Originally, this post started out as a Stepping Stone, after I bought a cheap used copy of Slipknot at a local record store and proceeded to tumble down the nostalgia rabbit hole. But given that this year marks the album’s 20th anniversary, I felt like it deserved the proper Heavy Rewind treatment.
Slipknot‘s place among the biggest American metal bands is due in large part to what they accomplished on their self-titled debut. Fans may debate which of their albums is their best, but the one that started it all will always get my vote. That’s, of course, partially because of its legacy; pretty much all the modern “-core” genres are full of maggots. But more importantly, Slipknot is packed with the band’s heaviest, catchiest and most experimental material, most of which still stands up to this day.
That’s right – I said “most.” In keeping with the tradition set by some of our Stepping Stone posts, I’ll be covering not only the influence and strengths of Slipknot, but also some of the ways its quality has faltered over the last two decades. I’ll try to remain as “objective” as possible in terms of where my music tastes stand now versus where they stood back in my teenage years, something I don’t think will be all that difficult to do. After all, this is easily one of metal’s standout releases from the last 20 years, and there are plenty of good reasons for that.
Only One – The Novel Nu-Metal Nonet
Given the fact it’s 2019, virtually everyone reading this knows about Slipknot and the general gist of their career (if not, here’s a relatively brief summary). So instead of a needless history lesson, I’d instead like to focus on the more interesting point of the band’s place within the nu-metal movement.
In a multitude of ways, Slipknot’s music on their debut is a textbook example of what nu-metal had to offer in the late nineties and early aughts. You have all the key ingredients: simple, chunky, “jump the fuck up” riffs; rap verses and turntable scratches; and as much unfiltered angst as possible.
And yet, Slipknot still felt different. No, it’s not just because of the masks and jumpsuits and whatnot, especially since bands like Mudvayne and Mushroomhead also fancied costumes and aliases. But just take a look around at the lingering nu-metal veterans: Slipknot were never as prominently melodic as Deftones; as hip-hop-oriented as Limp Bizkit; or as radio-friendly as Linkin Park. Maybe you could argue that some of Korn‘s music was equally as dark, disturbing and vulgar, but even then the comparison doesn’t quite stick.
In my eyes, what sets Slipknot apart is how much they subtly pull from other metal subgenres. Across their debut and later albums, there are chord progressions, riffs, drum patterns and general atmospheres that pull from thrash, death and black metal. None of these influences are particularly strong at any point in their discography, but listening in hindsight, it’s clear the band pulled the groove metal and hip-hop influences into a blueprint informed by darker territories. And not to state the obvious, but the band’s three-man rhythm section – drummer Joey Jordison and percussionists Shawn Crahan and Chris Fehn – makes for a much heavier, rhythmic overall performance. Think Sepultura‘s Roots dialed up to the nth degree.
It’s difficult to pinpoint just how influential Slipknot and their debut have been, given how much the “American metal” scene had a widespread, general impact that rose above sonic inspiration. But growing up, a number of “-core” bands I listened to confessed to loving Slipknot. And yes, that includes that time Bring Me the Horizon covered “Eyeless.” But to bring it more currently, I doubt we’d have the wave of nu-metalcore bands if it wasn’t for the specific blend of melody, aggression and hip-hop that Slipknot created.
The Whole Thing I Think is (sic) – Slipknot‘s Strengths
Many people struggle to see what they loved so much about the music they listened to in their younger years. That’s never been the case for me, at all. I know exactly what I adored about the heavy, straightforward anthems of the metalcore and deathcore that dominated my iPod playlists in high school. But before that, Slipknot got my journey with metal rolling, and prompted me to run to Hot Topic and buy an XXL sweatshirt that was way too big for my awkward tweenage self. A decade later, I still recognize – and quite honestly, enjoy – pretty much everything Slipknot has to offer.
I mean, right out of the gate, “(sic)” is jam-packed with everything an angsty teen is looking for. Jordison’s double kick rolls were faster than any music I’d heard to that point, and they worked perfectly with the heaviest guitar tone and riffs I’d encountered as well. And when the entire band erupts after the “Here comes the pain” sample…I mean, come on; that’s just pure moshworthy gold.
My favorite tracks actually came a bit further in the track list. I didn’t know who Marlon Brando was, but I loved how Corey Taylor screamed about him as the band smashed and bashed on “Eyeless.” Plus this introduced Sid Wilson on the album and proved that his turntables served as more than just a gimmick. The way he scratches on the verses in “Spit It Out,” and especially the way he and Taylor sync up on “Liberate,” are just so catchy and surprisingly seamless with the heaviness surrounding them.
Speaking of “Spit It Out,” that’s easily the best song Slipknot has ever written. It has everything you come to expect from their music: an earworm opening riff, mosh-worthy riffs, goofy wrapping and a massive finale that’s the pure embodiment of teenage aggression. Sure, “Wait and Bleed” is the better radio single, but “Spit It Out” is just an all-around, timeless banger.
Unsurprisingly, many of the songs that stood out most on my first listen in years were the tracks I hardly listened to in the first place. While I’d hesitate to call any of Slipknot’s songs “avant-garde metal,” their debut has some genuinely experimental songs that are as adventurous as they are unsettling. The music box-esque melody on “Tattered & Torn” is downright creepy and bolstered by an unhinged, cacophonous performance from the rest of the band, particularly with Taylor’s dynamic vocal performance. “Prosthetics” carries a similarly haunted vibe as well, but it’s “Scissors” that truly steals the show. Everything about “Tattered & Torn” is taken to an even greater extreme, with the band drawing a borderline atonal wall of distortion and noise from their instruments. And of course, Taylor pulls out all the stops and delivers a manic vocal performance.
Then there’s “Purity,” the coveted lost track that I didn’t hear until I could finally afford to buy their entire discography on iTunes, deluxe editions and all. I understand the band ran into legal issues that forced them to pull this track, but it’s a damn shame it wasn’t on the original release. It’s basically a perfect synthesis of their heavier and more experimental styles, with a heavy core riff placed within a dark, overbearing mood. It’s Slipknot at their finest, at least during this iteration of their career.
Tattered & Torn Tracks – Slipknot‘s Weaknesses
You knew there was a “But…” coming. Honestly, there isn’t much to complain about Slipknot from a musical standpoint, as long as you’re generally on board with their style. But when it comes to the album’s downsides, they were a bit difficult to ignore on repeat listens. That’s because the underlying issues of the band’s debut are present on every song, and they revolve around the same person.
Most notably, the lyrics on Slipknot are pretty lacking and often times melodramatic. There are moments when Taylor dives into his past, including an early moment on “Eyeless” where he reveals his father was absent growing up. And throughout, there are several tracks like “Tattered & Torn” where he dives into his suicidal thoughts and depression, moments which often have a bit more depth to them.
Yet, a good chunk of the album is comprised of lyrics that ruminate on the themes of “Fuck this,” “Fuck me” and “Fuck you.” Quite literally, the main refrain on “(sic)” is “Fuck this shit, I’m sick of it / You’re goin’ down, this is a war!” Similarly, “Surfacing” opens with the rallying cry of “Fuck you all,” later followed by a refrain of “Fuck it all, fuck this world! / Fuck everything that you stand for! / Don’t belong, don’t exist! / Don’t give a shit, don’t ever judge me!” Do you see what I meant earlier when I said this album is peak angst?
While Taylor’s rapping on “Spit It Out” flows well and bounces along with the riffing, his lyrics also have a meathead mentality and are worthy of a few eye rolls. Some highlights include him rhyming “Big mouth fucker” with “Stupid cocksucker,” telling the subject to “Step up, fairy,” and, my personal favorite, using the term “Biggity-biggidy bitch boy.” Then there’s the grand finale of Corey yelling “Fuck me! I’m all out of enemies!” You know, because he’s such a tough guy and already fucked everyone else up (or something like that).
Oh yeah, and then there’s the bonus track “Get This (Or Die).” You can read those prophetic lyrics for yourself, if you so choose.
Lyrics aside, Taylor also causes another issue I never noticed back in the day. As I mentioned above, he’s an incredibly dynamic vocalist, shifting between singing, shouting, rapping and more experimental spoken word, often times on the same track . Obviously these moments were almost certainly recorded separately, but it’s still impressive how he has all these vocal styles at his disposal, and that he can work with his bandmates to perfectly fit each mood.
Having said all of that, here’s a possible hot take: Taylor is dynamic and capable, but he’s not a truly great vocalist. He more or less embodies the term fits the “jack of all trades, master of none.” Now, this might not be a deal breaker for everyone, especially since Taylor does undeniably compliment every musical mood the band explores. But after as many listens as I’ve put into this album by this point, it becomes more and more apparent that Taylor just isn’t that special.
Putting aside his unhinged performances on the band’s more experimental tracks, none of the standard vocal styles he uses are especially noteworthy. His singing and shouting can be very bland, and he consistently has one energy level he uses for each of these modes. He may be dynamic overall, but his core vocal techniques are each relatively one-note. His rapping is maybe the most interesting of the bunch, but even that isn’t particularly mind-blowing. Pretty much all of this was apparent when he had to perform live earlier on in the band’s career.
Despite all of this, I can’t pretend I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed spinning Slipknot again and again over the last few weeks. Twenty years later, it’s still as adrenaline pumping as it was at the turn of the century, and there’s no shortage of fantastic songwriting on both the experimental and heavy ends of the spectrum. Again, it’s unlikely anyone reading this hasn’t heard at least a couple songs from this album before. But if you haven’t, it’s well worth your time to at least try out an album that will always have a place in metal history.