With the release of 2008’s All Hope Is Gone, many people began to talk about how much Corey Taylor’s other project, Stone Sour, had begun to permeate Slipknot’s sound. There was the ballad-like track, “Snuff”, and a lot more over produced clean vocals than fans had become accustomed to. Some critics went as far as to say that if there had been more than the one power ballad that it would have derailed the entire album. Thankfully earlier this year, Corey Taylor, stated that the new Slipknot album would be “exactly what you want it to be”. Most fans took that to mean that the album would see more of a return to the band’s signature late 1990’s and early 2000’s signature sound. However after hearing .5: The Gray Chapter, it seems that the Stone Sour style and influence is more prevalent now than it has ever been.
There are a couple ways that the influence of Taylor’s “other band” makes itself evident. First instead of one ballad, there are four including the acoustic album opener, “XIX”, the love song, “Killpop”, “Goodbye” and the album’s final track, “If Rain Is What You Want”. “XIX” is not a great way to begin a metal record. Usually bands kick you in the teeth to start and reserve songs like this for the middle of the album. “Killpop” is very slow and full of vocal harmonies and even contains lovey dovey lyrics like, “not until she loves me”. “Goodbye” has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and reeks of pretentiousness. Fortunately “If Rain Is What You Want” saves things a bit. Yes, it’s a slower song but it does not have that typical mainstream Stone Sour feel to it. The open to the track is creepy. The singing has more of an ominous feel. The arrangement is incredible and the ending is super heavy. This is what most of us would imagine a true Slipknot power ballad would sound like.
Secondly, there are the ultra clean vocals and harmonies. In addition to the aforementioned slow songs, these vocals come mixed into heavier tracks like, “AOV”, “The Devil in I”, “Nomadic” and “The One That Kills The Least”. These were all songs that had potential but were pulled down a bit by the overproduced singing. Clean vocals work for Slipknot when they have some rasp and a bit of angst. “Duality” immediately comes to mind as a song where Taylor’s singing fits really well with an otherwise heavy song. Come to think of it many of the songs on 2004’s Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses worked much in this same way. For this album, “Lech” is the lone song where the clean vocals work as well as the ones featured on Vol 3. Also, enough already with the plethora of screamed f-bombs and profanities. We get it Corey. You’re edgy and are still placating to the under twenty-five crowd but seriously you are almost forty-one years old. A man of your talents and a band as gifted as Slipknot does not need to use swears as a lyrical crutch. The overall sound has matured. The lyrics should have followed suit.
The Gray Chapter also suffers from weak, uninspired drumming. The double bass pedal sounds like it is hitting loosely hung copy paper instead of an actual drum head. Much of the extra percussion that fans have come to expect takes a seat way in the back of the bus this time around. This is a strange decision for a band that has become famous for their heavy use of unusual percussive objects. The loss of Joey Jordison with regard to both his drumming and his creative input is extremely noticeable.
With their latest effort, Slipknot has definitely taken their biggest dive into the mainstream pool so far. Despite that, there are still a lot of positives to talk about. The classic style Slipknot songs present on the album are amongst the best ever written and executed by the band. “Sarcastrophe” is a heavy, thrashy masterpiece complete with turntables and sampling. “Skeptic”, “Lech” and “Custer” are defined by intensely loud grooves, catchy lead guitar overlays, and excellent scream along choruses. Finally, “The Negative One” could quite possibly be one of the most perfect tracks that Slipknot has ever created. It has that signature sound complete with alarming riffs, a raucous breakdown, turntable scratching and the best damn drumming and percussive sections on the record. It will remind you of the best material from Slipknot and Iowa. Now it’s obvious why they picked this as the first single from .5: The Gray Chapter. They had to know that it would peak the interest of the fans and get them engaged right from the start. The only issue with this is that they led off with the knockout punch. None of the album’s other songs, even the good ones, can closely compare to “The Negative One”.
The other strength of the new record is the guitar play of Jim Root and Mick Thomson. Even though the rest of the band seems to have taken things down a few notches on most of the album, the leads from Root and Thomson are kicked up quite a bit. Even some of the more feeble tracks like “The Devil in I”, “Killpop” and “The One That Kills the Least” contain some of the best and catchiest leads ever laid down by Root and Thomson. They even toss in a few solid guitar solos with the best one coming courtesy of the track “Nomadic”.
- “The Negative One”
- “If Rain Is What You Want”
There has always been a thought out there that Joey Jordison wrote most of, if not all of, Slipknot’s material. Taylor denied it in an interview with Revolver back in January saying that all the members of the band write. I have not doubt that all the members have creative input. However, it seems from the pretty sizable shift in sound and pace on .5: The Gray Chapter that the loss of Jordison was pretty substantial. His departure seems to have created a void that was filled mostly by the influence of Corey Taylor’s more mainstream brand of heavy metal and hard rock. Then again, Jordison was still part of Slipknot during All Hope Is Gone so maybe I’m just reading too deeply into things and this was the direction the band was headed in no matter what. In any event, Slipknot’s latest album is not the return to form that many fans had hoped for but it definitely still has its strong suits that should not be overlooked.
.5: The Gray Chapter will be released on October 21, 2014. Take a listen for yourself when you get the chance and then let us know if you agree or if we are way off base. You can respectfully argue your point in our comments section.