Section M: “Fear Inoculum”
Released 30 August 2019. Debuted #1 on Billboard’s Top 100 Global charts.
According to Apple Music and Billboard, TOOL completely filled the entire Top 10 Rock Charts the week their entire back catalog was made available for digital streaming and downloading.
Litanie contre la Peur
Chocolate Chip Trip
M1. Why has it taken TOOL so long since their last album to release this one?
Lawsuits, in part, but Maynard had this to say: “The four of us are a lot of fucking work, just to get anywhere, oh my God. Everything’s a fucking committee meeting and it always gets shut down,” he says. “[The hurdle is] success. When you get successful, you think you’re right about everything and you’re pretty sure as that individual: ‘I am right and you are wrong, because I’m successful and we’re successful because of me, not because of you.’ It’s not that bad with us, but there’s a dynamic of, like, ‘I want this and I’ve always gotten my way and that’s why we’re successful, because I don’t compromise on this or that.’ I’m the same way. I’m totally the same way.” (The Joe Rogan Experience, podcast #1326)
Maynard also offered this: “But then the crippling second-guessing of yourself sets in, and that psychology and that spiral you get in, it can be extremely daunting. And you can actually not even feel it happening. All of a sudden you wake up and it’s thirteen years later. The hard part is accepting the fact that maybe you’re not nearly as important as you think you are and you should probably just get on with it.” (Kerrang! September 2019)
M2. I’ve heard that there is more than one variant of the cover?
Yes. There are three known variants, with a rumored fourth. While the band hasn’t officially said what the variants are called, there are fan theories as to their names. They are “Priest Bowing” “Priest Upright” and “Danny’s Drum Kit” and the rumoured called “Triangle No Center Line”, although this one doesn’t seem to actually exist.
Since the release of this new FAQ it has come to my attention that there are, in fact, only two versions of the cover art. Still have no “official” names for either, but Alex Grey has sold an autographed “box set” on his site and can be found here: https://shop.cosm.org/products/fear-inoculum-deluxe-edition-cd-boxed-set?_pos=2&_sid=7a6dd46ae&_ss=r
(Thanks for the heads up, Maceij Jonczyk!)
M3. I’ve heard that there are two different versions of the physical copy?
Yes, the first has a small LCD screen which plays a short video and has a 36 page picture booklet. The other doesn’t have a screen, but has an expanded 56 page booklet and several 4×6-Inch lenticular pullout pictures of some of the artwork.
M4. I’ve heard the number 7 has a lot of significance for this album?
The number seven came up throughout the album and its writing process: It has seven tracks (on the physical version), and a lot of polyrhythms in seven-times like 7/4 or 7/3 (septuple meter). While working up the songs, Adam noticed that many of the riffs he and Justin came up with were in sevens. Keenan revealed that he had a concept in mind based on the number seven, and Alex Grey, who did the album art, also had something in mind for the seven theme.
M5. What does “Fear Incolum” mean?
There is one prevailing theory, and it goes like this:
“Fear is the substance used to inoculate. The purpose of inoculation is not necessarily vaccination to create resistance, but rather the introduction of an infective agent into a culture, for malevolent purposes.” (Thanks, PimPie!)
Then, there is this: “… there are (at least) two possible interpretations: the first is that the album itself is a fear inoculum, which will prepare the listener to fight against being afraid; the second is that the LP explores the structure of the bacteria of fear – and both could have positive or negative outcomes. Certainly no one will deny that there’s a sense of raised tension in the world today, and that perhaps inoculation against fear is a good idea; but then, the result depends on whether the intention is good or bad, and also, of course, whether the inoculum is effective.” – Martin Kielty, (ultimateclassicrock.com; July 2019))
M6. Ok, so what is “Fear Inoculum” (the song) about?
Justin has this to say: “I think the general gist of it is that as you grow up and learn, hopefully you’re not afraid of the stuff that held you back in the first place. It’s applying the idea that you can immunise yourself against the fears, sadness and lack of hope that ruins everything.” (Kerrang! August 2019)
According to Danny: “Generally growing old. You can crumble under it, freak out and get plastic surgery and all these stupid things, or you can grow old gracefully like… Katharine Hepburn. There are people who deal with it in good ways, and there are certain people who can’t handle it. To inoculate your fear, to me, is about getting old and not giving a shit. We’re all going there; in 100 years there’ll be all new people – not that big of a deal!” (Kerrang! August 2019)
Another interesting interpretation is as follows:
Running 10:22, it’s a slow build, with layers of sounds emerging until the full instrumentation kicks in around the 1:40 mark. About 20 seconds later, Maynard James Keenan’s vocals come in, with the first line:
“Immunity long overdue”
The lyric is typically enigmatic and open to interpretation, which is the way Keenan likes it: he feels songs are subjective, and never gives details as to their meanings. Speaking with Revolver, he explained that the album deals with “wisdom through age, through experience.”
In biology, an inoculum is a culture made from bacteria for the purpose of creating a vaccine (inoculation). “Fear Inoculum” could thus be seen as working to create an immunity or defense against fear. The next line is also a biology metaphor:
“Contagion I exhale you”
Keenan goes on to address “The Deceiver” who has brought fear into his life. He stands up to and expels his adversary; in doing so he becomes immune to the venom in The Deceiver’s words. At the end of the song, The Deceiver is vanquished:
“I see you running
Deceiver chased away
A long time coming”
On the song’s release, the Internet was swamped with suggestions as to the identity of The Deceiver. Is he a specific person or group of people? Or is it the fear within the mind of Keenan? Keenan offered a “broad stroke” in his Revolver interview: “It would be embracing where we are right now, acknowledging where we’ve come from and some of the things we’ve grown through.” Keenan uses yet another SAT word later in the song:
“My own mitosis
Growing through delusion from mania”
Mitosis is cell division, another biology term. This could be Keenan resisting his enemies (internal or otherwise) by creating different personas or compartmentalizing his thoughts.
Just remember, as with all TOOL songs, there are many possible interpretations here and this one, like all of the others contained within this FAQ, is only meant to be a starting point.
Side note: When Maynard gets to the word “mitosis”, that happens to be the exact half-way point in the song. Coincidence?
M7: I heard that TOOL holds some kind of record for this song?
At 10 minutes and 22 seconds, “Fear Inoculum” became the longest song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart to enter the Top 100, at #93. The record had previously been held by David Bowie’s “Blackstar,” which has a running time of 9 minutes 57 seconds.
M8. What does “pneuma” mean?
Per Wikipedia: Pneuma is an ancient Greek word for “breath”, and in a religious context for “spirit” or “soul”. It has various technical meanings for medical writers and philosophers of classical antiquity, particularly in regard to physiology, and is also used in Greek translations of ruach in the Hebrew Bible, and in the Greek New Testament. In classical philosophy, it is distinguishable from psyche, which originally meant “breath of life”, but is regularly translated as “spirit” or most often “soul”.
In Layman’s terms, the word “pneuma” comes from the Greek word for “that which is breathed or blown.” The term took on multiple layers of meaning for the ancient Greeks and later for Judeo-Christian theologians and philosophers, as it became a word for “spirit” or “soul.”
M9. Okay, so what is “Pneuma” about?
References to the “breathe” concept are found in the song’s line “We are born of one breath, one word,” and the continued repetition of “spirit.”
In the case of this song, the reference to the word is seemingly oriented towards the yogic tradition, with guitar synthesized to sound like the Middle Eastern sitar and the light playing of Arabic goblet drum. Breath, or “pneuma,” is at the core essence of yogic practice, both literally and spiritually.
Essentially this song is a yogic meditation rendered through and in music. It discusses how we human beings are bound to our bodies, or flesh, and the illusions of the material world, but really are called to return to the essential, egoless “pneuma” of the universe’s underlying reality. The song seems to be a call to spiritual freedom and oneness.
M10. What does “litanie contre la peur” translate to?
French for “litany against fear”.
M11. Great! So what is it about?
It is likely taken from Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune.
In that novel, the litany comes into play a few times, but most memorably it’s summoned in an early, critical scene in the novel. When protagonist Paul Atreides is a young man, he’s approached with a test of his self-control and courage. The Reverend Mother holds a box and tells him to put his hand inside while she holds a poisoned “gom jabbar” (a kind of mechanical needle) to his neck. She tells him the box is going to cause him tremendous pain, but if he reacts to it and pulls his hand away, she will release the gom jabbar’s needle and kill him.
To steady himself, Atreides summons to mind the Litany Against Fear, which goes:
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Atreides thus controls his animal impulses and begins his journey to becoming a hero.(Christopher D. Withrow; the Facebook Group, The Tool Collective; 5 November 2019)(www.songfacts.com)
M12. What is “Invincible” about?
“Invincible” is probably the least ambiguous song on the album. It opens up with a verse about getting old:
Long in tooth and soul
Longing for another win
Lurch into the fray
Weapon out and belly in
The term “long in the tooth” means that a person is old. It’s taken from horses, whose teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetimes. “Longing for another win” expresses the motivations for making a new album, and “belly in” refers to the penchant middle-aged men have of sucking in their expanding paunches.
There’s another reference to aging with:
Tears in my eyes, chasing Ponce de León’s phantom song
Filled with hope, I can taste mythical fountains
False hope, perhaps, but the truth never got in my way
Before now, feel the sting, feeling time, bearing down
Ponce de León, for those that don’t know, was a Spanish explorer who led the first European expedition to what is now Florida in 1513. After his death, the legend arose that he’d been seeking a magical Fountain of Youth, which accounts for the “Invincible” line “I can taste mythical fountains.”
TOOL’s music usually always addresses philosophical matters, esoterica, the quest for spiritual enlightenment, and social/moral commentary. The fact that this song is so nakedly autobiographical and even vulnerable is, in itself, another expression of its theme.
M13. What is a “Legion Inoculate”?
It’s often related to crops or earth as a kind of a helper or guardian. (Katherine Turman; LA Weekly; 9 October 2019)
The word “legion” was originally used for the major units of the Roman army, having up to 6,000 infantrymen and 200 cavalry. It has since become a somewhat common term for a large number of people in pretty much any context or capacity.
The word “inoculant” refers to the active material used in an inoculation, with inoculation meaning “the introduction of a pathogen or antigen into a living organism to stimulate the production of antibodies.”
What TOOL means by combining the two words is unclear, but it’s probably something like “making the individual resistant to the masses” or maybe “making the individual resistant to the lure of joining the masses.” In other words, think for yourself. Sound familiar?
Legion is also the name claimed by a figure in the Bible. Mark 5:1-18 tells the story of a man living in the tombs and possessed by a demon. When Jesus, who is preparing to cast the demons out, asks the demon its name, it replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
M14. I think I hear Maynard whispering again?
Supposedly, every single lyric from the album makes an appearance on this one song, if you can decipher them. (Katherine Turman; LA Weekly; 9 October 2019)
M15. What is “Descending” about?
While TOOL has always explored the themes of apocalypse and/or the demise of humankind (“Ænima” and “Right in Two”), “Descending” seems to be a blatant call to action woven into their signature narrative instrumentals. The track is deeply ominous considering the ever increasing destruction of our natural resources and the predictions that human civilization will likely collapse by 2050. (Morgan Olsson via the Facebook TOOL Group, 2 September 2019)
“Descending” may be about the impending fallen state of humanity.
Heedless in our slumber
Floating nescient we free fall through this boundlessness
This madness of our own making
The song is reminiscent of “Ænema,” critiquing modern society for being shallow, vain, and meaningless. Musically, though, “Descending” isn’t as angry as “Ænema” – it’s cleaner, and more restrained. Even in the parts when the song gets more aggressive, it remains restrained and feels imploring more than it does angry:
Stir us from our
Mitigate our ruin
Call us all to arms and order
Who is being called upon to do this stirring and calling to arms is uncertain. It could be to some spiritual force, or to the listeners directly.
M16. What was the original title for “Descending”?
According to Adam himself, Justin originally called it “Bluegrass”, although he did not give a reason as to why he chose that work-in-progress title. (Adam Jones’ Instagram, adamjones_tv; 18 May 2020)
M17. Is that ocean sounds/noises at the beginning of the song?
Yes, apparently Danny went to the Pacific Ocean to capture the sounds for the song, although it is currently unknown as to which beach he specifically went to. (Katherine Truman; LA Weekly; 9 October 2019)
Lustmord (the same dude given credit for remixing TOOL’s only official remixes of “Schism” and “Parabola”) was given credit for the “ocean sounds” in the physical CD’s liner notes. (Thanks for pointing that out, Maceij Jonczyk!)
M18. What is “Culling Voices” about?
To “cull” means to pick out from others. “Culling Voices” is most likely about the social media age and the “rage mobs” that declare people guilty without trial and then proceed to destroy their lives.
“Judge, condemn, and banish any and everyone
Only the whispers from within”
Maynard experienced this phenomenon firsthand in June 2018 when an anonymous Twitter user accused him in a long string of tweets of raping her after a show. After this, more accusations came forward on Reddit. As of 2020, no one has ever pressed charges or came forward to claim these accusations as their own.
Keenan responded to the accusations by Tweeting out his thanks to those who “[seen] right through this despicable false claim” and shaming those who “perpetuate this destructive clickbait.”
Another interpretation is that the song is probably about arguments we sometimes have in our own heads. Haven’t you ever had a fight in your head with a facsimile of your significant other, parents or friend? Maybe they did something and you’re at work, so you don’t have the opportunity to argue with them right now. Or maybe they’re passive aggressive and give you the silent treatment, so you never get a chance to express yourself.
That’s an example of what the song means by “Conversations we’ve never had. Imagined interplay.”
And that’s the major theme of the song: fighting with the straw man of your own creation in your head.
If you continue to do this for long enough, you start acting upon what the made up version of that person did and said in your head, not based on what the real person did or said. Hence the “guided by them all” in this verse:
“Heated altercations we’ve never had
so I’m told
Yet guided by them all
Every single one”
The speaker in the song continues to deepen this tendency until they have facsimiles of anyone they disagree with, or possibly even entire groups of people (political parties, even races perhaps):
“Judge, condemn, and banish any and everyone
Only the whispers from within”
(DuncanIdahoTPF on September 12, 2019)
M19. “Chocolate Chip Trip”? Seriously?
According to producer Joe Barresi, “”The studio we were at used to bake us these chocolate cookies all the time, and Danny called his drum solo on the album ‘Chocolate Chip Trip,’ based on the fact that all we did was eat chocolate chip cookies.”
Sometimes, the simplest explanations are the best.
M20. Why is “7empest” spelled like that? Why not “tempest”?
Apparently the number “7” kept coming up while they were conceiving the album. “I took a picture pointing to the number seven while we were recording, and a lot of the riffs Justin [Chancellor, bass] and I brought in were in seven,” Jones explains. “You don’t really go, ‘I’m going to write a riff in seven!’
“You just write a riff and you count it out and it turns out to be in seven. Without being too descriptive about the concept, the main thing is that the seven-beat just kept coming up, and riffs in seven kept coming up. It was really weird!
“When we finished recording, I went to the guys and said, ‘I think we should have called the record Volume 7’ because a lot of the songs are in seven and there are seven tracks on the record.
“Then Maynard told me about a whole concept he had about the number seven. We were all, like, ‘Oh My God! This is too weird!’ Then Alex Grey basically said the same thing and he has a concept that will reveal itself through video.
“So there are a lot of rhythms and polyrhythms where we explore 7/4 or 7/3, and there’s a riff we count in 21 — which we count as three rounds of seven. I wrote a four-minute lead over something counted in 21, which is crazy!” (Guitar World October 2019 issue)
M21. Okay, so what is “7empest” about?
“7empest” seems to be discussing specific events and/or people, but it’s never made clear what those are. Because there was a 13-year gap between Fear Inoculum and TOOL’s previous album, 10,000 Days, there’s a broad range of potential world events that could be the target. Whatever the particular may be, the song is about a deceptive force creating false serenity to obscure the coming “tempest.”
A tempest is a violent, windy storm. The term also calls to mind Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, thought to have been written around 1610. It’s about a sorcerer named Prospero who was shipwrecked with his daughter on a deserted island. Twelve years later, he uses his magic to ground another ship and hatch a plot to get his daughter married and himself back into a position of status. The play is never referenced specifically in “7empest,” but Prospero uses dark magic and deception throughout the play, and deception appears to be, at least in part, the song’s theme.
The repeated mantra, “a tempest must be just that,” is saying that this deceptive force, whatever it is, cannot be anything but destructive because destruction is its very nature.
M22. I’ve heard that “7empest” is actually an old song?
The song features a chorus riff that Adam had carried around for over two decades. Justin told Visions Magazine he thinks Adam had it filed away since before 1995 when he joined the band. He added that the riff almost worked on 10,000 Days.
“We tried to use that riff on 10,000 Days but it was only good, not great, so we didn’t use it,” he said. “In the end, our way of writing music is a long process of experimentation. We enjoy the luxury of taking this very seriously and giving it the time that it needs.”
M23. What is going on in “Mockingbeat”?
As with everything when it comes to TOOL, we may never know for sure. But, apparently Justin recorded a Mockingbird one night in his backyard and incorporated it into the song. (Katherine Turman; LA Weekly; 9 October 2019)
M24. I heard that there is a bonus track?
Yes and no. It is actually the ambient sounds/music that plays along with the video on the built-in screen on the Limited Edition Deluxe physical copy of the album. It is titled, “Recusant Ad Infinitum”.
M25. Okay, so what does that mean?
“Recusant” is a person who refuses to comply with rules or an authority. “Ad Infinitum” means to repeat again and again and again and again and…
**M26. I’ve heard this rumor that TOOL burned the studio down?
Well, no they didn’t, but there is some truth to the rumor.
“We were tracking,” [TOOL producer] Joe Barresi told Kerrang! in a recent interview. “We always like to set up the room so it’s visual. Dan’s got, like, some geometry thing behind him… and candles. It’s very vibey.” He continued: “I remember the drum tech, Bruce Jacoby, was in front of the console, and I saw this look of panic in his face. And I was like, ‘What? What’s going on?’
“All of a sudden, he just bolts out of the control room through this back door, and he gets behind Danny’s drum kit, where, I guess Dan was playing with such power that one of the candles fell over on his floor tom and started burning the floor tom, so the head went on fire. And there’s sprinklers in the ceiling, so we were trying to get the fire out before the sprinklers went off and the whole recording would be ruined. So that was one of the most insane moments, actually — Dan almost burning down the studio.”