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Why It Mattered: Slipknot – ‘Slipknot’

Twenty-one years ago, nine masked hoodlums from Iowa released an album that changed the face (literally and figuratively) of metal forever. At a time when metal was governed by the nu-metal uncoolness of Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Papa Roach, Slipknot rebuilt the possibilities of the genre’s future, all the while pushing it to its heaviest reaches yet.

Just put yourself back in the year 2000, the heavier aspects of the charts were full of white men wearing baseball caps and baggy pants. Out of what seemed like nowhere, nine people wearing jumpsuits, marked by a number, all wearing masks decided to put out one of the heaviest albums ever released. They knew exactly how much kids parents, authorities, and conservative groups would hate them, and that’s exactly why they were accepted by nerds, loners and geeks across the world as freeing them from the shackles of the past. Slipknot were something new, they were something dark, they were something that people had literally never seen before.

Slipknot wearing their original jumpsuits circa. 1999

The debut album from Slipknot rebuilt metal in their own image – terrifying, loud, in-your-face, monstrous and completely and utterly magnificent.

The band originally formed in 1995. Drummer Joey Jordison, bassist Paul Grey, and percussionist Shawn Crahan met through the local Iowa music scene while performing in their respective bands at the time. Through meetings held at night at a local gas station where Jordison worked, the three decided they would put together their own group. After deciding on the name Slipknot, after one of the songs they had been working on, the three recruited other musicians from local scene to self produce a demo album in 1996. The demos, titled under Mate. Eat. Kill. Repeat, became incredibly sought-after in underground circuits due to the band’s genre-tripping wall of noise.

However, nothing eventuated from the demos. Original lead vocalist Anders Colsefni left the group to pursue other ventures and the band was left in a state of limbo. After being close with fellow Iowa band Stone Sour for a number of years, the members decided to hire lead singer Corey Taylor to add an element of melody to their music which was sorely missing. After numerous additions and removals, the Slipknot that we know today finally began to take shape.

In 1998, the band finally achieved their much-needed break. After gaining a massive following playing across Iowa, famed metal and rock producer Ross Robinson offered to produce their debut album. After signing to Roadrunner Records in 1998 for the tidy sum of $500 000 USD, the band was ready to blow up.

The recording of the band’s debut was all over the place. Described as “very aggressive and chaotic,” the band had gone in with only a selection of songs written. They had only recently hired Sid Wilson due to his impressive work with turntables, so the new incarnation of the group was incredibly fresh, raw, and disjointed. With a number of new members bringing the band’s total to nine, there were bound to be differences in opinions and goal.

Although the record was being produced at the height of nu-metal’s short-lived but commercial zenith, Jordison preferred to describe the band as being rooted in “death metal, thrash, speed metal, and I could go on and on about all those bands.” The sheer amount of percussion, many experienced through Jordison’s formidable drumming along with Crahan and new addition Chris Fehn’s aggressive smashing of metal tubs, the band were beginning to formulate a sound grounded in “inventive sampling, creative guitar work and an absolute percussive overload”.

Although the recording experienced a number of difficulties, all of the drum tracks were recorded in the first three days in the studio. This integral element to the album’s tribal rhythms meant that there could be a greater focus on the stranger musical additions that would help to push Slipknot to the forefront of a newer form of metal. After recording all of the tracks, including a pair of songs off their second demo tape, Wait and Bleed and Spit It Out, Jordison and Robinson encountered numerous issues mixing and mastering the entire album.

This was mainly due to the record being recorded solely on analogue recording equipment instead of the much more common digital technique. However, this would also play to the band’s advantage. By recording an album with this sheer amount of sounds and noises on it through analogue means, it leant itself to perfection. Therefore all the performances are at their rawest, most dive-bombingly-terrifying and in your face.

Slipknot in full performance

Slipknot in full performance mode

On June 29th 1999, Slipknot released their debut album. The record literally blew open the doors of metal. Allmusic perfectly describes the record, “You thought Limp Bizkit was hard? They’re The Osmonds. These guys are something else entirely. And it’s pretty impressive.” Rolling Stone magazine described the band as, “Metal with a capital M.” What is so incredible about the band is that it was able to combine the sheer pummel of metal at its hardest, all the while creating anthems for disenfranchised youths who needed something to fight against. And who did they rebel against? Literally fucking everything.

Surfacing has been described as their national anthem, basically stating their entire moto in a song; “Fuck it all! Fuck this world! Fuck everything that you stand for!”. The rest of the record doesn’t really stop this monolithic obliteration of everything you know to be true. Opening the record, 742617000027 samples the line, “The whole thing, I think it’s sick”, over and over. This is before we get everything we come to expect from a Slipknot track in the first official track. The guitars and drums work in a perpetual mechanical chug that can only be described as tank-like. Songs like Eyeless, Liberate, Only One, Eeyore and No Life all continue this intense energy. Imagine you’re standing inside a factory, the machinery is working in tandem, growing, creating, noisily constructing. Slipknot is the noise of the factory turned up to 11. They are a unit of nine faceless workers, deformed by society, creating noise. The machine is the only way to be heard and Slipknot accept that as fact.

However, Slipknot were never just a heavy band. They pushed the possibilities of dissonance and sound into literally unheard-of territories. The off-putting guitar tones at the beginning of Tattered and Torn only meld into complicated drums flows, bass rumbles and screams for help. All the while, Corey Taylor almost whispers above the noise, and even when he shouts, he is drowned in the sounds around him. Then, at the 2:20 mark, the band unload into hell. The only place this song belongs is in the depths of the largest volcano, drowning.

Directly after you have Purity; a song, which for my money, is one of their most experimental and interesting. Beginning with faded drums, the song comes into full Slipknot-bloom with Sid Wilson’s incredible record scratches. The verses are sparse, with Taylor whispering of incomparable drum fills and samples. The song describes a fictional (although originally created a controversy on release due to people thinking the story was true) story of a girl called Purity who is buried alive. The bridge of, “You all stare, but you’ll never see, something inside me”, perfectly encapsulates the band’s desire to show how far-reaching they were even when nobody seemed to care. This spoke to millions, eventually sending the band double platinum in the US.

The album is grounded by the two songs re-recorded from the band’s second demo. The band’s debut single, Wait and Bleed, holds their most undeniable melody. With the perfect mix between incredibly heavy verses showcasing each individual member, the chorus is, somehow, the catchiest melody the band has ever written, and maybe one of the catchiest choruses in all of metal:

I’ve felt the hate rise up in me
Kneel down and clear the stone of leaves
I wander out where you can’t see
Inside my shell, I wait and bleed

If you ever wanted an anthem for the lost and confused, this was it. However, it is the bands second single and their coup de grace which has meant the band were always here to stay. Spit It Out features one of the most infamous and undeniable mosh pit breakdowns of all time. Taylor’s infamous “Sit the fuck down” – “Jump the fuck up” cries have turned the song into the stuff of legend. I would be lying to myself if I said I could still sing every single lyric on that track. It has ingrained itself into my psyche even after all of these years. Just watch the live performance of the band at our very own Big Day Out and sit in awe at the absolutely terrifying nature of the band in their heyday.

This isn’t a concert you would have wanted to be stuck in the middle of. They were manufactured to obliterate every other band on the planet. Nothing could stand in their way. Live, they became one with the crowd. The crowd would move and throb to their noise. The video below may be the greatest ever mosh pit in Australian history. This is where Slipknot come alive. This is their circus.

The band would go on to achieve enormous commercial and critical success over the next two decades. They would dabble in heavier subject matter on albums like Iowa and Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), they would look towards a more melodic rock path with All Hope Is Gone, they would deal with the death of founding member Paul Gray on .5: The Gray Chapter, and eventually release the game-changing We Are Not Your Kind in 2019.

However, Slipknot’s own and original brand of metal began with their self-titled debut. 21 years on, it still holds all the power and anguish that it held on its release day. The record is now old enough to have its first drink in America, with early fans of the band and album probably deep into family life. When I first saw those nine masked creatures on the front cover of this album, I was so horrified I refused to listen to them. However, as I moved through my angry teenage years, this record helped to unburden some of that aggression and pain. It eased the load by showing my I didn’t have to fight alone.

21 years down the track, Slipknot’s debut is game-changing, powerful, and purely metal. No album has been this heavy and this commercially and critically loved. 21 years on, this album remains the headstone for the old guard of metal and a pointer towards the new guard. This is one of the most important metal albums of all time, so put it on and feel the air rise up in you one more time.

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June 29, 2020