Life-long Tool fan (since 1994). 25+ Live concerts. Tool Army.
UPDATE! The Album Fear Inoculum has been released. 9/1/2019
About the above poll. This article was published before the release of the new album. If your favorite album is now Fear Inoculum, please leave a comment and tell us! I can't change the poll : (
What does Fear Inoculum mean?
Tool’s seventh record is called “Fear Inoculum” - but what the hell does it mean?!
This is a long-form essay looking forward to Fear Inoculum, originally written prior to the release of the album. I hope you’re willing to spend some time here, and if you do finish the essay, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from all of you.
About the Author
Tool has been and continues to be formative high-art for me. 25 years of fandom--and just as many live shows or more--fall severely short of describing the impact their art has had on me and my life. Those are my credentials for writing this article. I don’t have any connection with the band or anything like that (though I have met Maynard once back in 1999). I’m just another fan like you exploring one of this world’s greatest frontiers: TOOL. The purpose of this article is to explore and speculate about the meaning of their fifth full-length studio album’s title “Fear Inoculum”. Though Tool considers it their “seventh one” though. So they’re including “Opiate” (1992) and “Salival” (2000) in the count (which makes sense to me, as I certainly count them).
Just to be super clear: I am not claiming to know what fear inoculum means. As you continue to read, my position on this will unfold.
Because of its baser nature, fear is not rational. It happens before we have a choice in the matter.
— Time Spiral
First: definitions. “FEAR” and “INOCULUM”
Let’s create some baselines and define the two words. This might seem a bit basic, but Tool is an international world-class band. Many of their fans count English as a second or third language, or maybe don’t speak it at all. Not only will the baselines help us explore--starting at the foundation--but could help our brothers and sisters all over the world as well.
FEAR - noun - 1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
FEAR - verb - 1. be afraid of someone or something as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.
Author Note: Right away we have an interesting dynamic. Fear is both a noun and a verb. It’s a thing and / or an action. This immediately multiplies the possible meanings.
INOCULUM - noun [MEDICINE] (plural noun: inocula) a substance used for inoculation.
Author Note (a): from a general perspective it might be natural to think of inoculum as it relates to humans, and vaccines (i.e., medicine), etc … but when you dig into the use of the word it is more often used in reference to plant biology, botany, and agriculture, and instead of vaccinating against viruses--like we do in humans--it’s often inoculating plants or soil from harmful or undesirable fungi. I found this particularly interesting, as Maynard--the singer for Tool--is a farmer, most known for his vineyards. It’s also my opinion that Maynard is likely the one who named the album. This is reinforced by the fact that Adam Jones “really wanted to call it Volume 7”. He was likely outvoted as that name is not esoteric / on-brand enough.
Author Note (b): the word inoculation (the noun of inoculate) is not universally understood, and is required to understand the definition of inoculum, so let’s dig into that as well.
INOCULATE - verb - treat (a person or animal) with a vaccine to produce immunity against a disease.
- introduce (an infective agent) into an organism.
- introduce (cells or organisms) into a culture medium.
Okay, so what is the literal meaning of FEAR INOCULUM?
Let’s be careful here. I don’t think Tool’s album title has a literal meaning, but rather; it’s specifically supposed to be abstract, to be a thought exercise, to apply in different ways. However, to help us along that path, let’s look at the literal definitions of the phrase itself. These are derived by combining the definitions of the words together in the order in which they’re mentioned in both the noun and verb format of “fear”.
Literal meaning #1
Fear Inoculum = An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that a substance used for inoculation is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Literal meaning #2
Fear Inoculum = Be afraid of a substance used for inoculation as [it’s] likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.
But that assumes FEAR INOCULUM is a phrase and not a term.
Since there is no guidance on what Tool’s new album name means--or is supposed to mean--we really ought to look at as many possibilities as we can. Perhaps it’s not a phrase--a combination of words, a sentence, question, command, or statement--but rather; is a term.
IN-PROGESS MAJOR UPDATE FROM THE BAND!
I started writing this article the day after Maynard announced the title in an interview with Joe Rogan. In the weeks it’s taken me to put this together—I’m a busy dude, cut me some slack, haha—a veritable deluge of Tool-related information has become available. We know a few additional things now:
- The album has a title track called “Fear Inoculum”. It is track #1.
- The title track became available to the public on August 7th 2019, just a few short days after Tool’s catalog became available on streaming services.
- We can hear the lyrics to the title track (lyrics have not been officially released).
- We can hear the feeling and emotion resonating in the title track (subjective, of course)
- There have been multiple high-profile interviews with the band in magazines such as Revolver, Guitar World, Metal Hammer, and more. Everyone is asking them “what does fear inoculum mean?”
- Maynard doesn’t want to spoil it, and take away the exploration, so he doesn’t get specific, but he does offer a response.
- The other band members have also offered responses.
- The overarching theme is that the fear inoculum generally refers to the process of becoming older, wiser, accepting where you are on your journey, and how this can be applied to living life.
This is way more information than we had when I started writing this article. That’s a significant point to make because there has been almost zero information for about 13 years. I intend for this article to be a sort of living document that can be updated over time. We will be living with Fear Inoculum for the rest of our lives, and like all of Tool’s music, it will continue to evolve in meaning as the years go by and our relationship with the music becomes stronger and more personal.
Okay, ending the update--back to the essay!
Literal definition #3 - as a term
Fear Inoculum = A substance used for inoculation against an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
We can see here that when we do this it adds an undefined variable, whereas the first two definitions did not. The undefined variable is “someone” or “something”. That could be anyone or anything. This is where the context of the album, the art, performances, and the lyrics are probably going to be integral in revealing more depth to the name.
The chorus, when the band releases into “Exhale! Expel!” literally sounds like a sigh of relief to me.
— Time Spiral
Let’s move on to: what are the implied meanings of FEAR INOCULUM?
I’m comfortable saying the title is not arbitrary or nonsensical. As with all things Tool, there is a high likelihood that deliberation and intent were poured into the title; so it is something that can create an anchor, an attractor, an emotional envelope, a contextual environment for the experience of the new music and art.
With this spirit in mind, we can ponder implied meanings of the title, and then we can proceed to the more abstract interpretations.
Implied Meaning #1
Fear Inoculum implies that the subject matter of Tool’s new album is a substance that is being introduced into an ecosystem for the purposes of inoculating that system against fear.
Implied Meaning #2
Fear Inoculum implies a command to literally fear the substances that inoculate you.
Author Note: I dismiss Implied Meaning #2 outright for a number of reasons. (a) Too similar to the “antivaxxer’s” fear that life-saving vaccines are somehow bad (they’re not). (b) There is a plural for inoculum, and it’s inocula. Since there isn’t one specific incolum being identified, then commanding a fear of all of them would be inocula, which in my opinion looks and sounds just as cool. So if they were leaning in that direction they would have called the album Fear Inocula. (c) There has been no indication from any of the band members that they have jumped on the antivaxxer conspiracy theory bandwagon (thank goodness, because most of them are fathers now). The only reason I included this implied meaning--I debated whether or not to--is because it would be intellectually dishonest to omit it, and many people will probably think or try to claim this as an implied meaning, and I want to squash that ridiculous idea with this note.
Implied Meaning #3
Fear Inoculum expresses an implication that something has been introduced into our ecosystem that is creating an environment where the native organisms have been or are being inoculated us against fears.
Abstract thinking on Tool’s 2019 album title and title track “FEAR INOCULUM”.
The two sections above focus heavily on the literal meanings, definitions, implications, and are purposefully restricted by linguistics, connotations, and denotations (to a certain extent). It’s in this section where I really want to explore and wander through the abstract pathways of the title. It’s my opinion that the first two sections are important to happen before this one because they create the fuel and the foundation to sufficiently restrict your mind into a creative mode.
Let’s talk about the nature of fear
Side Note: right away, I’m thinking, “wow. Pretty amazing that an essay about Tool’s new album has me thinking about the essence of fear itself.”
Fear is a lot of things. It’s an important biological survival trait; integral in keeping the species alive. It can be paralyzing. It can be domineering, meaning that a fear can instantly and utterly override all other activities: including logic. If unchecked, fear can transform into panic. Because of its baser nature, fear is not rational. It happens before we have a choice in the matter (in other words, it can happen pre-consciously or subconsciously).
But in us humans--us “higher life forms”, if you will--we fundamentally alter the natural dynamics of fear. We expand it. We fear things that we shouldn’t and we don’t fear things that we should. Things like pride, expectations, arrogance, misinformation, and cowardice all modify fear.
Perhaps Fear Inoculum is referring to some aspect of society, and that aspect of society is the inoculum against a justified fear, and it’s to our tragic folley to not take the fear seriously.
Fear is also something that humans purposefully confront. Sometimes we confront our fears because we are trying to grow, or heal, or we are forced into a situation. That purposeful and mindful confrontation, that will, could be a type of metaphysical inoculum. If you introduce your will to overcome a fear into that mindset of confrontation, into that thing you fear, then you could say this is an inoculum against fear for the purpose of self improvement. That idea right there is a personal one, but since we’re all humans, we can take that concept and expand it out to groups, societies, and civilizations. People or organizations with clout or influence can also do this: confronting fears, purposefully, and inoculating the population for the purpose of growth.
But just like all things, there must be a balance. This same process can happen in the other direction, or for the opposite purpose: inoculating you against a counterfeit fear. This would have the effect of control and manipulation rather than personal growth or cooperation. It’s quite an interesting dynamic to ponder, and I’m imagining the album will explore these nuances thoroughly.
Tool’s band members talk about the meaning of Fear Inoculum
In a recent sit-down chat on the popular podcast Joe Rogan Experience (#1326), Maynard made some comments that are interesting given the context of the new name.
"There’s natural resources and all those things start to kind of fall apart then weird diseases start showing up, weird funguses that take you out that didn’t before…"
"That’s my point. The thing that we just are so arrogant about is that we’re somehow included in the future. We’re just not included. We are not included."
Arrogance and the consequences of arrogance are recurring themes in the subject matter of many Tool songs, so it’s interesting to hear Maynard discuss these things in the same interview he where revealed the album title.
Joe Rogan did not press Maynard too hard and didn’t ask too many questions about Tool’s new music. It seemed clear to me that Maynard was ready to open up and finally discuss new Tool news, but I think Joe missed a huge opportunity. This may be because they are friends and Joe has been conditioned to not ask too many Tool-related questions over the years because in the past it would consistently frustrate Maynard, likely because there was nothing he could talk about yet. Oh well … Moving on.
“I feel like that’s always an individual’s right to process things in the way they wanna process them,” Maynard said in a Revolver interview. “I wouldn’t wanna take that away from you. So if anything is a broad stroke of this album, it would be embracing where we are right now, acknowledging where we’ve come from and some of the things we’ve gone through.”
To me [the claxon / air horn sound in the beginning of Fear Inoculum] very clearly sounds like a warning.
— Time Spiral
“Fear Inoculum” is the title track of the album. Let’s look at the lyrics.
Immunity, long overdue.
Contagion, I exhale you.
Lying, I opened up to you.
Venom in mania.
Now, contagion I exhale you.
The deceiver says, he says, “You belong to me. You don't wanna breathe the light of the others. Fear the light. Fear the breath. Fear the others for eternity.”
But I hear them now inhale the clarity.
Hear the venom, the venom in what you say.
Bless this immunity.
Recast my tale.
Read my allegorical elegy.
Enumerate all that I'm to do.
Calculating steps away from you.
My own mitosis growing through delusion from mania.
Recast my tale.
Weave my allegorical elegy.
Forfeit all control.
You poison, you spectacle.
Exorcise the spectacle.
Exorcise the malady.
Exorcise the disparate.
Poison for eternity.
Purge me and evacuate the venom and the fear that binds me.
I see you running.
Deceiver, chased away.
A long time coming.
- A by-ear transcription of the lyrics to Tool’s 2019 song “Fear Inoculum”.
I cannot authenticate these lyrics, but they sound accurate enough for us to get strong ideas about what they’re attempting to convey.
To me this reads like a tale of confronting your fears, and that Will--that act of willful confrontation--is the inoculum. It goes to a few places. One place seems to be confronting a fear of others, a sort of antisocial, or perhaps even xenophobic sort of fear. And this being a personal tale--one that he wins--as suggested by the sigh of relief, and by invoking an allegorical elegy; a term that quite literally means “a story of deep personal meaning, perhaps a lamenting of the dead, with a hidden meaning that is typically a moral.”
There also appears to be an adversary in the tale, the “Deceiver”. The deceiver is “the spectacle”, which to me are the modern maladies of our society (e.g., phone addiction, antisocial behavior, outrage / entitlement culture, narcissism, etc …)
In this particular tale, the personal journey is one that means success to the storyteller, as they claim victory at the end.
What does the music of Fear Inoculum suggest?
The song begins with a high-pitched note that seems to be artistically simulating a claxon or an air horn. Claxons are typically found in vehicles (in this case, perhaps our human bodies), and air horns are typically attached to buildings or outdoor structures (meant to alert a population of imminent danger). To me it very clearly sounds like a warning. The rest of the intro builds in what feels like a response to the blaring claxon. The swelling sound that seems to meander left and right in the soundscape feels almost like a wanderer, or the traveler--or maybe the warning is “going in one ear, and out the other”. Danny paints the setting with Eastern tablas, and then finally Danny cues the change and Justin reveals what we’ve been building up to. Almost as if the bassline entering is the first moment of realization that something has happened. The wandering sound fades so the voice can enter over the skins of toms, fully in sync with the bass. And so the story begins ...
This essay would become prohibitively long if I attempted the above sort of interpretation for the entire 10 minutes and 21 seconds. But it’s tempting!
The song features several motifs that suggest different things to me.
Motif: Relief. There is a strong sense of relief. The chorus, when the band releases into “Exhale! Expel!” literally sounds like a sigh of relief to me.
Motif: spellcasting. Another motif is one of spellcasting, hypnotizing, or otherwise conjuring an effect. This is accomplished by the two staccato vocal sections: the first, nearly spoken-word style, sounding very much like a sinister point-of-view section at first with a response immediately following. The second staccato section like a counterspell, or a ritual meant to “dispel”. Or to use their word: exorcise, which has a religious / demonic / evil implication.
Motif: tired victory. The final vocal section does not crescendo in the typical way one might think of when comparing to previous Tool songs, or the popular rock formats (i.e., the big high note, the big scream, etc …), rather; they are expressing victory in a sort of “Finally, that took forever, but I’m so glad we’re here” sort of way.
Motif: “meta”. This motif harkens back to the first show of the Lateralus tour, where they premiered The Grudge in Atlanta, Georgia (2001), in a converted church called the Tabernacle (I was there). Five years had passed since Aenima was released, rumors of turmoil within the band proliferated, and the fans were getting restless. In a bizarre twist of fate, the was also delayed by several hours. The band started playing without Maynard on the stage and then we all heard the beautiful menacing powerhouse of vulnerability that is The Grudge. While that songs has deep meanings, it also felt very “meta” as if it could be relating to healing the wounds in the band (many of the songs on Lateralus feel this way: releasing your grudge, “I certainly would have walked away by now”, “strengthen our communication”, etc ... Fear Inoculum, opening the album, also feels “meta” in the sense that they are all relieved that this massive weight is over, and the fear of re-entering the world has been confronted, embraced, and finally overcome. And it has been a long time coming ...
That’s all from me, for now.
What do you think Fear Inoculum means?
Leave a comment and tell us what you think Fear Inoculum means. I would personally love to hear your ideas! I’m looking forward to this essay “living and breathing”, and being updated over time.
Thank you for reading and engaging!
© 2019 Time Spiral
Time Spiral (author) from Florida on August 24, 2019:
PeteG - I think you're on to something with your analysis, and you articulated it in a succinct and clear way. You're all-but straight-up saying "cult leader", which is what your description sounds a lot like. Cult leaders specifically train their followers to distrust anyone outside of the "flock" as you called them. They do this with what I refer to in this essay as "counterfeit fear".
There are a few sections in the essay where I attempt to convey that this process can happen in groups or even entire civilizations, and it can either be in pursuit of positive growth or control. These lines from the essay in particular hint towards that:
"People or organizations with clout or influence can also do this: confronting fears, purposefully, and inoculating the population for the purpose of growth."
"This same process can happen in the other direction, or for the opposite purpose: inoculating you against a counterfeit fear. This would have the effect of control and manipulation rather than personal growth or cooperation."
Thank you again, Pete. I'm honored by the kind words and that you'd share your insight with us all. Yours is the exact sort of contribution I was hoping to cultivate with this article!
Edward, I really appreciate the kind words and I'm glad you read the essay! Thank you.
PeteG on August 23, 2019:
Great essay! One of the best dissections/observations of Fear Inoculum’s title track I’ve read so far. So far, I’m interpreting it as a segment of a society that inoculates itself against reason. Using their own fear to protect themselves against different points of view. Their leader, the deceiver builds on this fear by telling his flock to ignore “the light of the others.” He beckons his followers to forfeit all control. Through the spectacle he blinds his flock to his will. Like all things, this does not last. Some begin to see through the deceiver’s slight of hand... ultimately breaking free from his hold and in the end, overthrow him.
Edward on August 23, 2019:
Very well thought oit and thought provoking as is Tools music thank you!