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Disasterpieces: The Slipknot Retrospective – Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) (2004)

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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 and 2001′s Iowa in previous weeks, today we continue with the group’s third album, Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)!

Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) is Slipknot’s Black Album: it marked a noticeable departure from their sound to date, was wildly popular, and pissed off a vocal minority of longtime fans for allegedly being a “sell out” record.

More specifically, some felt like Slipknot had abruptly turned into Stone Sour. That more ’90s-arena-rock-leaning band, which included ‘Knot frontman Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root, had risen to prominence during the downtime in-between Iowa and Vol. 3 thanks to hits like “Get Inside” and the ballad “Bother” (which was actually first released as a Corey Taylor solo track on the Spider-Man soundtrack in 2002… but I digress.) That group had already been derided by naysayers as ‘Slipknot Lite,’ so for Slipknot to now actively sound like Stone Sour was, in their eyes, an unforgivable atrocity.

Which is too bad for those fans, because Vol. 3 doesn’t actually sound very much like Stone Sour, and, more importantly, may be the band’s overall strongest offering to date.

Yes, from the very moment Vol. 3 begins, it’s clear that Slipknot have made substantial changes to not just their sound, largely softening the nu-metal trappings that weighed their previous records down — they’ve made substantial changes to their very vibe. Whereas Slipknot and Iowa both began with repetitive, aggressively unnerving intro tracks (“742617000027” and “(515),” respectively), Vol. 3 kicks off with “Prelude 3.0,” which is certainly atmospheric and arguably creepy, sure, but is an actual song, and one that’s downright quiet and melodic by Slipknot standards (and you gotta love Joey Jordison’s drum performance here, which has an uncharacteristic amount of swing to it). The production, credited to Rick Rubin (although, true to character, he apparently wasn’t in the studio all that much), is also noticeably cleaner than on either of Slipknot’s previous efforts.

Naturally, this relative calm precedes a storm — in this case, “The Blister Exists.” But even “Blister,” though much closer to the heavy, vitriolic Slipknot that had risen to prominence, still sounds like nothing from the band’s first two albums. The song’s main riff constantly pulls forward and then snaps back, like a rubber band yanked nearly to its breaking point, Mick Thomson’s leads sound like they were recorded when the guitarist was just a little bit drunk, Corey Taylor continues to do a then-unusual amount of actual singing, Jordison’s drums are massive and warm (as opposed to the much tinnier sonics of Iowa), if Sid Wilson has made any contributions they’ve been completely buried in the mix, and hol-ee shit!, percussionists Shawn “Clown” Crahan and Chris Fehn actually have something meaningful to do.

The one-two punch of “Prelude” and “Blister” is an effective way to announce to listeners that Slipknot aren’t playing it safe and making Return to Iowa here. Indeed, the rest of Vol. 3 contains multiple acoustic or semi-acoustic ballads (“Circle,” “Vermillion, Pt. 2”), songs that aren’t ballads but aren’t really heavy either (“Danger – Keep Away”), crowd pleasing anthems (“Duality,” “Before I Forget”), their most easily palatable stalker song to date (“The Virus of Life”), and a healthy helping of guitar solos (“Pulse of the Maggots,” “Welcome,” “Vermillion”) at a time when a) Slipknot had never had solos before and b) solos had gone out of fashion in populist metal.

Even the heaviest tracks, like “Opium of the People,” “Three Nil,” and “The Nameless” would seem out of place on Slipknot or Iowa. They have a similar disregard for organic, smooth transitions between sections of songs in favor of utilizing more jarring transformations to great effect — the “Three Nil” post-chorus (2:20) and throbbing volleying section of “Opium” (1:54), for example, are goddamn great. But by the standards of “People = Shit” and “Spit It Out,” these songs are still downright melodic and technical.

Yet Vol. 3 is a more consistently satisfying experience from start to finish than either of Slipknot’s prior offerings — naturally, some songs are better than others, but none are weak. And, somewhat oddly given the variety of styles offered by the material, Vol. 3 also feels more cohesive as an album than Slipknot or Iowa. It’s an actual album, a complete journey with peaks and valleys, not just a collection of songs.

Time and again, metal has seen bands try to take creative leaps and fall flat their face. But Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) remains a shining example of artistic evolution done right. Maybe it’s not the Slipknot you fell in love with, but it’s definitely a Slipknot worth loving.

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