Tool’s ‘Fear Inoculum’: One Year Later
Maynard James Keenan admitted it was a massive weight off his shoulders when Tool finally announced details about their fifth album. With 13 years passed since their previous LP, 10,000 Days, the new work faced an almost impossible battle with fans’ expectations. But there was no need for concern: With its arrival on Aug. 30, 2019, Fear Inoculum did almost all that was asked of it.
While it was known that personal, legal and health issues played some part in the long delay, band frontman Keenan suggested previous accomplishments were also to blame.
“When you get successful, you think you’re right about everything," he said. "You’re pretty sure, as that individual, ‘I am right and you are wrong.' ... It’s not that bad with us. … There’s a dynamic of ‘I want this and I’ve always gotten my way, and that’s why we’re successful, because I don’t compromise.’”
He often pleaded for fans’ patience while hinting at his own lack of it, going so far as to rap onstage about wanting his bandmates to finish their part of the job so he could add his – a lighthearted moment, but still full of meaning.
Elsewhere, he observed that the record was “fantastic eight years ago." "The hard part is accepting the fact that maybe you’re not as important as you think you are and you should probably just get on with it," he explained.
Drummer Danny Carey revealed just how much pressure Keenan was under, saying the frontman had received death threats over the lack of new music. Guitarist Adam Jones admitted to experiencing “anxiety” over the way Keenan was blamed but insisted he didn't feel pressure to deliver a record until he felt it was ready.
“We really suffer for our art – which you should do," he said. "If it’s worth having, it’s worth suffering for. We’re not trying to worry about if it’s going to be accepted or is it gonna be like the last record. You take the same path, but then go on a different path, and then just make sure the four of us are happy. It’s a reflective process.”
Listen to Tool's 'Fear Inoculum'
Bassist Justin Chancellor noted just how much suffering they’d done for their art: “Sometimes I thought we were nearly there. We’d written an album or we had some songs that were cool, and then we’d dump the whole lot and start again. It was devastating.”
Nevertheless, it all seemed to be worth it. Fear Inoculum pleased the vast majority of fans and critics, with strong performances that featured every characteristic of the band’s invention and investigation. The title track set the record for the longest Hot 100 hit in history at 10 minutes and 21 seconds; the LP set another record by locking out Billboard’s Rock Digital Top 10, and all their catalog releases returned to the Top 20. Closing track “7empest” won a Best Metal Performance Grammy. And an expanded book edition of the record arrived four months after the original release, following an earlier limited-edition version containing a screen and speakers.
Carey explained that, at one point, he wanted to release the album as one long song rather than seven tracks with three segues, but that was four years earlier when the material was in a different state. It was also revealed that one of the candles Carey lit to set vibes in the recording room nearly set fire to the studio.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic affecting Tool’s touring plans – which were supposed to include at least two years of shows – the inevitable question of a sixth album arose. Would it happen? And would fans have to wait more than a decade for it?
Carey talked up the possibility of at least an EP, noting that conditions imposed by the virus had wiped out many of the distractions that contributed to Fear Inoculum’s delay. “I’m hoping during this downtime, as soon as we’re able, maybe we’ll get together – Justin and I and Adam,” the drummer said. “Maybe start hashing out some new Tool stuff in the meantime, maybe write another EP since we’re down and we can’t do anything else.”
Listen to Tool's 'Pneuma'
Meanwhile, Keenan responded to the suggestion that some of the lyrics on the album were prophecies, dismissing the idea as “absurd.” "I feel like we’re going to go through a lot of changes," he said. "We’re going to go through a lot of growing pains – and not all of us are going to make it through those growing pains. That’s the hardest part, as a human being, to really grasp: that you might not be a part of what happens over the crest in that new valley. You just might not be there because you didn’t pay attention to the basics. You didn’t listen to the wind, you didn’t smell the air … simple things.”
He added that, rather than being prophetic, his lyrics came from “just understanding patterns and understanding human nature and where we’re going. Although they might seem specific, they’re not. They’re human experience.”
Plenty of inspiration for a sixth album, right? But Keenan’s work rate wasn’t completely to blame for Fear Inoculum late arrival. After all, he released records by his side projects a Perfect Circle and Puscifer during those 13 years between Tool LPs.
“It's a very tedious, long process,” he once said of his bandmates' approach to making music. “They're always going back over things and questioning what they did and stepping back and going back farther and going forward and, in a way, they're laying a foundation, they're putting in the footings for a house. … I can't write melodies until the footings are in place. I can't write words until the melodies are in place. I can't build walls and then start decorating this place until the foundation is in place.
"If they keep changing the foundation, changing the footings, the melodies change, and then the story, of course, isn't getting written. ... It’s just their process.”