Disasterpieces: The Slipknot Retrospective – Slipknot (1999)

  • Axl Rosenberg

Hello, Maggots! In anticipation of Slipknot’s new album, We Are Not Your Kind, MetalSucks is going to spend the next five weeks revisiting Slipknot’s discography to date. We’ll cover one Slipknot album per week (studio albums only!), culminating in our review of We Are Not Your Kind, which comes out August 9 on Roadrunner.   

We begin today with Slipknot’s eponymous debut, which will celebrate its twentieth anniversary tomorrow, June 29!

When Slipknot first came out, the go-to diss from their critics was that they were just the latest in a long line of acts content to wear costumes and ape Korn. In all fairness, Slipknot is definitely a nu-metal album, and has a lot of the hallmarks of your stereotypical turn-of-the-century MTV Return of the Rock fodder: severe down-tuning, a turntablist, rapping, Ross Robinson production, the aforementioned Halloween costumes, etc. Still, it would not have taken any serious listener long to discern that Slipknot largely avoided being your run-of-the-mill nu-metal album.

For one thing, nu-metal albums — or at least the successful ones — were really never as heavy as Slipknot. The order of the day was David Silveria-style high hat-heavy disco-groove drums and simple, chunky riffs, with vocalists coming in one of the following varieties:

  • Layne Staley wannabes (Sully Erna, Scott Stapp)
  • Mike Patton wannabes (Jonathan Davis)
  • Kurt Cobain wannabes (Aaron Lewis, Scooter Ward)
  • Cookie Monster wannabes (Wayne Static, Dez Fafara)
  • Zack de la Rocha Vanilla Ice wannabes (Fred Durst, Coby Dick)

Yeah, there were scattered exceptions, like the sleepy, sonorous voice of Chino Moreno, the manic, operatic wackiness of Serj Tankian, or David Draiman making animal noises and talking about the barrio. But they were pretty few and far between. And yeah, a lot of these guys did something your grandparents would have considered screaming from time to time.

But on Slipknot, Joey Jordison played the double bass drum as though his pedals were made of hot coals, and he didn’t overdose on his high hat. Mick Thomson seemed actively determined to make his guitar sound as unwelcoming as possible. They way overdid it with Sid Wilson’s scratching, but a lot of Craig Jones’ samples were dissonant and unsettling. From the sound of it, Paul Gray actually put his bass strings on properly instead of just kinda getting them more or less through the tuning keys and saying “Fuck it, that’s good enough.” The album has three credited backing vocalists — Gray, and percussionists Shawn “Clown” Crahan and Chris Fehn — so I’m not sure who we have to thank for that distinctly Bentonian roar that kicks in around the 2:30 mark of “(sic)”, but the mere fact that I just had to type “distinctly Bentonian roar” to describe anything on this record demonstrates how different it was from Follow the Human Clay Around the System of a Coal Chamber’s Down Fur, Y’All or whatever.

And then, of course, there was Corey Taylor. At his best, Taylor didn’t rap, didn’t yarl, didn’t sound like a toothless child or a sensitive introvert: he screamed his fucking guts out. He screamed his fucking guts out in a way that even the most aggro of nu-metal singers simply did not do. It didn’t sound like he was just making monster noises; it sounded like he was fucking screaming. I don’t know if Taylor was legitimately more tortured than other nu-metal frontmen or not, but he certainly sells being tortured better than they did. On “Eyeless,” when he laughs pathetically while trying to reassure himself that “it’s all in your head,” he sounds legitimately unhinged.

I would also argue that Taylor’s lyrics were a breed apart from other nu-metal frontmen. They aren’t particularly poetic or sensitive, but they are declarative, anthemic, and empowering. Take, for example, “(sic)”…

Fuck this shit, I’m sick of it
You’re goin’ down, this is a war

…or “Liberate”…

I am one, I am all – I am above and beyond

…or, of course, “your new national anthem,” a.k.a. “Surfacing”:

Fuck it all! Fuck this world!
Fuck everything that you stand for!

That’s a far cry from “Life’s gotta always be messing with me,” “I did it all for the nookie,” or shouting about the size of your truck. Taylor’s lyrics were blunt and confrontational, Anselmo-style, and unifying, like “Battery.”

And that’s not even getting into the fact that parts of Slipknot are just plain experimental, weird-ass shit that would never have appeared on an album by Godsmack or Dope: think about tracks like “Tattered & Torn,” which is built around the world’s most sonically displeasing carnival theme, or “Prosthetics,” which eschews anything resembling a standard song structure.

These elements made Slipknot different — which is not to say that Slipknot is perfect. The album is front-loaded with its best material; with the exception of the last two tracks, “Scissors” and the hidden cut “Eeyore,” the back half of this album kinda drags. There aren’t any memorable hooks of “Wait and Bleed” or “Spit it Out” quality, and songs like “Diluted” and “Only One” never achieve the tribal momentum of “Eyeless” or “Surfacing.” Worse, the quotient of nu-metal clichés skyrockets through the roof on this section of the record. If Slipknot opened with “No Life” and not “(sic),” I would not be writing about it today. There’s a reason the band doesn’t seem to play these tracks live very often. (And yet, somehow, the thrashy “Get This,” which should be one of the best songs on the album, was relegated to being a b-side.)

Still, for whatever faults Slipknot may have, it’s easy to see, twenty years later, why it launched the band’s career with catapult-like force. It is savage and pitiless in a way few nu-metal albums are, and it heralded the arrival of one of this century’s most important bands. The whole thing, I think, is sick.

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