Slipknot: .5 Shades of Gray
You can stop worrying: despite the fact that we’ve heard for years how important late bassist Paul Gray and ousted drummer Joey Jordison were to Slipknot’s songwriting process, .5: The Gray Chapter, the band’s first album without either of those members, still sounds like Slipknot. Any concerns that The ‘Knot might be incapable of being The ‘Knot without Gray and Jordison are unfounded; The Gray Chapter will blend seamlessly into the band’s catalogue, and the album’s best songs, like the pulsating “AOV,” the anthemic “Custer,” the melancholic semi-ballad “Killpop,” and the insanely catchy single “The Devil in I” seem destined to become staples of their live set.
Furthermore, Slipknot continue to push themselves creatively, a regular feat for which they’ve never received enough credit (unless by “enough credit,” you mean “people constantly bitching that Vol. 3 sounds too much like Stone Sour”). Sure, there are songs here which sound plenty familiar — “Sarcastrophe” could be the lovechild of “(sic)” and “The Blister Exists,” “Goodbye” is like “Circle”‘s first cousin, and you could slide “Lech” onto almost any spot on All Hope is Gone without disrupting that album’s flow one iota. But cuts like “Skeptic” (which, based on its rather on-the-nose chorus of “The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you,” we can assume is intended as an ode to Gray) and “Nomadic” blend classic Slipknot chunkiness with alien components of pop punk to create songs that don’t quite sound like anything the band has ever done before, without constituting a total abandonment of the elements which make Slipknot Slipknot. And album closer “If Rain is What You Want” continues the band’s tradition of ending their albums on a semi-headscratching note, with the song that may require the most repeat listens to “get.” And I mean that as a compliment.
So The Gray Chapter is mostly a success — in fact, although it took a few listens to grow on me, I’d argue that it’s a far more satisfying listen than All Hope is Gone, the one Slipknot release to date which I almost never revisit, save for a few songs (“Gematria” still makes me wanna go on the war path every time I hear it).
Unfortunately, it also has one major shortcoming: the production, which does not do the band any favors. Fans who feel like Slipknot have sounded too polished as of late will be disappointed to learn that The Gray Chapter is as smooth as a baby’s butt… but far worse is the fact that the band actually sounds really small. Which is odd, given that they have, y’know, two-three times as many members as most metal bands. There are portions of The Gray Chapter that sound more like they should be demos for The Gray Chapter, as though every member of the band wasn’t yet present to add his part to the music. For all the talk about what a hands-off producer Rick Rubin is, Gray could use a dose of Vol. 3‘s sonic richness, or even the sense of barely-controlled-chaos Ross Robinson brought to the group’s debut and Iowa.
Still, it’s hard to imagine any Maggot being disappointed by The Gray Chapter. Slipknot may have had to go through hell to make this album happen… but in the end, it was all worth it.