Slipknot Is Back...But Who's Buying?

Slipknot stopped by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion during Rockstar Energy Drink's 2012 Mayhem Fest.
Slipknot stopped by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion during Rockstar Energy Drink's 2012 Mayhem Fest.
Photo by Victor Pena

Last month Slipknot rose from the ashes, releasing their first new record since 2008 and their first since losing drummer Joey Jordison and bassist Paul Gray. .5: The Gray Chapter is currently being praised as a return to form for the band, going back to the roots of their more successful sound on the album Iowa back in 2001.

This renaissance for the band is surprising, to say the least. For their fans, it's welcome and overdue. For the rest of us, it's just raising all kinds of questions. You see, full disclosure: I always hated Slipknot, growing up in the era where they were at their peak. But could that change? Could all these years have melted my icy heart?

When I was a young teenager, Slipknot was everywhere. They were one of the biggest metal bands on the planet, and they were universally beloved. Their masks and secret identities went over just as well for them as it did for KISS in the '70s. People were intrigued by the fact that they presented themselves as these avatars.

It helped that their lyrics connected so greatly to what so many teenagers of the era were feeling. Where KISS traded in rock and roll cliches because that's what teens of the '70s were into, my generation was an angry one and Slipknot thrust themselves fully into that niche.

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Their lyrics were so pissed off and miserable, they felt dangerous. Songs like "People = Shit" convinced people these guys could really be the sorts who would gun down innocents. They took everything Nine Inch Nails and Korn brought to the table and amped it up.

I couldn't relate. I was a sad teen, not an angry one. I never wanted to kill anyone. I was just filled with heartbreak. I listened to emo, not rage-filled music like this. Slipknot's lyrics never got over with me, and I thought their music stunk too. After all, it was essentially just slightly heavier radio-metal.

Fans wearing the masks really did not help my perception any.
Fans wearing the masks really did not help my perception any.
Photo by Victor Pena

Not to mention, the mask schtick was just begging to be lumped in with lowest common denominator horrocore bullshit like Insane Clown Posse. The whole gimmick reeked of the same desperation to be an outsider that painting your face and calling yourself a juggalo did. Emo found its roots in punk, and so both traded in real, in your face attitudes, with raw, barren emotions. You didn't hide behind a mask in that scene.

So, yes, as a young man, I thought Slipknot was garbage. Not just garbage in the way that Korn or Limp Bizkit were garbage, but embarrassing garbage somewhere alongside liking ICP or liking Phil Collins. But here's the point I'm making by laying this all out: people change.

As my past work here at Rocks Off shows, I fell in love with Phil Collins somewhere around the age of 16 and never stopped. My adoration for that man is endless. I would have called you so many names for appreciating No Jacket Required when I was younger than that, but now I consider Invisible Touch one of my top ten albums of all time.

So let's set aside all this "embarrassing" stuff. I quite believing in guilty pleasures a long time ago when I started unabashedly embracing pop songwriting. Let's just look at where Slipknot is today

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Slipknot are no longer mocked in 2014. But are they truly legendary?
Slipknot are no longer mocked in 2014. But are they truly legendary?
Photo by Mark C. Austin

Call it nostalgia or maybe it's just people too young to remember what it was like when Slipknot was around the first time, but their stock has definitely risen. In 2014, people aren't ashamed to like Slipknot. They aren't mocked. In fact, Slipknot have become legends. They're practically the Metallica of their time period. If you like heavy music nowadays, you probably love and respect Slipknot.

That's a huge change from the way it was when I was growing up. That also intrigues me, given their new album. Who is Slipknot now? Are they still the same brand they were in 2001 or 2004? Could Slipknot win my heart now, removed from the stigma of their time period, removed from my biases, and firmly established as a band with real, honest-to-God street cred?

On the real? Not really. .5: The Gray Chapter sounds pretty much like typical Slipknot. I can definitely see where critics and fans alike find it to be a return to form. Though I haven't honestly listened to Slipknot's 2008 "experimental" album, All Hope is Gone, I have heard that it found the band in a less than stellar place.

One might say that's what a band like Slipknot gets for tampering with the formula. That's not to say that they shouldn't do so; I've long defended bands for taking artistic detours. However, a band like Slipknot's core fan base is not exactly one that takes change with flippancy. See: Load, Metallica.

So even though I lack the context to put into perspective how refreshing The Gray Chapter might sound to a fan disappointed by All Hope is Gone all those years ago, I can at least understand the sentiment. However, that puts me in a unique position listening to this new album. I have no nostalgia for it to live or die by.

Given that, my initial impression is that, though it sounds like Slipknot, it also sounds like a million other bands in the world. Suddenly, I find myself appreciating how great Slipknot's influence has been on heavy music since their debut in 1999. It becomes easy to see why their legacy is so firmly cemented. The copycats all around them lend them an air of credibility since they were so early to the party.

It engenders a certain respect in me, knowing that I like a good deal of bands who probably draw heavily on their sound. I can hear parts here and there where I'm reminded of newer bands, clearly ones who spent a lot of time listening to Slipknot back in the day, that I love, and then it makes me like Slipknot just a little bit more.

But is it a great record? If you're a fan of Slipknot, it just might be. For the rest of us, it's business as usual for a band who for the most part fails to impress. There are a few segments, like one melodic part in the song "AOV," where I find myself digging it. But even though bands I love draw from Slipknot, I still think those bands synthesize what they may have learned from Slipknot to write superior music than their forefathers.

Thus, though I certainly find myself begrudgingly giving Slipknot props, I still can't say I'm a fan. On the other hand, I can see they have done very well at what they do this time around, and if you like what they do, you're probably going to love this album, warts and all. "Killpop," the ballad-y pinnacle of cheese on the record to me, might be your new jam. For that, I admit, the veterans have succeeded. I might not like it, but I finally get it.


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