no overnight success.
29 years after their inception the influential progressive metal/rock four-piece are still surprisingly polarising: haters denounce them and their fans as pretentious pseudo-intellectuals and are subsequently dismissed by stans as too unenlightened and stupid to get it.
Since 10 000 Days we’ve entered a new cultural era of smartphones and social media and can now spout our opinions directly @ anyone we choose, be they rockstars or presidents. Throughout this time Tool have remained part of the online conversation and there have been constant jokes and memes about the long wait for new material with fans using every platform to demand it. The obvious target for all this has been vocalist Maynard James Keenan who is the member most visibly busy with other projects; I’ve seen countless comments bemoaning his involvement with his 2 other bands (A Perfect Circle and Puscifer) and his career in wine-making.
It was actually Maynard’s other bands that reintroduced me to Tool. When APC released Eat the Elephant last year I went down the rabbit hole of all things MJK and the bulk of what I listened to was Tool. It’s surely one of the best feelings discovering a band well into their career and devouring their back catalogue, and something a new generation is currently enjoying; in early August their discography was finally released digitally and raked in a ton of streams and chart successes. The well-timed tsunami of hype and flood of music helped prime the listeners and charts for Tool’s ensuing takeover.
Recently Maynard shared a meme in response to their chart success: himself Thanos-snapping Tay-Tay. Make no mistake, these are serious musicians but what is often lost on the toxic fanboys is that they’re funny too. Whether you enjoy their humour or not it’s always there and I’d argue that’s a vital contributing factor to their longevity.
Sure their music could speak for itself but at some point it grew beyond that – even if you weren’t a big fan you never really forgot about them as the ever-increasing wait for new material, a collective frustrated or hopeful bonding experience among fans, became so memeable, such a solid part of the mythology of the band that whatever they eventually released would be, if nothing else, significant.
So is Fear Inoculum a good album? Danny Carey’s drum work is impeccable, Adam Jones (guitar) and Justin Chancellor (bass) retain their distinctive sound, simultaneously new and familiar and while less present than on previous albums, Maynard’s unmistakable voice remains hypnotic. Above all else, Tool have retained their ability to grow and change with every release while remaining instantly recognisable.
Whether or not you feel it was worth the wait depends on your expectations, but I’d argue the quality of the album is almost irrelevant at this point as its very presence is something of a cultural event in and of itself.