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).