Slipknot | We Are Not Your Kind album review: This is the sound of comfort zones being smashed to smithereens
Iowan nonet (a musical ensemble containing nine members, in case you weren't in the know) Slipknot released its sixth album, We Are Not Your Kind (WANYK), last Friday and... it's a good one
It was back in 1999 that-...
Yes, alright, we can get to the leisurely stroll down memory lane, peppered with personal reminiscences, all the way till said stroll throws up some profound realisation for a little later. Let's cut to the chase for a moment.
Iowan nonet Slipknot released its sixth album, We Are Not Your Kind (WANYK), last Friday and... it's a good one. To call WANYK a departure from the Slipknot sound we've grown used to over the years would be to pay the album and its creators a major disservice. Think of it instead as the sound of nine doors slamming all at once, marking several simultaneous departures from a mansion named 'Slipknot Sound'. And for the largest part, the gambit pays off very well.
From the singing (yes, there's actual singing on this record), to the melodies, drum parts, track design and use of samples, this is the band's most experimental and adventurous outing yet. And then there's the lyrical content which is far more personal — stemming as it reportedly did from the emotional catharsis of frontman Corey Taylor following his messy divorce — than ever before.
This, then, is an excellent juncture at which to undertake that aforementioned stroll.
It was back in 1999 that Slipknot released its self-titled debut record just as nu metal was taking the world by storm (Cheap plug: To learn more about the movement, click here). The album was loud, brash, expletive-laden and nuanced with all the subtlety of a baseball bat being smacked against a steel keg. Boasting such brutal sonic beatdowns as Spit it Out, Surfacing and Get This — which form the staple of a live Slipknot show, the record arrived on a scene that was gradually getting crowded, and swatted away most of the competition spectacularly. Massive percussion — then drummer Joey Jordison's huge drumkit complemented by two percussionists Shawn Crahan and Chris Fehn — and downtuned guitars with a sprinkling of samples set a new template for the scene. And a raft of imitators soon followed.
Most of those, it's worth pointing out, fizzled out and disappeared from the scene — which in turn, also faded away. So why did Slipknot endure? For starters, it's because the band left the label of 'nu metal' behind.
Further, it's worth revisiting something Crahan told a British music magazine about the notion of comfort at around the time the eponymous album was released. To paraphrase, since finding a digital version of that article is nigh-on-impossible, the percussionist-founder said that comfort was a detriment to the song-writing process and the brand of music Slipknot wanted to put out, as a whole. He went on to note the ways in which he went out of his way to make himself uncomfortable when writing, so as to be able to push the quality of his output to the highest possible level, signing off by saying something along the lines of how the only time he wanted to be comfortable was when he was dead.
What WANYK does is to extend the same courtesy to the listener, by dragging her/him out of the comfort zone in which s/he operated when it comes to the band's music.
Although every album has represented a progression in Slipknot's musical trajectory, the latest album represents the boldest and biggest step out of the comfort zone thus far. For a point of comparison, look no further than the band's hugely-successful second album that released in 2001. Doubling down on what made its predecessor a worldwide hit, Iowa represented an exercise in comfort for Slipknot fans. Certainly, the lyrical content was anything but 'comfortable', but musically, it was a satisfying and familiar romp — the massive drums kicked in just when you expected them, the vocals turned loud and angry just when you'd expect, riffs took the sort of twists and turns you expected. Not that this was a bad thing. Far from it, particularly when you look at how the likes of Slayer and AC/DC have made colossal careers out of giving listeners more of the same with every subsequent release.
With WANYK, the fresh new feel is in place right from the get-go and the intro track. Far from being an cacophony of feedback and random noises (see 742617000027 on Slipknot and (515) on Iowa) such as the ones to which we are accustomed, Insert Coin is a more coherent, for want of a better word, kickoff track with the haunting sounds of a possessed arcade videogame machine interrupted only by Taylor's soft intonation of the phrase "I'm counting all the killers" — a foreshadowing of the lyrics from album closer Solway Firth.
As this segues into Unsainted — the album's first single, that was released nearly three months before WANYK — and its combination of samples and choral singing, it's hard not to imagine how much more fitting — again, for want of a better word — the segue from Insert Coin to All Out Life — 2018's standalone track from whose chorus came the name for the new album — would have been. This feeling does dissipate by the time the 64-or-so minutes of the record have wound down to a close, for two reasons: Lyrically, All Out Life is far more political than anything on the rather more personal and introspective WANYK, and musically, it sounds a lot more like classic Slipknot (You know you're getting old when you use phrases like 'classic Slipknot') than its 2019 avatar.
Having dealt with a slew of dark themes — not limited to rage, death, live burial and abduction — on previous outings, this 14-track offering was expected to explore some equally bleak turf, as is the nature of the band. And it does. But there's just something about the lyrics and their delivery this time around that cut a lot closer to the bone than before. Probing lines like "Remember how you spent the best part of forever in a state of pure disease? It was another thing altogether to forget that you brought out the worst in me" from Birth of the Cruel go some way in underlining the more incisive nature of the lyrics on this album, that flit between desperation, condemnation, self-flagellation and everywhere in between. The delivery of these lyrics also showcases Taylor's willingness to play with his vocal range. Of course, the fast-talking (not quite rapping) and growling are a mainstay, but there's also a hell of a lot more singing, particularly on tracks like Nero Forte and Critical Darling whose almost-poppy singalong parts are a very pleasant shock.
Elsewhere, song structure and melody are the biggest beneficiaries of Slipknot's experimental outlook. Replete with hard rock, djent and modern metal influences, songs rarely go in the direction you expect (RE: The point about comfort made earlier), with unexpected chords reshaping a riff you thought you had nailed down and tracks suddenly going all mellow just when you expect them to kick on with a gut-busting "WOOARRGHHHH!" and poppy chorus/pre-chorus sections that come out of nowhere. What's become clear is that Slipknot is no longer a one-gear (fifth or nothing) band with one massive sledgehammer in its locker with which to bludgeon the listener.
The band, in 2019, seems to have discovered multiple gears — something it utilised very sparingly in the past, most notably on 2004's Vol 3: (The Subliminal Verses) with the tracks Vermilion and Vermilion Pt 2 — and an arsenal of all sorts of weapons with which to communicate its as-yet-undiminished anger. The band is also willing to make the listener wait for the payoff, as demonstrated on slow-burner A Liar's Funeral that sizzles calmly for a while until the inevitable explosion. The drumming and percussion too has turned more sophisticated, but no less urgent, and serves to propel tracks meaningfully rather than simply to blast them into stratosphere.
Standout tracks include Unsainted, Nero Forte (with its intro that somewhat resembles the start of Meshuggah's Pravus), A Liar's Funeral, Red Flag (which, despite its name and the lyric "You used to be something special... Now you're nothing" is not about the decline of the Left in India) and Orphan. The latter is the only track on the WANYK to feature a classic (there it is again) Slipknot trope: That of the refrain that slowly grows louder and angrier, as heard on tracks like Spit it Out, Duality, The Heretic Anthem, All Out Life and so on. This time around, Taylor repeats the words "Everyone has something... Someone here has everything" with growing intensity infused into each refrain. It's a fun little throwback.
Overall, WANYK is a fantastic and complete album that contains almost no filler, just a track or two you may not listen to as often as the rest (for me, that's Birth of the Cruel) and is a veritable mission statement for the third decade of Slipknot. Despite being the most experimental, it's probably the band's most accessible album for the uninitiated and one that is likely to please long-time fans in equal measure. All in all, a top-notch effort and well worth the five-year wait since the last album.
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