For a huge portion of millennials out there (myself included), Slipknot was the defining gateway band into the darker and heavier side of rock. At the impressionable age of 13, one of my best friends gave me a copy of their 1999 self-titled debut and it absolutely terrified me. Much like discovering The Exorcist at the same time, it was art that reached levels of both extremity and evil I didn’t think humans were capable of until hearing tracks like “Eyeless” and the absurdly-overlooked “Purity.” I’d never heard screams this savage, guitars with as much grit and double-bass drumming at breakneck speeds. Not only that, but I’d also never heard bands actually manage to incorporate elements of hip-hop and industrial music into the nü-metal framework without it becoming too goofy. Instead, Slipknot was an unstoppable musical behemoth. I fucking loved it, man.
Fast forward to 2004, a time when I was basically focused on only one thing: how Slipknot was possibly going to match or even top the primal and horrific atmosphere conjured on their first two albums. These records (probably for the worse) defined the beginning of my adolescence and my journey into heavy metal, so needless to say Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses had a hell of a lot to live up to. Then in May, it finally happened and I definitely didn’t get what was expected. Corey Taylor’s voice had drastically changed since his Jack Daniels-soaked gutterals of Iowa, the band was dropping radio-ready hooks in “Duality” and “Before I Forget,” and there were even acoustic songs. Sure, there was still loads of vintage Slipknot, but as a young teen with an incredibly narrow view of the genre (and music as a whole), I felt betrayed. Sure, I played the CD so much that I ended up buying a second copy after only a number of months, but there were more than a few songs on the album that I wanted to pretend didn’t exist at the time. That being said, it was still thrilling to hear that Slipknot was starting to incorporate more lead work into their repertoire. The main verse riff of “The Blister Exists” has been stuck in my head for over a decade, and the dueling solos in “Welcome” still stand as some of Mick Thompson’s and Jim Root’s shreddiest moments to date. And don’t even get me started on that air-tight intro run in “Opium of the People.”
I revisit Vol. 3 once every few years it seems, and every single time it consistently reminds me how it’s actually the most dynamic album of the band’s career. It’s also probably the release that solidified Slipknot as bonafide legends of metal, showing that the band was more than just a pile of edgy lyrics and neck-snapping nü-metal riffs. While it’s totally reasonable to see why this album was such a jarring experience after Iowa, tracks like “Circle,” “Vermilion,” and “Danger – Keep Away” are downright stunning in their execution. It didn’t matter whether Slipknot was pumping out epic choruses ready to be belted out at stadiums the world over, experimenting much more with a subdued sensibility, or just cranking out a few grooves, Vol. 3 does it all.
Rick Rubin’s production on here does leave a bit to be desired now, as it simply doesn’t match the sheer mass that Ross Robinson was able to achieve on the band’s early works. There’s much less emphasis on low end here this time around; something a band like Slipknot so heavily depends on. And yeah, Taylor’s screams aren’t as pants-shittingly intense as before, but his clean vocals are vastly improved here and even downright beautiful at times. The ending of “Vermilion” and basically every moment of “Vermilion Pt. 2” both exemplify this perfectly.
A few gripes aside, Vol. 3 is actually my second favorite album by Slipknot nowadays (you just can’t knock that debut). “Pulse of the Maggots” is still fun as hell, “Opium of the People” is one of the most underrated songs in their discography, and “Duality” is a radio-rock classic for a reason. Just put this on again.