Back with new music after a 13-year hiatus, the legendary metal band is as precise and devastating as it has always been.
“To hear a Tool song for the first time,” said Henry James—last night, in my dream—“is an impossibility.” Phantasmal Master, I think I know what you mean. Tool music, with its long, magisterial patterns and ever-tightening curves, its helical risings and huge breakdowns, its floating grids of chug and its steppings-off into the sublime, its boring bits and its thrilling bits and its bits that sound like other bits, is not susceptible to instant appreciation. Once is not enough; with Tool music, once won’t work. The sources of its power are in ritual, repetition, restatement, rubbing your nose in it; in a complexity that becomes—on the 10th or 10,000th listen—incantatory.
So the odyssey I made earlier this week, from my home in Boston to the Sony office on Madison Avenue in New York, to hear the long-awaited new Tool album Fear Inoculum (debuting August 30), to hear it once, and then write about it, was in a sense preposterous. Fine with me: I love a preposterous odyssey. And yes, it was a privilege to be perched there among Manhattan’s sweating spires, in a boardroom with big speakers, listening—after 13 years!—to fresh Tool. To quote “Sweat”: “Seems like I’ve been here before / Seems so familiar / Seems like I’m slipping / Into a dream within a dream.” But I came out of the experience with almost no language. The five feverish pages of notes that I took are, it turns out, completely useless. Maybe not completely. “Winding intestinal solo ...” That’s not bad. “In the decay of a chord the tablas start up ...” That’s a decent observation. And I got some of the lyrics. As for the rest: gibberish.