I’ve said it before, but I don’t think in my life I have listened to any album more than Slipknot’s 1999 debut. I got into the band my first year of high-school and for my generation they were the biggest and most important band in the world, the way Metallica and Maiden were for people starting school in the ‘80s, or Pantera were for people starting school in the ‘90s, or Zeppelin and Kiss were for people starting school in the ‘70s.
Slipknot were more than a band; they were so much more in my mind. I can’t count on two hands the number of pictures I drew of them, or discussions I had with school friends about them or magazines I bought just because they were in it. The first time I saw them live, on the Iowa cycle at Belfast Odyssey Arena, is one of the most memorable concerts I have ever been to. I don’t want to throw around terms like life-changing in my old and cynical age, but if I was to apply such an epithet to any band, Slipknot would be the one.
To some extent I like everything they have ever done. I am a bit of a lifer and so this review isn’t exactly going to be impartial or unbiased. But I am not 100% blind and unwilling to think critically either so I’d like to say you can trust what I say. I will admit All Hope Is Gone is not as good as the others. I’ll be happy to admit that there quite a few lyrics I dislike and sometimes Shawn’s video projects are a bit too arty and pretentious and that maybe a straighter take might do the band more favours. I’ll even admit that some songs I like have choruses I dislike even if the rest of the song is enjoyable. (‘Sulpher’ for example has a chorus I always seem to resent, as it represents the band going a bit too far away from what made me like them in the first place). I did get a bit sceptical when a few too many clean vocals started creeping in and what were amazing and refreshing moments of clean (‘Me Inside’) amongst the heaviness became the norm and it started to seem almost every song had to have a radio chorus.
A lot of people aren’t so keen on the band’s last two albums, All Hope Is Gone and .5 The Gray Chapter, so you can expect the reviews for this will all certainly feature some kind of ‘return to form’ or ‘best since’ line or two. Now; as I said, I like every album Slipknot have ever made (and probably every song too, its just some parts I am not keen on)… but I both can and can’t see why this ‘return to form’ thing is going to be so prevalent.
Now; I think The Gray Chapter is brilliant. I’ve been reading a lot of negative things about it online in the build up to We Are Not Your Kind’s release. I don’t agree with the narrative that it was a rushed or undercooked or too much like Corey’s other band Stone Sour. Tracks like ‘Custer,’ ‘Sarcastrophe’ and ‘The Negative One’ are rabid and savage, and even though I sort of resent them, I can’t deny the radio moments like ‘The Devil In I’ are damn catchy… However; In the same way I initially hated ‘Psychosocial’ when I first heard it for the big clean radio chorus that felt like a change in what the band was trying to be and what they represented, I can see how the cleaner moments on the Gray Chapter would put people off. I mean in isolation I like almost every one of them anyway, but I just wish on principal that on the last three albums there were a few more ‘Disasterpeice’ and ‘Metabolic’ style choruses and a few less ones like those of ‘Dead Memories’ and ‘Before I Forget.’ I reckon a lot of other older fans feel the same way.
We Are Not Your Kind seems to be blowing a lot of people’s skirts up for its heaviness and brutality. There is plenty of it on here. ‘Orphan,’ ‘Red Flag’ and ‘Nero Forte’ all connect like a haymaker to the face. Corey did say in interviews while it was being written that it reminded him of Iowa and on these songs you can sort of see why he might have thought that if they were the ones he was working on at the time.
But this album has plenty of clean moments too. Hell; the first real song (track 2) on every other Slipknot album is always one of the fastest, heaviest, most brutal ones on the record, and yet here, track two is the big single ‘Unsainted’ with its absolutely huge radio chorus and festival sing-along intro. So the public’s different reaction to ‘Gray Chapter and We Are Not Your Kind can’t just be about heavy vs. clean.
One thing that is clear is that the songs on this, their sixth official studio, album are just really good. It might be that simple. The first distorted verse to ‘Unsainted’ is fierce as honey badger and the drums throughout are really impressive and energetic. The way Jay flails sideways into the china cymbal at unexpected times reminds me of what made the band’s debut so damn exciting.
You know what else makes this album so good? (Now; I’m not saying it wasn’t there on the last two albums, but…) on this album the amount of time given over to the band’s extra members and how high they are in the mix seems to be higher on this record. Lots of Sid’s DJ scratches. Lots of additional percussion from the two extra percussionists. Lots of samples and sounds from the mysterious Craig. It feels like this album really goes out of its way to justify having all nine members and revels in what makes Slipknot unique… After the massive success of Vol. 3 and its radio singles and ballads, it felt like on the follow up, All Hope Is Gone that the band were trying to be more of a ‘normal’ band instead of celebrating their uniqueness. Here they seem to shine a spotlight on them more often.
What else is great is that the band aren’t afraid to do new things. ‘Birth Of The Cruel’ for example sees the band discover ‘90s Groove Metal, and lean into the sort of riffs and drum beats that would fit on Burn My Eyes or Chaos Ad at times, with bendy riffs, and stomping jarring rhythms. Obviously through a Slipknot filter, but still…
I think the best thing about the album though might well be the fact that Corey isn’t holding back with his vocals so much. On the first album he screamed his head off so much that we were told he wasn’t allowed to talk between shows so he could rest his voice. By the time Vol. 3 came around he had to find a way to scream without damaging his voicebox and came up with the new voices that he has been using on that and all subsequent albums. It feels at times though that on this album (and maybe ‘Custer’ off of the last album… because as I said, I don’t get the hate for that one) that Corey is back to shredding his throat to pieces like back in the glory days. Some of the vocals on ‘Red Flag’ and the start of ‘Orphan’ could be straight out of ‘People = Shit’ or ‘The Heretic Anthem’ and that is the sound I fell in love with all those years ago. That was a big part of the initial magic that hooked me in and made me such a lifer for this generation defining band. Corey howling himself hoarse is just one of the best noises in all of heavy music and its nice to hear it so much again.
The production is also good, it keeps the mix clear without losing the frenzied and chaotic feel too much on the heavier tracks. You can hear each beater on the kick drum, you can hear the bass under the vocals, but you can also tune out and just be swept away in the energy of the whole thing. It doesn’t feel like the edges have been sanded down too much.
One little minor niggle against the album is the exclusion of the track ‘All Out Life’ (which was separately released back around Halloween 2018, but it contains the title line ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ repeatedly chanted). Admittedly; There was one bit I didn’t like in it, where they slow down and there is the spoken word ‘‘I will not…’’ section that was a bit similar to the intro of ‘Pulse Of The Maggots.’ Otherwise however, that track was quite a rager. I really love how driving the first verse is and when he sings that ‘’the horizon is coming like a hellbent killing machine’’ you really feel this sense of urgency and momentum. I have just added the track in as number 15 on my iTunes and phone so I get to hear it every time I hear the album (which has been pretty much non-stop since release). If you want it on CD though, you’d have to buy the special Japanese bonus track edition. Bit of a shame though that everyone doesn’t just get it as standard, because it’s a great song that I’ve really grown to love and it fits into the album well.
I feel it’s a bit weird to leave it out, as the biggest complaint I have about The Gray Chapter is that it needs just one more heavy song to balance the album out. It’s a bit frustrating to see them make the same decision again. I mean don’t get me wrong; I like ‘A Liar’s Funeral’ and ‘Not Long For This World’ and their atmospheric build ups. (Slipknot have always been the master of that, with the likes of ‘Gently’ and ‘Skin Ticket’ in the good old days, and ‘If Rain Is What You Want’ recently). But what right-minded metal fan wouldn’t want the majority of a Slipknot album to be flailing double kicks and gnarly riffs?
Now I don’t want it to be exclusively speed and power. Slipknot’s diversity is as big a draw as their ferocity. The band have always had a creepy experimental side (often driven by Shawn) to balance out Joey and Mick’s love of Deicide and Morbid Angel. All the way back to ‘Tattered And Torn,’ ‘Frail Limb Nursery’ and ‘Scissors’ from the debut and evolving into things like ‘The Virus Of Life’ and ‘Danger Keep Away (Extended Version)’ they have been balancing out the aggressive songs with nightmarish moments. They have also been experimenting with clean and subtle moments on recent albums like ‘Killpop’ and ‘Goodbye.’ So you can sort of see the legacy and evolution there and so it isn’t a total bolt out of the blue, when this album takes the cleans and mixes them with the creepy to come up with a new sound. I have read a lot of reviews of this record saying this record is dominated by experimentation. You can sort of see why. The album is full of creepy nursery rhyme-meets-experimental electronic tracks. ‘Death Because Of Death,’ ‘What’s Next,’ ‘My Pain’ and ‘Spiders’ for example come across at the same time as being both something that the band has never done before but also as a continuation in their long line of broadening the scope of their albums by adding in something more esoteric.
This album is certainly diverse; you have the four aforementioned quiet creepy ones, you have the two above-mentioned atmospheric ones, a selection of ragers as discussed prior, the huge big radio single with the surprisingly heavy verses and great drumming to open the proceedings. There’s also ‘Critical Darling’ which toes the line between radio and rager with its chorus reminiscent of Alice In Chains’ track ‘God Smack,’ and then there’s the album closer ‘Soloway Firth,’ which is a sprawling, strangely structured and winding song that goes in many different directions and which requires a good few listens to even pin down and follow what’s going on. Its not prog, but its certainly not three-chord trick, verse-chorus-verse, rock either.
All in all it is a very interesting listen (even without adding in ‘All Out Life’ for heaviness sake). I don’t want to go and say ‘’The best album since…’’ because I am really fond of all their albums, but it is certainly really good. Really, really good in fact. As a bit of an over eager fan it certainly satisfies, but objectively it is a damn fine record with a good flow, a good balance of different directions, a good sound and fantastic vocal performance. It not only meets my high expectations but exceeds them.