The words ‘comeback album’ are very often banded around the music industry for a number of quite trivial reasons. Hindsight generally plays a big role in this, particularly if it’s a case of the artist or band merely needing to sell more copies of the album than the previous release or if it needs to be stronger on a musical basis. That said, there are a good number of exceptions where a comeback album bears more weight behind it. Prominent examples here are Iron Maiden’s Brave New World following the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith and, in more relevance to this review, Metallica’s …And Justice For All and Avenged Sevenfold’s Hail to the King, the first albums released with no input from a recently deceased band member (don’t forget, The Rev had written all of the drum parts on A7X’s Nightmare before his death).
Perhaps though, there has been no greater pressure on a band to deliver than the juggernaut that is Slipknot. Rising to arena and festival headline status before the tragic passing of bassist Paul Gray in 2010, the band went back on previous interview statements that they would split up if any of ‘The Nine’ departed to carry on and tour in memory of their fallen comrade. Last year, their world was rocked once more with the departure of drummer Joey Jordison, leaving Slipknot with just one original member in Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan and one chief songwriter in him as well. Yet again, the band defied their previous comments to go into the studio and record their fifth record. Released today, .5: The Gray Chapter is the fruit of their labour, one that will hopefully answer a number of the questions asked by fans across the world. What will it sound like? How strong will the writing be? Will we see the Slipknot of old return?
If it wasn’t clear enough from the title, the events of 2010 have a huge bearing on a lot of the elements and Slipknot, in case any of us had forgotten, stamp that down immediately, the words ‘This song is not for the living/This song is for the dead’ resonating out at the very start, with Sid Wilson and Craig Jones laying scratching and atmospheric samples over Corey Taylor’s immense vocals on the haunting ‘XIX’. It sets the course for the rest of the record; a dark story of anger, bitterness and emotion that has allowed Slipknot to publicly vent their own personal demons of the last four years in one, very concentrated ball of jet-black fury. The rage emitted from ‘Sarcastrophe’, ‘AOV’, ‘Custer’ and ‘The Negative One’ is so extraordinary you get the feeling that at any moment something will break, be it guitar string, cymbal or oil drum. Second single ‘The Devil in I’ and ‘Nomadic’ build on the more straightforward, groove metal the band displayed on last release All Hope Is Gone and will cause every head to bang if they’re brought out to play on the upcoming tour and across the album there isn’t a single moment where the members involved aren’t giving everything they physically can. A certain chunk of the spotlight will be on Jim Root after his split from Stone Sour but he proves once again that he can write serious riffs and solos when let loose. Elsewhere, the turntables and samples get a fair prominence here and help to bring out the madness, the fear factor and the darkness that Slipknot have been missing a bit since the days of Iowa. Naturally though, the biggest scrutiny will be on the performances of the bass and the drumming. Whether the unnamed members are indeed Alessandro Venturella and Jay Weinburg or not as rumoured, it doesn’t matter a jot; they’re top quality in every single way. Not that Slipknot were going to recruit just anyone, mind you…
Without question though, there are three tracks that will stand out more than the others due to the fact that they don’t so much pull on the heartstrings as rip them to shreds. ‘Killpop’ starts the trio, a ballad as far as Slipknot is concerned that has been unofficially dubbed ‘Vermillion, Part 3’ due to the lyrical content centred around a female. The possible link to the experiences of Gray’s wife as she went through the loss of her husband are all too clear, albeit not definite. ‘Skeptic’ looks set to be an instant anthem in the band’s arsenal with a hugely emotive chorus of ‘The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you/The world will never know another man as amazing as you’ surrounded by a furious eulogy of regret around all the things that could have been. Most poignant of all, however, is the successor to All Hope Is Gone’s song ‘Snuff’; titled ‘Goodbye’, it talks about the after Gray passed and every band member gradually making their way to Taylor’s house to take stock of what had occurred. It’s Taylor himself who makes the song so heartbreaking; his vocals are astounding on every level and you can’t help but shed a tear at the thought of what the eight of them went through without ever need to fully understand the anguish.
To answer the questions posed earlier: musically it’s as strong as anything before and the lyrical content is second to none, but the Slipknot of old has, to be honest, been gone for a good decade. As the band have aged and matured, the chaos and mania that had been so present in the first two albums has gradually been taken down a notch or two from the release of 2004’s Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses onwards. Whilst there is a definite justification that it has allowed the band to keep going and not implode from within, naturally the departure from the sheer brutality of songs like ‘(sic)’, ‘Disasterpiece’ and ‘Surfacing’ is one that a number of fans had hoped would return at some point. With .5:The Gray Chapter, that door has more or less been closed. What is important though is that, to pardon the song-related pun, Slipknot are still viewing the world with a ‘People=Shit’ attitude and that means the magic they have to create something beautiful is as potent as it ever has been. If there are any UK arenas left after they come over here with Korn in January and drop the songs from this album, we can count ourselves very, VERY lucky indeed.
#0 Sid Wilson – DJ, turntables
#3 Chris Fehn – percussion
#4 Jim Root – guitar
#5 Craig ‘133’ Jones – samples
#6 Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan – percussion
#7 Mick Thomson – guitars
#8 Corey Taylor – vocals
The Devil In I
The One That Kills the Least
Be Prepared for Hell
The Negative One
If Rain Is What You Want