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Disasterpieces: The Slipknot Retrospective – Iowa (2001)

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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.   

After revisiting the band’s eponymous 1999 debut last week, today we continue with the group’s sophomore effort, Iowa!

As good as Slipknot was, few saw Iowa coming. Although by no means free of the nu-metal shackles that ultimately kept Slipknot from being great (see: the Korny “The Shape,” the rap-metal canticle “I Am Hated,” etc.), Iowa‘s level of insanity is truly next-level. It’s not just heavy — it’s chaotic, bellicose, and nihilistic to nth degree (not for nothing is the first proper song on the album titled “People = Shit”). Coming from a band that had risen to prominence largely through MTV, and who were now popular enough to grace the cover of Rolling StoneIowa seemed– and frankly, still does —  downright shocking.

Save for the glaringly-out-place “Left Behind,” Iowa has a distinct lack of anything easily digestible enough for radio. That it was produced by nu-metal guru Ross Robinson makes Iowa all the more surprising; as if the songs themselves weren’t enough to make Iowa a hard sell, Robinson’s production renders most of the album a tornado of noise. Joey Jordison’s drum sound, in particular, is harsh; in hindsight, I’m pretty sure this is what Lars Ulrich and Bob Rock were trying to do with the drums on St. Anger. It’s also an unrelenting record; even quieter tracks like “Gently” and “Skin Ticket” don’t offer the listener any respite from the album’s intensity, rejecting traditional song structures in favor of far more unpredictable and unnerving arrangements. Ditto the fifteen-minute title track, which has a section that is basically just noise, with every member of the band seemingly playing whatever the fuck he felt like at that particular moment.

Iowa is not easy on the ears… or the soul. The album was released just a couple of weeks before 9/11, and its apocalyptic tone, as exemplified by “Everything Ends” and “The Heretic Anthem,” today feels prescient. If Corey Taylor’s lyrics on Slipknot seemed like the words of a man gearing up for a fight, Iowa‘s worldview is downright violent and bleak, sometimes to a degree that borders on being comical (the aforementioned “People = Shit” and “Disasterpiece”‘s infamous opening lyric, “I wanna slit your throat and fuck the wound,” both come to mind). There isn’t a ton of introspection here; there are a lot of accusatory and confrontational declarations (“You’re full of shit/ You had a dream but this ain’t it”), and a lot of discussion about distancing oneself from the mainstream, like “Heretic Anthem”‘s “If you’re 555 then I’m 666,” “My Plague”‘s “Kill you, fuck you, I will never be you,” and “I Am Hated”‘s top-notch critique of nu-metal’s general lyrical themes:

They all lost their dad or their wife just died
They never got to go outside, shut up
Nobody gives a fuck
It doesn’t change the fact that you suck

What all of this sonic and poetic inhospitableness ultimately adds up to is an album as threatening as the seemingly-ready-to-ram-you goat that stares straight at viewers of Iowa‘s cover. At a time when 99% percent of rising stars in the metal scene would have pandered to the masses, Slipknot practically begged the world to hate them. Which, of course, only made people like them more. By the time the Iowa album cycle was over, Slipknot’s legend had already ballooned. They were no longer Metal’s Next Big Thing — they were Metal’s Big Thing, period.

In fact, Iowa inadvertently paved the way for the emergence and popularity of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. I’ve made this argument before, and I know it’s not always a popular one, but I stand by it. It’s hard to see a path from Korn, the Deftones, and System of a Down to Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, and Trivium, all of whom wore their substantially heavier death, melo-death, and hardcore influences on their sleeves; on the other hand, it makes sense that kids who loved the sheer brutality of Iowa, and were paying attention when band members like Jordison and Mick Thomson sang the praises of old school death metal bands, might gravitate towards New American Gospel or The Art of Balance. That’s not to say the NWOAHM wouldn’t have happened without Slipknot — it was already underway by the time Iowa was released — but I do think its ascent in popularity can be attributed at least partially to Slipknot making stuff more extreme than The Sickness or Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water fashionable again.

Just as surprising as Iowa‘s popularity is the fact that despite that popularity, Slipknot really never made anything like it again. It stands as a once-in-a-career achievement, and to many fans, remains the gold standard against which all other Slipknot albums are judged. It may be grim and vicious, but it’s also an anthem for heretics.

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