It says something about the power of Tool that, even after 13 years, four blokes who like weird time signatures and lyrics about purging, fear and flesh can nearly knock a pop star off the global top spot. At the start of August, the enigmatic prog-metallers finally made their entire back catalogue available on streaming services for the first time: every one of their albums went Top 10 on iTunes, while Sober became the highest charting song after Ariana Grande’s Boyfriend. The band realised that they had to “roll with the times”, guitarist Adam Jones said recently – although pleasingly they are still flogging such ancient-sounding artefacts as “a tri-fold Soft Pack Video Brochure” with their new album (£79.99, in the deluxe version).
It’s a different world they return to now but their fifth record makes a case for immersion in the age of distraction. Only one of their tantric chugs comes in under 10 minutes – Chocolate Chip Trip, a preposterous Whiplash-style drum solo couched in analogue synth burbles – and there are few cathartic sing-along moments. Instead, these are songs like spells, almighty whirls of riffage intended to pull you under. Most are in the great prog tradition of 7/4 timing, the effect being a hypnotic riptide as they try to out-hammer Thor.
There’s something extra-primordial about their new music. Judging by the djembe drumming and polyrhythms of the title track, Tool want us to embrace our primal selves, paint our bodies and dance around a burning pyre like it’s 7am at Glastonbury’s Stone Circle, possibly before the titular tempest of the album’s final track obliterates us all.
Perhaps that’s because, as Tool have said, Fear Inoculum is about ageing, and pondering relevancy. Certainly the track Invincible seems to question the band’s place, as singer Maynard James Keenan details a defeated “warrior / struggling to remain”. It’s as if Tool are the lumbering giant, their purpose after all this time uncertain.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Fear Inoculum is a legacy album that shows the band are not some rock relic but undisputed masters of metallic churn. And if the end of the world is nigh, at least now we have its soundtrack.