Slipknot is an American band from Iowa, formed in September 1995. As famous for their image of boiler suits and masks as they are for their aggressive, high tempo metal, they burst onto the scene with their self-titled debut album. They were snapped up by Roadrunner Records and quickly became one of, if not the most recognisable band in the world across all genres of music.
And they are back……….or are they?
After such debut success, a second album, Iowa, saw them go from strength to strength although rumours about internal conflict were starting to emerge. This eventually led to a hiatus for Slipknot, with members creating or restarting side projects as Slipknot seemed to be ending. Despite this, they came back with another relatively well received album, Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), this led into another hiatus and more reported issues with the band and became a continuing trend over the next decade of the bands existence. 4 years passed with side projects taking the spotlight again before another album release in All Hope is Gone. Once again the release came and was followed immediately by a hiatus with side projects taking over again although it was increasingly seeming like Slipknot was becoming the actual side project. Lead vocalist Corey was working almost full time on Stone Sour along with Slipknot guitarist Jim Root. Drummer Joey Jordison was founder and guitarist of Murderdolls before becoming drummer for Rob Zombie, percussionist Shawn Crahan founded To My Surprise and then Dirty Little Rabbits and DJ Sid Wilson was working solo as DJ Starscream and, especially in the case of Murderdolls and Stone Sour, all projects were doing reasonably well with Corey in particular being elevated to “superstar” status as much for his opinions as for his music.
Sadly then disaster struck………
Bassist Paul Gray was found dead in his hotel in May 2010 caused by what appears to be an accidental overdose on a morphine substitute. Although Slipknot was very dormant at the time, it hit the band and fans hard and seemed that the end had come for Slipknot with Corey stating he didn’t think they could record together again without Paul but overtime conceded that Paul would want them to continue and so noises about a new album started. Over the next few years the band started appearing at festivals around the world as a new album release seemed likely. A bit more infighting saw Jim Root fired from Stone Sour by Corey and then saw Corey announce Joey had left Slipknot. This caused outrage as Joey claimed immediately to have not left the band at all suggesting Corey had fired him without warning or knowledge eventually leading into court proceedings.
Finally though, after the most tumultuous of journeys, a new drummer and bassist and 6 years after their last studio album Slipknot released 5: The Gray Chapter this month.
With 14 tracks spread over 63 minutes and 51 seconds the album is a solid length; let’s just hope it is worth the wait and attention it has received.
The first track is called XIX and has a running eerie viola leading the track. It is not quite what I expected with the vocals sounding more Stone Sour (clean) then Slipknot (fierce) although the pain and difficulty of recent times comes across well. The song builds up to what sounds like an incoming explosion of Slipknot style power but never materialises and instead fades into a collection of bell and noise effects. That probably sounds like criticism but I actually quite like this track. It just is not what I expected or would expect from Slipknot.
The second track, Sarcastrophe, starts off acoustically with a slight echo of drums. Things pick up as distorted guitars take up the rhythm and then with a sudden drum blast, Slipknot arrive with offbeat pace and many, many layers of percussion mixed in with scratching and effects from the turn tables. Vocals are fast and angry and the song feels a lot like the older style fans will recognise.
Track 3 is called AOV and has a really pacy start with huge amounts of double bass and percussion. There is a clean sung chorus which I personally feel is a little out of place giving the song an almost melodic death metal style. The pace continues to get faster outside of the chorus and then, much like the opening track, as it builds to a peak, instead of breaking into chaos, it turns into a melodic interlude led by the bass. Perhaps a not to the absent member which is a nice touch but it really kills the intensity of the song for me.
The Devil in I is up next and despite a heavy and rhythmic intro, is actually a really slow song with vocals that are cleanly sung throughout the verse with heavier choruses. It is atmospheric and has a really impressive speed drumming section after the second chorus. Can’t help feeling the song loses a little intensity though through over production, especially in the vocal department. A little rawer would have added a little to the feeling of this one.
Killpop is next and follows the atmospheric, ballad style verse similar to XIX. You can’t miss the Stone Sour influence on this song with a rhythmic riffing and mixed clean singing with shouting. There is a nice little solo near the end before a short blast of pace and aggression until the end.
Skeptic starts off with what I expect from Slipknot with stomping beats and aggressive lyrics bellowed out at pace. With a lot of pace changes, breakdowns and off beat sections, it feels a little more “crazy” which is good and there is some exceptional guitar work going on in the background. I like this song.
Lech comes next and is a heavier track with spoken word verses that build as the words are coming out to being shouted at you. Lots of effects over the guitars seem to struggle to be heard over the drums. Drums follow a more consistent pattern as do the vocals. It feels really polished again which is a shame but unfortunately also struggled to hold my attention near the end of it. Nothing wrong with the song, just nothing stands out either.
Track 8 is called Goodbye and is led by eerie effects and synth with Corey singing cleanly/softly but morosely over them. It isn’t a million miles away from being a ballad until half way through the actual band take up the rhythm with their instruments which raises the pace a bit. The best part of this song is right at the end where there is a short guitar solo over rhythmic drumming.
Nomadic has a strange stop start riff throughout and follows a pretty standard and simple song structure. It is mixed in with occasional effects and some real of kilter beats and rhythms. Heavy verses, softer choruses are the order of the day and despite being interesting, never really pulls off intense or aggressive. It does have another great solo at the end though.
The One that Kills the Least follows starts off with a riff that sounds like it will be a heavy track but instead is much lighter. Quite a slow to mid tempo song throughout with vocals that, at times, are so over produced, they don’t sound like Corey. Again, it has a really impressive and technical guitar line running in the background that leads into a solo. Quite an anthem styled song really but without ever quite working. Not one of my favourites.
Track 11 is called Custer and starts off insanely fast and enjoyable before dropping the pace to just the odd effect, drum beat and spoken word. When the vocals speed up again Corey is going flat out mental (think Spit it Out) with guitar and bass filling the rhythm under the high tempo drums. Ione of the heavier, crazier and better tracks so far.
Track 12 is called Be Prepared for Hell and is a two minute interlude. Some distorted speaking, crunching effects and keyboards. Nothing to see here.
The Negative One comes next and starts with a familiar Slipknot distorted riff followed quickly by the stomping drums. Vocals are shouted and there is plenty of scratching and screeches coming from the decks but while the song has a feel of Slipknot of old it never really takes that extra step up to being special. A decent, but not spectacular track.
The album ends with If Rain is What You Want and is also the longest track on the album at 6 minutes and 20 seconds long. It is best described as a slow burner. A long intro of effects over a gentle acoustic guitar are joined by slow drumming. Eventually softly sung, but eerie, lyrics are introduced. They sound purposefully muffled which adds to the eerie effect. It picks up the volume, but not really the pace, for the chorus but when it ends, the second verse is back to the over produced Corey vocals which again sound like Stone Sour and not Slipknot. This goes on too long and while the chorus does pick up again a little, any hopes of heaviness have long gone. This is a really good song; it just suffers again from vocals that drown out the music and my own expectations not being reached.
This is a very well written and executed metal album. There is a lot of great musicianship on show and I will listen to it again. I have a feeling it will grow on me with more listening. There are issues though and one of those is that it very much feels like the Corey Taylor show with vocals that are often too loud and over produced. The album feels too polished and too melodic to be a Slipknot album but perhaps that is just maturity. Where it really suffers is that Slipknot to me epitomised the crazy and aggressive side of metal. 9 masked men in boiler suits telling everybody to fuck off. This is not that at all. This is Slipknot, grown up and less angry. Diluted, perhaps?
Having said that, if Corey sees this as his middle ground between Stone Sour and Slipknot, then good and I hope we get another album. Just make sure you aren’t expecting “debut Slipknot” as that time has gone. Unfortunately.
Slipknot - 5: The Gray Chapter (Roadrunner Records)