As the nineties were closing out, we were deep, deep into a phase of metal that so many fans have tried to forget and refuse to admit was a thing. Such is the adversity to this period that to tell a lot of Slipknot fans that their first album was in fact a nu-metal album would get heavy metallic implements thrown at you.
But here it was, sandwiched somewhere between the neon insanity of Coal Chamber and Disturbed’s debut outings was Slipknot’s self-titled introductory album. And whether you like it or not, it was not only firmly a staple of the – thankfully long dead – nu-metal genre, but its status as a modern classic is one that simply cannot be argued.
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Appearing on the scene 20 years ago this month – not quite true as five of the nine had released Mate, Feed, Kill, Repeat three years previously – Slipknot found their unique selling point in being a collective hidden behind ever changing, and sometimes horrifying masks. And with three guitars, three guys on percussion and the now legendary Corey Taylor on vocals, the Des Moines, Iowa based band exploded into a pretty crowded scene and made a name for themselves almost instantly.
The rise, longevity and dominating success that Slipknot saw didn’t come easily. It took constant evolution in both sound and appearance to have kept the nine, and their fans, on their toes. The album that came to be known by maggots – a label fans wear with pride, no matter the connotations – simply as ST is one hell of a calling card and statement of purpose from the band that has stood the test of time.
“Inside my shell I wait and bleed…”
It was, and still is, all about the sound though. It’s how Slipknot always stood out. Nine guys in a studio, one of them singing, left eight creating the unique noise that became the band’s selling point. Evident from the first song on ST, ‘(sic),’ drums come in from every angle and assault the listener with everything that (sadly now former) drummer Joey Jordison’s monstrous kit can throw at them. Add to that the now iconic sound of founding member Shawn Crahan – known as Clown – taking an aluminium baseball bat to an empty beer keg – no, I’m not kidding – you’ve got yourself a way for millions who hear it to say “yep, that’s a Slipknot track”.
The genius to this band is that, from the outside, to watch the ensemble on stage and listen to them can look and sound like someone has thrown a drum set, three guitars and an old hi-fi down a set of stairs in a council run block of flats. But to an ear attuned to it, to lose even one member from the mix would be a disastrous affair. So when someone says “all that AND three guys on guitar” you say “hell yeah!”.
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Jim Root, Mick Thompson, and the sadly now passed away Paul Gray form the string portion of Slipknot. Gray’s baselines cut through the entire album in a way that made stepping into his shoes a daunting task for Alessandro Venturrella in the years since the guitarist’s untimely passing. As much as Gray and Root left their marks across every track on ST, the stand-out moment has to be the moment Number 7, Mick, opens up ‘Surfacing.’ As his guitar roars to life and we are treated to a sound that can only be described as an alarm ringing in your ears, it’s a warning to those around you that there’s some heartfelt screaming coming. You can’t hear that riff without getting goosebumps, your adrenaline levels going up and your throat readying itself for some hollering.
“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.”
With Craig Jones and Sid Wilson – not that these names will mean much to those that aren’t fans, Slipknot have moulded themselves around their masks, monikers and number – adding mixes and samples across the spectrum of songs that Slipknot give us, it’s this part of the ‘Knot melting pot that dates the albums as they come. Almost always bringing in a hint of what’s popular at the time in all forms of music, their addition to the ensemble is without question and it serves as a tiny time capsule for each album. This is especially true with ST. With us being deep into a nu-metal and new hip-hop era, as hard as the band may try and shake off those labels and influences, they are there for all to hear thanks to these two.
“Sick o’ my bitchin’ fallin’ on deaf ears. Where you gonna be in the next five years?”
Finally, Corey Taylor’s unmistakable vocals seal the title “legendary” for Slipknot.
His delivery of every line is the sound of passion, and a whole lot of anger, that just needs to find a way out of him. Those influences are on show here, too. As Taylor spits out line after line with a speed and precision that would make the most seasoned rappers turn their heads and take notice, you can feel number 8’s personality oozing from the speakers with every word screamed. Not to mention the two decades worth of live crowd participation that classics like ‘Spit it Out’ began – tens of thousands of people at a time hanging dead still on the vocalists every word is a phenomenon to behold. And one never likely to be replicated in our lifetimes.
Slipknot’s debut was loud, brash and very angry. But it was different and you can feel it in every song that the band were working not just on an album, but a legacy.