Like it or not, Iowa's most notable sons Slipknot are metal royalty at this point, with a seemingly irrevocable good will bolstered by a powerful and influential run of albums from their 1999 self-titled debut on through 2001's hotly celebrated Iowa (which, by the way, is basically a grindcore record with the occasional clean chorus; I will die on this hill) and their 2004 record Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. For this writer, that good will extends to the formulaic but consistently catchy fourth album All Hope Is Gone, but from there, the water gets murky.
Their fifth LP .5: The Gray Chapter was an absolute disaster, telegraphed by its questionable, cringe-inducing artwork. Marred by the incredible loss of longtime bassist and key songwriter Paul Gray and the firing of celebrated drummer Joey Jordison (who has also since passed), the record failed to rise to the occasion or capitalize on Slipknot actually having something to prove, and instead felt like a lesser act doing a poor Slipknot impression. Perhaps it was my youth's rose-tinted glasses and back-seat-of-the-bus angst, but Slipknot used to feel edgy and absolutely vital. The Gray Chapter was anything but, and while 2019's We Are Not Your Kind offered a clear upswing, it didn't have much in the way of meaningful staying power around these parts.
Fortunately, the band's latest project The End, So Far continues the upward trend and sees the band at their most energetic since the All Hope Is Gone era, finding balance in all of the things that make Slipknot a worthwhile act, between the aggressive and militant alternative metal, haunting songwriting, and experimental flair that defined the first half of the band's career. Not just performing the facade of Slipknot as it has often felt in their recent history, but doing it quite well.
Naturally, the heavier material on The End, So Far does reflect the age of the band, but they've certainly shown up this time. Songs like "The Dying Song" and "The Chapeltown Rag" reflect the kind of songwriting you'd expect to hear circa All Hope Is Gone, with chunky machine-gun riffing, propulsive percussion, a harsh/clean vocal dichotomy, and lead guitar work that lends to a satisfying collection of Slipknot tracks. "Hivemind" and "Warranty" represent a heavier side of the band and bolster the album's center with a one-two punch of the band (particularly Corey Taylor) sounding hungry.
Some of those middle-era experimentations reminiscent of Vol. 3 litter the landscape and breathe some life into The End, So Far. Opening track "Adderall" sports an instrumental that sits somewhere between 90's Nine Inch Nails and West Coast hip-hop. "Acidic" benefits from its subtly Sabbath-ian use of blues vocabulary, and in that end evokes King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" with its lumbering refrain. The dynamic push-and-pull of "Medicine of the Dead" is engaging, and an example of the band's softer and atmospheric side paying off. "De Sade" opens with a breathtaking instrumental section including foggy ambiance, soaring guitars, and an uncharacteristically expressive bassline. Even the more sentimental moments, particularly "Finale", carry a good bit of weight and aren't particularly contrived.
Nearing an hour in length, The End, So Far perhaps risks overstaying its welcome, but benefits from some wise choices in pacing and sequencing to carry the listener through to its finale. Ultimately, the pitfalls of Slipknot in 2022 are the ones you'd already anticipate; Taylor's lyrics aren't always the most inspiring (the "you always buy brand new" line in "Warranty" is a bit on the nose and leaves much to be desired, poetically). The choruses are sometimes hit or miss, such as "Yen" under-delivering on its dramatic verses, but it's hard to find a track on The End, So Far that's outright skippable. For Slipknot, right now, that's a rousing success.
It's easy to miss the earnest angst of the early days, which saw Corey Taylor scream-rapping over grooving and grinding riffs, scratchy turntables, and a peerless rhythm section. It's also easy to take for granted that Slipknot put harsh vocals and blastbeats on the radio and went platinum several times over, but the keymasters among us can always appreciate Slipknot as the bands that introduced Juggalos to death metal and grindcore. At least now after a decade, we've got a record worthy of a band with such a great legacy.
Slipknot - The End, So Far is out September 30th, 2022 on Roadrunner Records.