Perhaps it's a fool's errand to speak critically about Tool material not long after its release. After all, this is a band boasting releases with notoriously lengthy run times; it was that band you heard on rock radio growing up whose songs didn't conform to your measly FM edit standards -- you were either getting all seven minutes or nothing at all. As Tool's career went on, each album contained songs that could be veritable treasure troves for listeners with patience to unlock their secrets. Hell, two of the songs on 2006's 10,000 Days add up length-wise ("Wings for Marie, Pt. 1" and "Viginti Tres") to the runtime of "10,000 Days (Wings, Pt. 2)," and that's no coincidence -- the former two are meant to be played at the same time as the latter in a particular order to create, basically, an entirely new song.
So you see what we're working with here: a quartet with a deliberate modus operandi, not simply in the way its songs are crafted but also with regards to how they're experienced. The deluxe edition of Fear Inoculum, Tool's first LP in 13 years, is physically packaged with an HD screen, a speaker and a 36-page booklet that's meant to enhance the listening experience. The digital version adds seven minutes to an already lengthy 79-minute standard release via three interludes spliced in between the original's seven-song tracklist. When it comes to Tool, both then and now, your mileage -- and experience -- may vary.
Still, early listens to Fear Inoculum are not without their merits. There's a lot to dissect, yes, but taken at face value, one thing's unmistakable: Tool is back, and age has not changed the band that's known as one of the foremost progressive metal acts. Each track still rumbles along with often speaker-shaking force; songs dive into sudden time signature changes; frontman Maynard James Keenan's howl still rings with the fervor he possessed on "Sober" so many years ago.