SLIPKNOT’S ALL HOPE IS GONE: ANOTHER STEP IN A NEW DIRECTION
Let the haters hate: Slipknot are a good band, and, more than that, they’re a good band that has show substantial growth from album to album – and their most recent release, All Hope is Gone, is no exception. Sonically, the record is something of a codification of everything the band has ever done, which means the Stone Sourisms (clean vocals, reasonably radio-friendly alt-rock anthems, moody power ballads, etc.) of Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses are here once again. Whether or not that’s a good thing, ultimately, will depend solely on the tastes of the listener.
Personally, even as someone who strongly prefers “Eyeless” to “5150,” I don’t mind the change in the band’s sound. For one thing, I’d argue that Stone Sour have just never really written a song as good as Slipknot’s best material, which means the comparison is basically a shallow one that comes down to Taylor’s use of clean vocals in both outfits. But, beyond that, musical evolution in and of itself is never really a bad thing. Load doesn’t suck because it doesn’t sound enough like Master of Puppets – Load sucks because the songs on it are mediocre at best (Of course, you could argue that straying from one’s own signature sound is precisely why certain bands eventually make mediocre music, but I’m not sure that I agree with that, and besides, it’s another argument for another article.). And the songs on All Hope is Gone that (upon a first listen at least) might sound more at home on Come What(ever) May than on Iowa are still totally solid tunes.
All Hope is Gone actually flows better than Vol. 3. ever did. The members of Slipknot said publicly that they wanted Vol. 3 to be their Reign in Blood (and even hired Rick Rubin to produce it), but the truth is that Vol. 3 was more like Slipknot’s Use Your Illusion – a slightly bloated, nonetheless totally rockin’ melting pot of various pop-metal styles. All Hope is Gone still offers a wide range of different types of metal, often within one song – for example, “Vendetta” moves from a death metal-lite riff to a biker rawk verse to a “Beautiful People”-esque audience anthem to Panteric groove metal all in just over five minutes. But the transitions on All Hope is Gone are considerably smoother. Album opener (after “execute,” the obligatory intro) “Gematria (The Killing Name)” is a “The Blister Exists”-like exercise in classic Slipknot mayhem, a song that, were Dave Fortman’s production a little more raw, would fit right in on Iowa, complete with violent threats (“We will burn your cities down”) and philosophical ponderings right out of The Book of Slayer (“What if God doesn’t care?”) – but it flows into the nu-thrash anthem “Sulfur” with incredible ease.
And speaking of Fortman’s production, the band sounds more like a quintet than ever before – with each successive album, having both DJ Sid Wilson and sampler Craig Jones seems more and more extraneous, to say nothing of percussionists Shawn Crahan and Chris Fehn – but I actually kinda dig the busy sound of past ‘knot offerings, and thought all the aural layers were of particular interest on Vol. 3, which was the kind of album that was fun to listen to with a good set of earphones.
Taylor’s lyrics are overwrought and cheesy more often than not, but his rhyme schemes play out like punchlines, somewhat unexpected and always with a natural ebb and flow. And Root and Mick Thomson’s guitar solos are, by and large, a step up from those on Vol. 3; they’re missing some of the reckless spontaneity of the solos on the latter album, but more than make up for that with a newfound sense of structure and melody that make them more akin to classic Hammet and Friedman than King or Hanneman.
Like Vol. 3, All Hope is Gone takes a few listens for its strengths to make themselves readily apparent; maybe it’s because I, like a lot of Slipknot fans, still go into every album expecting songs more in the vein of “Disasterpiece” and “Sic.” As it was on Vol. 3, certain songs – “Dead Memories,” “This Cold Black,” and “Wherein Lies Continue” amongst them – took awhile to grow on me. And it’s almost impossible to believe that “Snuff,” a guilty pleasure prom song that Staind would kill to have written, was recorded by the same band that once did “People = Shit.” But I think these tracks are completely worth a Slipknot fan’s time.
Unfortunately, certain songs still do nothing for me. “Butcher’s Hook” sounds like its trying to be a Meshuggah song, but doesn’t even come close to out-Meshuggahing the Swedish legend, and you have to sit through two minutes of “Gehenna” working too-hard to be spooky before getting to a late-Alice in Chains-ish bit of grunge-sludge. And, oh yeah, although I think Joey Jordison is far and away the most talented musician in this band, his drum performance seems kinda by-the-numbers on this album (especially compared with the new tricks he tried on songs like “Prelude 3.0” on Vol. 3). Jordison does a lot of cool shit on this record, but we know for a fact that he’s capable of even more, so we might as well hold him to that higher standard, no?
So, yes, All Hope is kind of a mixed bag. But at the end of the day, all the positive outweighs the negative here; I suspect that All Hope is Gone will only get better with more listens, and even having just had it for a week, I find it a totally satisfying musical experience. Unlike certain other big metal bands that are about to release highly-anticipated new albums, Slipknot continue to prove that you can change and even lighten your sound without sacrificing the elements that won you your fanbase in the first place. For Slipknot, all hope most certainly is not gone.
(three and a half out of five horns)