About four minutes into the first track of my first listen to this new TOOL album, Adam Jones’ electric guitar started to gather some steam, putting together a thick riff that seemed not so much plastered onto the rest of the band’s groove but funneled up into it like some aquiline tsunami force of the coast of LA. And I thought to myself, “God I love TOOL.”
But here’s the bad part. I think they heard me.
And I know I’m holding them to a high standard here. Specifically, I’m holding them to the standard of Undertow, Aenima, Lateralus and 10,000 Days, each of which I own on CD. But from the way everybody is sounding I seem to be the only one doing this and everybody else is holding them to the standard of, like, Five-Finger Death Punch (who tend to not quite have the sense of humor of Theory of a Dead Man, in my opinion).
It matters that TOOL’s old albums are good and it doesn’t. In the 2010’s, TOOL HAVE those albums not only to boast about but to use as an influence for the material on their new record. They are a luxury in which the musicians may indulge, for their new project, as well as a token of past successes. And this is exactly wherein the musicians here fail — in Fear Inoculum TOOL have gotten together and BELTED OUT a quintessential TOOL album. They just haven’t given us an album that bespeaks any NEWFOUND artistic vision or progress.
More or less, all of the typically leveled negative criticism about Lateralus (an album from 2001 which I happen to like) you tend to hear earmarks something close to what I’d pledge against Fear Inoculum, on the whole. It’s long-winded (the opening title track jogs in at 10 minutes and really doesn’t conjeal to any theme or climax whatsoever), it’s gimmicky and it’s selfsame. Danny Carey picks up about where he left off on the band’s old stuff, with complex, gently undulating rhythms played on tom, bongo and very low-pitched, grandiose snare, with one frankly pointless foray into grind at the end of track one. The feel of the music is one that suggests they’ve cut themselves off from the world and ceased development as people (which of course would be kind of understandable and even commendable given the subject matter of “Aenima”). Plus there’s the fact that the song ends exactly the way “Eulogy” does and even half of TOOL’s tracks in general, those forced power-chord stabs protruding past the song’s end of percussion, which granted was a clever enough technique at the time, now sorely worn.
2019 has literally been arguably the best year ever in metal and I can’t overstate the fact that it’s just not TOOL coming with the true intensity and originality within this style  (genre? subgenre?) “Pneuma” again opens too slowly and features those clichéd bongos like some attempt at a spooky horror movie feel when you know the only person in the next room is your mom reading Margaret Atwood. “Pneuma” finally snowballs into something sort of cool, with emphatic power chords played prominently on Adam Jones’ guitar, but it’s so simplistic that it’s almost like a metal etude and no sign manifests of any inspired vocals or memorable lyrics on the part of Keenan, who has to be the catalyst behind this ship or it surely sinks. The last straw, following some two-minute French-entitled interlude, was “Invincible,” which was anything but that, stretching out to the grotesque length of 12 minutes but coming in so drone-y that the whole thing is just ridiculously “rock opera.” If TOOL were going to give us a successful rock opera in 2019, like they’ve arguably done already four times, it would have to be faster and more intense, and again to a greater extent spearheaded by Keenan. This stuff just seems like they’re practicing and not really having fun at it, either.
 I prefer to think of metal as a style within the genre of rock but boy you wanna see some water-cooler toting sweet-boys come at you for their mama, try telling that to some hypersensitive metalheads on Loudwire’s Facebook feed.