On a crisp autumn evening kicking off a Halloween weekend, what could be more perfect than a Slipknot concert?
As fate would have it, the planets aligned, and Slipknot’s Knotfest Roadshow 2021 rolled into the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Friday night, with the masked musicians headlining a bill that also included Killswitch Engage, Fever 333, and Code Orange.
For those not familiar with the band, it should be mentioned that all members of Slipknot wear individually designed masks and jumpsuits, a costuming strategy that creates an onstage look that is somewhere between a low budget horror movie and a fascist rally.
Continuing to address this same group of readers, it must be stressed that Slipknot is the “mask” band, whereas Insane Clown Posse is the metal band that uses greasepaint in the manner of a demented Emmett Kelly to create its visual identity. Further, let us note that Slipknot’s fans are referred to as “maggots,” while the ICP faithful go by the “juggalo” moniker.
Following a musical introduction provided by AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock,” Slipknot aurally pulverized an adoring crowd eager for the collective catharsis provided by the nine-member ensemble. Lead singer Cory Taylor led the charge with the opener “Unsainted,” sporting a grisly new mask for the tour, one that recalled Gwynplaine and the Black Dahlia, both of whom were sliced from the corners of their mouths to their ears.
Leaving the show biz trappings aside for a moment in order to consider Slipknot’s music, their sound has been characterized as nu-metal, meaning that it is, strictly speaking, heavy metal (crunching guitars, booming bass, and busy drums) combined with influences like hip-hop and industrial music. This cross-pollination creates appealing dynamics within the music, as Taylor adroitly switches from full-voiced vocals to growling rap cadences.
Were it not for Taylor’s vocal melodies, Slipknot would descend into the sonic mediocrity that characterizes many of its contemporaries. Say what you will about Taylor, that dude can sing. And scream, and bellow, and howl, conjuring up a powerful variety of sounds. How he has maintained his voice over a two-decade career is a wonder.
Speaking of Taylor, has any Houston audience ever hear so many individual utterances of the word “fuck” or its numerous derivations from any other rock and roll front man? One wished for the type of clicker used by bar managers to count the number of patrons, so as to properly enumerate the total number of f-bombs delivered during the concert. Fifteen was the count for Taylor's first between-song address to the maggots, and most of his subsequent discourses quickly jumped into double-digit territory.
The members of Slipknot are the spiritual children of Alice Cooper and KISS, serving up rock and roll theater which combines thundering music with makeup, spectacle, and explosions. Slipknot consists of five core members: a vocalist, two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer. They are joined onstage by two DJ’s ostensibly scratching on turntables and two percussionists pounding on drums housed in beer kegs.
The contributions of these latter four musicians may be more apparent in the studio, but their function on Friday seemed to be primarily one of choreography and exhortation. Adding to the bravado, as they say. The DJ positioned on a riser at stage left spent much of his time on a short conveyor belt in front of his turntables, moonwalking like a Druid Michael Jackson, costumed as he was in a red robe that would have fit right in with Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge routine.
The production values were spectacular, with a multileveled stage providing room for several video screens and pyro installations. The musicians moved freely about the set, with Alessandro Venturella roaming the high platform while shooting the flamethrower that was attached to his bass. This accessory will surely be available at Guitar Center within a few weeks, just in time for the holiday season.
Guitarists Mick Thomson and Jim Root laid down a chugging musical foundation, heavy on the downstrokes. Along with bassist Venturella and drummer Jay Weinberg, they create a sound that has no swing or syncopation, relying on metronomic intensity to convey its message.
After acknowledging the other bands who participated in the Knotfest Roadshow, Taylor took a moment to deliver an unaffected plea for unity that, while mentioning the manifold efforts being made to divide the country, held out some hope for peace, based on his reminder to the crowd that “you are surrounded by family that has your fucking back.” Taylor concluded, “The only way we get through this is as one fucking family.” The audience responded decisively in the affirmative, providing a figurative glimmer amidst the thematic darkness of the evening.
Despite another several songs dealing with subjects including corrosive anger, psychotic illness, and emotional dread, the crowd of maggots, willing and proud outcasts, left in a fine mood, buoyed by the just-concluded emotional purge. With Halloween just a couple of days away, maybe some demons had been exorcised.
Slipknot Set List
Before I Forget
The Heretic Anthem
The Devil in I
Wait and Bleed
All Out Life
Spit It Out
People = Shit