Tool’s first album in 13 years opens like a grievous European symphony drawn in electronic tones; what sounds like the chiming of a hammered dulcimer enters alongside Danny Carey’s tablas, which tag-team with kit drums, heavy electric guitar and bass. Maynard James Keenan, his voice still striking youthful — he turned 55 last spring — sings in prayer-like tones about contagion, venom, and immunity; about mania, spectacle, and exorcism. As Adam Jones’ phase-shifted guitar tones alternately suggest Turkish funk and Norwegian metal, the track unspools, building to a bonecrushing, double bass kick-drum-powered finish.
So yeah: Fear Inoculum is a very good Tool record. But what does a Tool record mean in 2019? Economically, it seems, plenty: Forbes predicted Fear Inoculum would knock Taylor Swift’s Lover off the top of the pop charts in its first week. That may sound surprising, but Tool’s success has always been aberrant, even in the ‘90s heyday of nü metal they came up in, their proggy musical constructions, visual panache, and bookish, psychedelic-philosophic steez launching them into charting singles and arena bookings in surprisingly short order. The band never appeared to care much about the mainstream music world, generally sneering at it when they bothered to engage it at all. Still, they were, and clearly remain, a pop-scale force.