Friday 28 November 2014

Slipknot - .5: The Gray Chapter (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 21/10/2014
Label: Roadrunner Records

“.5: The Gray Chapter CD/DD/LP track listing:

1). XIX
2). Sarcastrophe
3). Aov
4). The Devil In I
5). Killpop
6). Skeptic
7). Lech
8). Goodbye
9). Nomadic
10). The One That Kills the Least
11). Custer
12). Be Prepared For Hell
13). The Negative One
14). If Rain Is What You Want

The Band:

(#8) Corey Taylor | vocals
(#7) Mick Thomson | guitars, bass
(#6) Shawn "Clown" Crahan | percussion, backing vocals
(#5) Craig "133" Jones | sampling, keyboards
(#4) Jim Root | guitars, bass
(#3) Chris Fehn | percussion, backing vocals
(#0) Sid Wilson | turntables


Slipknot has always been a band that divides opinion; legitimate extreme metal band or a pop act masquerading as one, appealing to angst ridden teens? The debate has raged for years, but there’s no doubt, they are here to say. 

In 1999 the successful “metal” bands were inexplicably trying to be Puff Daddy (Hedpe, Limp Bizkit), New Romantic (Orgy), and let’s not even discuss the abomination that was Coal Chamber (just rubbish). It was Korn who unleashed this tidal wave of shit, the remnants of whose musical sewage, reminds me of those oil covered birds you see on the news, after some oil disaster or another.

So, when Slipknot’s debut came out – It really did bring extreme metal back to the mainstream. Brutal – death / thrash infused riffs based on pure aggression and in Joey Jordison, a world class drummer who could match Dave Lombardo.  Slipknot were a band who could actually PLAY and in fairness to them, put on a hell of a stage show.  Indeed, they ended the extreme metal draught that ended after the heyday of Pantera and Sepultura; they were NOT, to be fair, without merit.

So here we are, fifteen years later, with “.5: The Gray Chapter”. Much has been written about the death of Bassist Paul Gray and the departure of drummer Joey Jordison and their contributions (the two of them wrote Iowa alone) and whether they can operate without them.  So, is this album as good as Slipknot fans could hope for? Everything is in place; fast technical riffs, double bass pedals and some TRULY monumental breakdowns (the mid section of “Skeptic” onwards is literally one of the best things I’ve heard this year.)

The previously under used electronics even form the basis for some of the songs here, as found on “Goodbye” and “Killpop”, the latter of which has a great chorus which refrains from becoming predictable and descends into a barrage of almost Dillinger esque drumming by the end. Undoubtedly, a lot of effort has been put into this album for sure, everything is very precise, and the harmonies work well and are in places unsettling, Corey Taylor’s voice the most aggressive since “Iowa”.

This release is the first with new members (maybe / maybe not Jay Weinberg and Cry for Silence / Krokodil guitarist Alessandro Venturella) who fit in perfectly. The former is not as good as Jordison who had far more authority in his playing, and I feel he added much more power to their sound, but that being said the album does not suffer as a result. He does an admirable job of filling in and adds some interesting off beats and cymbal work whilst keeping within Jordison’s framework. The other guys, er, do stuff in the background somewhere I think. This is easily better than the last album and I cannot imagine Slipknot fans being disappointed in the slightest.

Now for the downsides, for every element of extremity, there have always been counterpoints to this band. For every double bass pedal avalanche, an auto tuned chorus, for every blast, an almost nursery rhyme style chant, for every inhuman roar, a tune blatantly made for radio.  At first the riffs and the heaviness ARE impressive. Corey Taylor’s vocals sound much more vicious than ten years ago and they clearly feel they have a point to prove. The first couple of listens took me aback in places, but even then I knew what my reservations were going to be and was proved right.

For me the polished production and attempts to mimic how feral they actually sounded when they first came out are almost like unconvincing replicas, polished by Pro Tools. This kind of music is supposed to be hideous and aggressive, not polished and clean

Another problem is the switch between being extreme and throwing in a section you can imagine someone’s dad dancing to. The track “Custer” – starts off at such a blistering pace it’s almost overwhelming.  Unfortunately it  drops down to an angst style mumble from Corey, before breaking into a lowest common denominator Chorus of “Cut Cut Cut me up and Fuck Fuck Fuck me up” which screams of Goth kids trying to upset their parents. The addition of a siren when the drums break to half time actually make me think of a Clown (yes yes) turning up in his car at the circus. It’s actually laughable and almost embarrassing.   And the tempo of the verse riff to “The Negative One” reminds me of The Proclaimers “I would walk 500 Miles.” A friend of mine commented on how one track could run for Christmas number one, although unsure which, it’s not a good indication!

It’s a shame as there is a lot that IS good about this album, and about this band, but at the same time it is flawed with elements that I personally can’t get on board with. If you want genuine Death Metal, go and listen to the new Revocation album, or Cannibal Corpse. If you want huge grooves and blasting, Nails. And if you want claustrophobia, Paranoia and general negativity, Celeste do it better.  Maybe I’m just being a cynical old man, grumbling over his obscure underground bands and  - to an extent that is true, but it just seems like an  approximation of other music that is done so much better elsewhere. Seriously kids, listen to the old man in the corner here.

That all being said you can guarantee that they will sell billions on this one. Slipknot fans are definitely not going to be disappointed – they have taken some musical chances and I can see some of the choruses becoming long established metal classics in the future for sure, and if my possibly unjustified gripes do not ring true for you, then I’m sure you will find a lot to enjoy about it.

Its 6/10 album for me, but then again I’m a miserable old bastard.

Words by: Chris Wilson

You can purchase this record everywhere now