Believe it or not, in the year 2019, a Slipknot album has just topped the US charts; something that hasn’t happened in several years. Despite their last release accomplishing the same thing, with Linkin Park’s current hiatus, I never thought we’d see the return of nu metal on the throne of popular music, but the internet has brought it back with a vengeance. And I have to be honest. I’m kind of excited about it.
For those of you not as familiar with Slipknot: they’ve been around for roughly 25 years now, with their debut studio album released 20 years ago, in 1999. Arriving at the height of nu metal’s popularity, it quickly gained a huge amount of attention; achieving platinum status in early 2000, which had never been accomplished by someone from Roadrunner Records. Their unmatched aggression in the genre, combined with their unique visual performance put them at the forefront of the music industry. I mean, who else can say they look like Slipknot? They’re a walking horror film!
Slipknot’s pretty chilling original album art
Following up their successful, self-titled debut were two just as successful follow-ups: Iowa, and Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses). Heck, even All Hope is Gone, released in 2008, and (as previously stated), their 2014 release, .5: The Gray Chapter peaked at number 1 as well. So, as you can see, Slipknot has had their fair bit of success, despite occasional infighting between band members, and a changing music industry.
That all being said, I believe this is their most well-received; or at least talked-about; album to date. While certain publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork were lukewarm on the release, it currently sports an 89 on Metacritic, and has received many 4 and 5 star reviews from very large publications such as The Independent, NME, and Kerrang!. So naturally, as someone who at some point had a nu metal phase, I became intrigued.
The album delivered more, and quicker than I thought it would. After a brief intro track, Slipknot’s now-incredibly-popular song, “Unsainted,” provides a surprisingly intense, and even epic start. Starting off with some angelic hymns, it brings a grandiosity that isn’t really present in most of their music. This adds to the impact of the aggressive, harsh tone they often use, and I think immerses you immediately. Combine that with the sheer catchiness of the chorus, and it does indeed make a pretty good opener.
This grand opening doesn’t necessarily continue on from this one track, but the overwhelming intensity certainly does. Following tracks like “Birth Of The Cruel,” and “Nero Forte” bring back old, prime Slipknot before “Critical Darling” and “A Liar’s Funeral” respond with a mixture of fierce energy and softer, emotional melodies. The last track mentioned features an incredibly long, emotive, and impactful “LIAR,” which is incredibly depressing.
If there’s one thing that’s apparent about this release, it’s that Slipknot has learned how to collide several of their different sounds throughout the years. Their softer period during the mid-2000’s shows itself here without derailing any of the power from their original sound. Other tracks like “Spiders” have a much more subtle evil to them. Instead of incredibly fast, pounding drums, it features much more of a groove metal feel; along with a piano intro that sounds straight out of an episode of X-Files.
The constant alternation between insanely loud and creepily quiet continue. “Red Flag;” which may be my favorite track on the album; sounds relatively similar to a hardcore punk song (ironically similar to Black Flag in a few ways). “Orphan” shows us much of the same, with lines like “You really wanna know who the fuck I am?/I am the orphan, the one who kills your world.”
Slipknot’s Mick Thomson (Image by: Eleanor Jane)
The album then eventually ends, with a very long stint of one of those slow-moving sections; followed by a final burst of energy. “My Pain” is probably the longest of the slower tracks, and is actually quite a bit too long in my opinion. Or too slow. The combination is just a bit much. “Not Long For This World,” and “Solway Firth” aren’t as dreadfully slow or long; luckily; and the album ends in a standard growl from Corey Taylor, but I would say it seems to peter out a little bit, anyways.
I’ve mentioned a lot about the different paces that continue to exist throughout the release, and the biggest proponent of this is the large amount of interludes; both as separate tracks, and in other songs. The intro track, “Insert Coin,” is a super interesting and immersive, electronic intro. The glitchy feeling it presents makes you feel like you’re entering a technological wormhole; both being intriguing and chilling at the same time. Others, however, are not nearly as good in my opinion.
“Death Because Of Death,” is more of a pointless time waster to me; not really providing anything to the album in terms of substance or aesthetic. The first few seconds add onto the electronic themes, but the chorus itself seems odd and unfitting. The other separate interlude, “What’s Next” sounds like slightly eerie elevator music, but it’s still elevator music so it seems slightly goofy even if it is kind of spooky as well. I do enjoy the very last couple of seconds as a transition into “Spiders,” but I don’t know if that justifies the existence of the rest of the track, to be honest. There are other examples, like the ending of “Birth Of The Cruel,” that I think add onto the sonic environment Slipknot tries to create, but all of the interludes seem to be very hit or miss for me.
Lyricism is I think another place where Slipknot is inconsistent. Metal isn’t always known for its fantastic lyricism (especially nu metal), but there are some incredibly impressive and poetic sections in many metal pieces, and I don’t think this album provides many of these. “Nero Forte” is a pretty dark journey through depression and its draining feeling, as they cast it away, but other tracks like “Spiders” just feel slightly repetitive and not as substantive.
Overall, this album has a lot to show for, and is certainly a lot better than I would’ve expected. It is clearly a culmination of all of Slipknot’s previous sounds, as they’ve learned to use all of them decently together; but it also provides a decent amount of experimentation with their usage of electronica as well. Sometimes I think this attempt at being so unique often gets in the way; either in the pacing or the stylistic consistency, but it is something to commend them for as well.
I think the album certainly provides a lot of intense and grandiose songs; very reminiscent of the old Slipknot; that are good as well. And despite its inconsistencies, it certainly features more of these good ones than bad. In the end, I think I have to give this one a 7/10. I’m actually excited to see what they can bring next, knowing that they can bring forth an album this strong at this point in time. It’s just not absolutely perfect in the slightest.
Favorite Track(s): “Unsainted,” “Nero Forte,” “Red Flag”
Least Favorite Track(s): “My Pain,” “Death Because Of Death,” “What’s Next”