Shades of Gray: Between the death and departure of various band members, Slipknot have had a rough few years. With .5: The Gray Chapter, they channel the energy of deceased bassist Paul Gray and return with a brutal but multifaceted album.
“The future of Slipknot is always in doubt,” guitarist Jim Root says. “I always prepare for each album as if it’s gonna be the last.”
It’s a minor miracle that Slipknot have lasted as long as they have. Yet, they have endured since the group formed in Des Moines, Iowa, 19 years ago, becoming one of the heaviest and scariest bands in a genre crowded with heavy, scary acts. Some 13 years have elapsed since the band’s self-titled debut album placed them at the forefront of the then-burgeoning nu-metal scene.
“With all the different guys in the band and all the different ideas of what’s what, it’s hard to get everybody on the same page sometimes,” Root says. “We are a very tight brotherhood, but we never know what we’re going to do.”
However, nothing in Slipknot’s turbulent history has been as daunting as the death of their longtime bass player, Paul Gray, from a morphine overdose in 2010. The tragedy was compounded by the recent departure - somewhat acrimonious, apparently - of longtime drummer Joey Jordison. Because both Gray and Jordison were key songwriters for the band, Slipknot’s future has hung in the balance these past few years.
But Mick Thomson, Gray’s coguitarist, says he never really considered packing it in.
“Any devastating moment throws you into shock,” he says. “I was just hoping that no one in the band was going to get caught up in the raw emotion of the moment and make any kind of grand statement, like, ‘I will not go on without Paul.’ You say something in the heat of emotion, and sometimes later when you settle down, you think, Maybe I should take that back. Once you can think straight again, what do you do? Obviously, you gotta get on with your life. We all grieve differently. I mean, we still are grieving, every time we think about it. It’s not something you get over. You just find a way to deal with it.”
With Gray and Jordison out of the picture, the bulk of songwriting duties fell to Jim Root on Slipknot’s new album .5: The Gray Chapter. The title pays homage to the deceased bassist, and the music remains true to Slipknot’s disturbing legacy.
Somber, sound-collage intros - generally assembled by Slipknot’s turntablist Sid Wilson, sampling maven Craig Jones and provocateur-in-chief Shawn “Clown” Crahan = lull the listener into a false sense of security. Then all hell breaks loose in a cacophony of car-bomb percussion as Root and Thomson’s down-tuned guitars chug and grind like some diabolic machine and lead singer Corey Taylor does his level best to projectile-vomit his tonsils out over his front teeth.
“Once we get in the studio, it sounds like us,” Thomson says of The Gray Chapter. “Some of it is very classic us. Some of it is slightly more experimental us.”
“We’re still evolving as a band,” Root adds. “I think that’s really important for a band to do, especially after being around for so many years. Paul, before he passed away, really wanted the band to experiment a lot more, musically, with the direction of where we’re going. We’d done Slipknot. We’d done Iowa. I think the closest thing we’ve done to a record that Paul was very excited about was probably The Subliminal Verses. It’s very diverse. It had a little bit of everything in it. And we’re still trying to find our way. For me, and for Paul’s legacy, it’s important that we continue to evolve.”
In Gray’s absence, Root and Thomson handled the majority of bass duties on the new album, although the band did some early work with Slipknot’s touring bassist Donnie Steele. “Donnie’s a great guy,” Root says. “We brought him in to help us out in the studio for a while. But it wasn’t really jivin’. He wanted to go home and get married and do all that stuff. It’s just better off for us to kinda move on from Donnie.”
The identity of the drummer on The Gray Chapter, as well as that of the bassist who will take Gray’s place once Slipknot hit the road, was still a closely guarded secret at press time.
“We’re not saying who the new drummer is,” Root confirms. “Even if people find out beyond a shadow of a doubt who the new drummer is, I think we’re always going to deny who it is. He might not last. He might tour with us a year and figure out we’re all insane and he can’t handle being around us. Or we might shut him out. Who knows? For Slipknot, I’d say drumming is only 50 or 60 percent of the job. The rest of it is who you are and what your personality is. Will you clash with guys like me, Mick, Clown, Corey, Craig and Chris? We all have these strong alpha-male personalities.”
While the identities of Slipknot‘s new drummer and bassist are widely believed to be Jay Weinberg & Alessandro ‘Vman’ Venturella respectively - the band themselves may never fully confirm it. Guitarist Jim Root told Guitar World:
“We’re not saying who the new drummer is. Even if people find out beyond a shadow of a doubt who the new drummer is, I think we’re always going to deny who it is. He might not last. He might tour with us a year and figure out we’re all insane and he can’t handle being around us. Or we might shut him out. Who knows? For Slipknot, I’d say drumming is only 50 or 60 percent of the job. The rest of it is who you are and what your personality is. Will you clash with guys like me, Mick, Clown, Corey, Craig and Chris? We all have these strong alpha-male personalities.”
On the bassist front, Jim Root stated that both he and fellow guitarist Mick Thomson handled the bulk of the playing in the studio. At one point touring bassist (and former guitarist) Donnie Steele was involved with the studio sessions for the bands new album “.5: The Gray Chapter“. However, things didn’t pan out, as Root explains:
“Donnie’s a great guy. We brought him in to help us out in the studio for a while. But it wasn’t really jivin’. He wanted to go home and get married and do all that stuff. It’s just better off for us to kinda move on from Donnie.”
Corey Taylor was recently interviewed by teen radio host Corey Taylor of Coreytaylortalks.com. During their chat Coreymore or less the confirmed the rumors that the bands new bassist is Alessandro ‘Vman’ Venturella of Krokodil.
“They’re not official band members yet, but they are people who play with the band. Time will tell whether or not they’re, like, full members. With this band, you earn everything. You’re not just given that shot; you have to earn it. And so far, they’re doing really well. And we’re really enjoying jamming with them.
But we’re keeping it kind of on the DL, but not really, ’cause somebody already pointed out the tattoos. I was, like, ‘Why didn’t we make him wear gloves?’ I was so upset. I was, like, we thought of all this stuff. We put the hood on him and then the mask, and it was, like, ‘It’s really hot, guys,’ And then there is his tattoos for everybody. I was, like, ‘Well, we missed the mark on that one.’”
Corey Taylor also spoke of the ‘Scent Of Knotfest‘, which he attributed to percussionist M. Shawn “Clown” Crahan:
“He’s a very, very weird character—and I’m saying that out of love Clown—I don’t want him to hit me with a stick if I say this. But he had this idea for the smell of Slipknot and ‘I’m like OK, alright, you have my attention.’ Now i’m thinking its some type of aromatherapy weirdness, some kind of incense stick. But he’s like ‘no, no, no.
We’re going to dry camel dung and burn it in barrels around the fairgrounds’ I’m just staring at him, just like ‘really? that’s what we smell like is burning camel poo?’ To each is own, I’m not going to light up a nice little stick of camel poo at my house to just chill, ya know. But the fans love it for some reason, cause we did it at the first ‘Knotfest‘ and you could kind of smell it in the air, but it was very kind of weird.”
Corey Taylor also opened up on his transforming new mask, saying:
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“With every album my mask has evolved and evolved and eolved. So this one specifically is supposed to represent the person behind the mask, but then the person behind that person. Which is one of the reasons why it’s two pieces. You can peel the one off and it’s still a representation… It’s almost like having two faces, but it’s the same person.”
A new Slipknot album is always going to be an event, but this really is something else. A whole lot has changed in the six long years that have passed since the 'Knot's last record, All Hope Is Gone. They're two founder members down, for a start: Paul Gray, of course, tragically passed away in 2010, and Joey Jordison, the diminutive percussive powerhouse, was ousted last year.
1. The mystery drummer
Ok, so we start with the one thing we didn't learn - who the hell is playing drums?!
While rumours persist that former Against Me drummer Jay 'son of Max' Weinberg is the man at the kit, there has been no confirmation from the Slipknot camp, and it seems that the band have no plans to officially unveil the identities of their new drummer or bass player.
2. They're not hiding the mystery man's playing
Whoever it is at the kit, they have done an incredible job. It would have been easy for Slipknot to have come out and hidden their new drummer's work beneath Corey Taylor's roar and the monstrous guitar work of Jim Root and Mick Thomson, but instead, the new boy is put right up front and centre and basically told to give it his best. It's a brave move - Jordison is so adored that the playing by his replacement on this record will be picked apart - but we think it's one that pays off.
3. This guy brought his A game
The real drumming action starts on the record's second track, Sarcastrophe. It's got the lot, kicking off with big, high-pitched toms, before an almighty wave of crashes. We're smashed around the chops with pummeling double bass and scattergun fills all over the kit, but there's plenty of light to go with the shade thanks to some neat snare, kick and hat interplay, something that becomes a theme that runs throughout the drum work on the record. This is the sound of a drummer keen to impress, and one who has the chops to back up his lofty ambitions.
4. It's lyrically dark
To be expected, but The Gray Chapter is most definitely a dark, uncomfortable listen when it comes to lyrics. Opener XIX is dark, brooding and - when it comes to drums - sparsely populated. Taylor gives us the first glimpse of the raw lyrical journey we're about to set out on by screaming, "Don't let this f***ing world tear you apart".
The shadow of Paul Gray's loss clearly hangs heavily over the band. Skeptic is centred around the lyric, "The world will never know another man as amazing as you, the world will never know another crazy mother f**ker like you," while Goodbye's, "No one is bulletproof" could be a nod to either Paul Gray or Joey Jordison.
5. Musically, it's not quite so dark...
While The Gray Chapter may be punishing lyrically, it has its fair share of lighter musical moments. Stone Sour-ish melodic choruses dovetail with brutal, double kick-led verses on tracks like Killpop.
6. Joey will be missed
The six years between Slipknot records have been crushingly difficult for the band, and they sound like they're very much in transition. The new man at the kit has done an impressive job, but it could be argued that The Gray Chapter misses the spark of Jordison's signature drumming.
“.5: The Gray Chapter” is due in stores October 21st on Roadrunner. Pre-Order the brand new album now from iTunes / Amazon.com.
"XIX" opens up with a distorted bagpipe-sounding keyboard patch, a glockenspiel and an acoustic guitar in the background. Corey Taylor's vocals come in over the eerie soundscape alongside muted drums quietly keeping the beat and Taylor's voice just sounds strained in a fed up, pissed off way. "XIX" is interesting because it keeps building on a lot of additional instrumentation, volume increases and layered vocal harmonies seeping into frame. The main scratchy, sickening soundscape remains constant and you can almost feel Taylor glaring at you. It seems like Slipknot is trying to make you feel uneasy and scared with this track.
The song builds and builds, edging toward total paranoia, and finally arrives at… nothing. Everything falls apart and you're left with the original soundscape in extreme disrepair. It’s you're expecting something to jump out at you from behind a curtain. You reach toward it and there's nothing behind it, but you're pretty sure there's someone breathing down the back of your neck now.
"Sarcastrophe" picks up where "XIX" left off in terms of mood. There’s light percussion, effected clean guitars and a bubbling static noise. Things pick up with the addition of cymbals and distorted guitars. Then, out of nowhere, a drum fill and you're thrown into the midst of Corey Taylor growling his fucking face off. The heaviness arrives in the same way the band did heaviness on their debut record- plenty of heft in terms of a traditional metal band, but with more percussion going on and the added madness of DJ electronically adding layers of insanity.
It’s immediately noticeably that this is not the Slipknot you think you're getting. This is a Slipknot that is righteously pissed off. There's blasts, there's tremolo-picked riffs and there's non-conventional breakdowns that include sampling and keyboard work and aren't drum centric. There's a strange, airy quality to the heaviness of this song. It's not this laser-focused precision that's cut and dry. It’s haunting, terrifying and larger than life. It's as if Slipknot were this spectral being here to kill you, but slowly… painfully.
"AOV" is driving in the same way the members of Amon Amarth are just kind of vikings. The combination of double bass and percussive attacks on the downbeats give the song a militaristic stomping quality while guitars simply drive like tanks through your speakers and keyboards sound the air raid sirens as if it were the end of days. There's a big hooky chorus that pops up between the bursts of violence that's going to get stuck in your head, and that's just the first half of the song. What surprised me was the interlude toward the middle of the track.
During the interlude, the majority of the band fades off and featured prominently, providing the melody aside from a tinkling piano and dreamy, swirling guitars, is the bassist. I'd go as far as calling this a bass solo. It’s melodious and has a sense of direction in that it touches on what the guitars are doing in the background but doesn't stick to them. With the band still mourning former bassist Paul Gray, I wasn't sure if this was going to be Slipknot's …And Justice For All.
It is not.
Everyone knows this song already, so I'll keep it brief. This is straight up classic Slipknot via their Iowa days with a heavy dose of that unsettling heaviness I’ve mentioned. It's also the slowest song up to this point (barring the introductory track) and I'd even say the least heavy.
Do not underestimate how much heavier this band has gotten.
The intro to "Killpop" brings back that "XIX" phantasm keyboard sound along with plodding drums doubled up by what sounds like an electronic drum kit. The best way to describe "Killpop" is a ballad co-written by Satan himself and someone who is just totally empty inside. It's cold, it's slow and it seems to deal with drugs, the issue of addiction and someone taking advantage of them. "Killpop" is interesting because it relies on keyboards and alternative percussion as the main focus the song, barring the blistering guitar solo and blastfest in last forty seconds of the song.
As a quick refresher, Craig "133" Jones is listed as doing media and sampling in the band, Sid Wilson on turntables and Chris Fehn on percussion for the group. The trio has always been a part of the group's sound and a big part of the live show, but they shine in a huge way here. After listening to the record in full, I can honestly say the three have a big hand in .5: The Grey Chapter terrifying. In fact, they’ve the backbone to two of the five songs we've looked at so far!
There's a lot of references to someone dying and some else being arrested for it in “Skeptic.” I’m near positive this one is directly about Gray’s death. The chorus of the is particularly touching in both inflection as well as lyric, reading-
"The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you.
The world will never know another man as amazing as you.”
"Skeptic" is an interesting song musically. It starts off with the typical Slipknot stomp and then launches into a Soilwork-worthy melodic death metal chorus, even using a pre-chorus section twice in two different formats that gets blindingly fast and uses a lot of chromatic, dissonant tonal work. "Skeptic" opens up the sonic space a lot throughout its runtime to be filled out entirely by (we assume) Jay Weinberg's drumming, giving the song this very punk rock feel with grindcore sense of anger.
“I know why Judas wept, motherfucker.” Those are the words that seem to boil out of Taylor’s mouth at the beginning of “Lech.” There’s no instrumentation backing him up, there’s nothing. This is between you and Taylor, and so help you he’s going to make sure you heard him.
“Lech” takes the punk feel of “Skeptic” and heaviness of “AOV,” and marries them into the sound of ten thousand soldiers with Doc Martens and six-foot mohawks curb stomping everything. There’s a few passages in the song that use effect-laden guitars that sound like broken machines and even some glitched audio that serves as a vehicle for the band to essentially make sure you’re feeling the violence. At this point, I’m noticing the main focus of Slipknot’s songwriting seems to be the flow of energy in a song- how can they make people feel something during this song, or beat the shit out of each other or even we make their pain evident.
That attention is obvious and well noted.
The bass is high up in the mix again, the creepy synths are back and there’s orchestral bells, timpanis and what sounds like a choir that got all of it’s treble and high mid frequencies stolen. The first half of the song is an ambient ballad and then about half way through the band takes the themes from the first half and transposes them onto guitars, drums, and everything else we’ll define here as the “traditional metal band.” It’s cool to hear the original themes go from these airy instruments onto heavily distorted guitars, not necessarily because it translates well, but because the contrast works amazingly to close out the song. Everything gets faster, heavier, darker and louder until there’s a brief band unison and then silence.
I’m glad this wasn’t a ballad. It would have worked just fine as a ballad, but this is Slipknot in 2014 on .5: The Gray Chapter. Fuck the rules.
This is probably a good place to mention the differentiation between keyboard patches and samples used on the record. While a lot of them are indeed terror-inducing and generally have this feel to them that can be described accurately as “nausea-inducing,” each song that uses them in whatever massive instrumental arsenal being employed uses them differently. It’s as if the sounds are tailored to each song, which harkens back to the notion that this record was meticulously written.
All this talk of the “new Slipknot heaviness” goes right out the window on this one. If you told me this was a song from Iowa that was just a little too weird to be included on the record, I would believe you. The main riff is this chunky stop-and-go kind of thing that breaks out into an odd, somewhat off-kilter melody in the chorus. “Nomadic” is a really straight forward song that employs probably some of the strangest melodies the band has used up to now. It has this seasick, chromatic feeling to it with low-toned spoken word parts here and there and another ripping guitar solo.
It’s the chorus that gets me more than anything else in this song. That angular riff that Taylor’s singing over has this counterpoint quality going for it with the riff underneath and it’s just infectious. If you could hear the instrumental version of this song, there are points where most vocalists would be left scratching their heads wondering what would fit overtop. Then again, most vocalists aren’t Corey Taylor.
“The One That Kills The Least” starts off with a riff that should signal something heavy, but instead the song stays mid-paced and gets pretty anthematic and slow touring the chorus. For some reason this song reminds me of “The Heretic Anthem” at a slower tempo, or basically any of the lighter songs from Vol. 3. The kicker to this song is that even though it’s slow, it has this anxious feeling like it wants to speed up at every turn, but just keeps backing down instead.
One of the cooler aspects of this song is the recurring guitar theme. There are a few variations of it presented throughout, both as low-down riffs and higher-up melodies or leads, but in the end it’s all still this descending pattern that seems to trip over itself initially and then tumble into place. Upon my first listen through the album I was floored at just how much fantastic guitar work there is throughout the album, with “The One That Kills The Least” being the song that finally made it click that both Mick Thomson and Jim Root are ridiculously capable at their instruments.
“Custer” starts off quickly with the band playing a hooky unison riff before breaking down into a bass drum, distorted bass and the occasional tom. Enter Corey Taylor, who starts off with a seemingly Lamb of God-influenced spoken word section before going flat out lunatic status. Right as the song explodes, there’s a quick change back to spoken word and then this four-on-the-floor chant that has everything come crashing down around you and ends on a scream that decays a little more every time it echoes off into the depths of the abyss.
This is the song that will have every single person at every single concert screaming at the top of their lungs for the chants before beating the everliving shit out of each other for the remainder of the song. This is the song you’re going to be blasting in your song when it comes on and scaring the piss out of the poor grandmother in the Buick next to you. There aren’t too many components to this one. It’s a pounding sound that takes on that electronica aesthetic of beating you submission.
Another interlude, but it’s interesting. There’s distorted speaking in the beginning that sounds like a distant voice in a tiled chamber while something is intermittently being crunched around you. That atmosphere gives way to a singular, theremin-sounding keyboard (which was there in the first place but quieter) with a much louder voice that seems to add pitches into its timbre as it continues speaking. Other than that, it’s just a break between songs.
Another song we’re all familiar with. “The Negative One” is actually a really solid example of what this album is all about and showcases a lot of the sounds I’m referencing here. It has that classic Slipknot stomp to it, it has all the hallmark DJ sounds, screeches and scratches from their earlier days and it has the hellishly nimble drumming you’re going to hear non-stop throughout the record.
I know Slipknot said “The Negative One” wasn’t technically a single off the record, but it’s a great representation of the record. Not necessarily what the whole record sounds like considering how varied it is, but it gives a pretty good idea.
“If Rain Is What You Want” is a slow burner and an excellent end to a record. It builds slowly upon the blocks of muddy guitars and vocals that seem to be sung through a blanket up to the full band mournfully culling the apocalypse one last time. Everything you have heard up to this point on the record in terms of instrumentation and mood is encompassed in this one. Whether that was purposely done or everything just happened to fit is a mystery, but much like the rest of the record everything seems to have been planned out in terms of its place in this sonic portrait.
The song isn’t trying to crush you to death anymore- the rest of the record has done that just fine. Instead, this is the song that plays over the montage as they find your body and eventually lower you into the ground as the frame widens and everything goes skyward. Even as the song reaches the apex of heaviness, there’s a very sorrowful quality to it that floats down into noise and one last verse sung before its lights out and once for all.
If it hasn't been made abundantly clear by now, let me reiterate the irrefutable fact that .5: The Gray Chapter is an extremely coherent album that will please fans who have waited and probably garner multitudes of new ones. The sequencing of songs on the record ensures a smooth listen, the writing is impeccable, the lyrics range from straightforward and emotional to sinister and cryptic and the new members fit into the group perfectly and even shine through with their musical personalities.
To sum it all up, .5: The Gray Chapter is an album that retains the classic Slipknot sonic signature while adding new flourishes and finishes the stroke with a solid stab right through the paper.
“.5: The Gray Chapter” is due in stores October 21st on Roadrunner. Pre-Order the brand new album now from iTunes / Amazon.com.
Review Credit: http://www.metalinjection.net/reviews/slipknots-5-the-gray-chapter-review-track-by-track-first-impressions
The annual ‘Rock am Ring‘ and ‘Rock im Park‘ festivals in Germany will be reaching their 30th and 20th anniversaries respectively next year. Among the initial wave of artists set for the June 05th-07th run of shows are:
Lamb Of God
Die Toten Hosen
Frank Turner And The Sleeping Souls
For additional details head to rock-am-ring.com.