Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slipknot - .5: The Gray Chapter (Review)

It's been six years since the release of "All Hope Is Gone", and now Slipknot has emerged with their new album ".5: The Gray Chapter". In many ways this album proves that Slipknot is far from dead, and it also finds the band in a transitional period. That is a good thing for some, and something that could stand to alienate a lot of their fanbase. Perhaps it was a slight mistake to release "The Negative One" as their first glimpse of the album, "Why?" you may ask. Well quite simply "The Negative One" sounds like it could be a song from "Iowa", which gave a lot of people the perspective that maybe the band was going back to the heavier darker days of Slipknot. It was the release of the bands first "official" single "The Devil In I" that made it apparent that, that was not the case.

However you feel about Slipknot, they have been a band that has never stuck with a set "sound", each album has it's own vibe, and are all distinctly different. "The Gray Chapter" is certainly no different, but it is also the closest the band has ever come to having an identity crisis, the album never seems to quite know what it wants to be. It is here, there and everywhere in between. If you didn't know very much about the band you would assume that this is nothing more than Slipknot's swan song. It may give you the deep feeling that the band is on their way out.

But, in the grand scheme of things this is to be expected. If you read the "Revolver Magazine" special "Book of Slipknot" which came out after the release of "All Hope Is Gone", then you would know that Paul Gray and Joey Jordison did most of the demo work for the previous Slipknot albums. They built the skeletons of the songs that would become "Iowa", "Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses", and "All Hope Is Gone". If you don't count Chris Fehn or Shawn "Clown" Crahan, Joey and Paul made up Slipknots rhythm section, they were the metaphorical soul of the band. Unless you have been living under a rock, or simply don't follow music all that closely you would know that Paul Gray died in 2010, which took more than a toll on the band as a whole. Prior to entering the studio for what would become ".5: The Gray Chapter" Joey Jordison departed the band on unclear terms.

What this leaves you with is the plain and simple fact that this a band whom has lost it's main songwriters, and is being forced to figure out where to go from there. It would have probably been easier for the band to bow out, no one would have blamed them. Between the sudden death of Paul Gray, the inner turmoil that seems to follow the band like a plague, the departure or Jordison, and Stone Sour getting bigger and bigger. It probably would have actually made sense, but instead the band has pressed on and forged a new path in the ever evolving monster that is Slipknot.

That "Book of Slipknot" issue also revealed that during the recording of "All Hope is Gone" there was a clear division growing in the band. Joey and Paul went off to write by themselves, while in another studio space Clown, Sid Wilson, Jim Root, and Corey Taylor were off trying to push the boundaries of what is considered Slipknot. In the end Paul and Joey finished less songs than ever before, and the rest of band almost wholesale rejected what the 4 others were doing, only one song emerged from Clown's sessions the bonus track "'Til We Die".

Without someone telling them "That isn't Slipknot" the band finds themselves able to create without restrictions, and that is exactly what ".5: The Gray Chapter" is, Slipknot without restrictions. This album is as it's supposed to be, a band learning what it means to be a band again. Which has as some have pointed out, that "a lot of the songs sound like they were done by a different band". That's because this IS a different band, this is a band that lost, came back and fought, and in the end triumphed.

Before I move on to a track by track breakdown I wish to address something that bugs the living shit out of me. In between the recording of "Iowa" and "Vol. 3 The Subliminal Verses", Corey set out with guitarist Jim Root and released Stone Sour's first album, an album that spawned the radio hit "Bother" which was attached to the soundtrack for Spiderman 2. "Iowa" was dark, depressing, and fucking heavy, while "Vol. 3" found the band venturing into more harmonies, and variety. I saw this as a natural evolution, Slipknot simply wasn't in the same place as they were when they recorded "Iowa", they also had a new producer in the form of Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Eminem, Johnny Cash, Jay-Z). A lot of fans panned the album, stating that Corey's involvement in Stone Sour was poisoning what Slipknot sounded like, this became worse as Stone Sour became bigger, and with the release of the very melodic "All Hope Is Gone".

I am not among these people, actually most of my favorite Slipknot songs are then ones that Corey uses his full range of ability. Mainly because anyone can scream for an entire song, but when Corey goes from rhythmic crazed talking, to belting out a melodic chorus, and then into a full rage screaming fit it has more impact. The closing track on "Iowa" works because it is fueled by the underlying current that it is building towards something, and when it finally does it is far more powerful than a song like "Surfacing" (which is still amazing). I respect Corey Taylor for everything he is capable of doing, he has immense talent, and I don't think a generalized idea of what Slipknot is supposed to "sound like" should deter Slipknot from making the music they wish to make.

With that being said, I will now commence what I think of  the album track by track.

"XIX" - as the opening song, "XIX" is like a declaration. It set's the tone for the rest of album incredibly well. I love the atmosphere of the song, and kind of wish there were more like it. I love the creepy vibe throughout the beginning that builds towards Corey's powerful vocals. The song is definitely raw and emotional.

"Sarcastrophe" - This one starts out almost like a Metallica song before going into a full on signature Slipknot flurry of Guitars, Drums, Percussion, and Corey roaring over all of it. It is certainly a hell of a way to get things started and keeps the pace throughout. The only downside to the song is the mostly forgettable chorus, but the rest is all top notch Slipknot.

"AOV" - This appears to be a fan favorite, and it's not hard to see why. The song comes out fast, furious, and screaming. It also showcases something I loved about this album, which is the fact that everything is accounted for. You hear the whole band on display, and if you listen to it with a pair of decent headphones it is quite simply fantastic. The verses are fast and sharp with Corey screaming throughout, and melds perfectly into the harmonic chorus. The slow and distant sound breakdown in the song is also quite nice as it slowly comes to end and goes full speed back into the insanity.

"The Devil In I" - Everyone who cares about Slipknot, even remotely has heard this song. The reaction has been mixed, but it stands as one of my favorites on the album. I love the way the slow chorus build to the violent chorus yet melodic chorus. Unfortunately as infectious as "The Devil In I" is, it also features some of the worst drums on the album during the breakdown. I've always hated over double-bass pedal, where it stops being rhythmic and just becomes constant pounding as if to say, "look how fast I can do this", it just sounds really bad.

"Killpop" - "Killpop" has already been dubbed "Vermilion, Pt. 3", and for good reason. It follows the same basic concept as "Vermilion, Pt. 1". A song about a girl, but in classic Slipknot fashion it's more of a sick, over obsessed kind of stalker love. I love Corey's psychotic love songs, and this one is no different. It is slow, churning, and expertly crafted. It starts with subdued electronic drums, and as it builds it becomes more and more memorable, and it most definitely stands out from the rest of the songs on the album. As with most songs like this that have come from Slipknot, it all culminates in Corey frantically screaming "We were made to hurt each other, now die and fucking love me." The only thing that I don't like is the pre-chorus, it's out of place, and Corey sounds like shit, other than that fantastic song.

"Skeptic" - Is a tribute to late Bassist Paul Gray, and unfortunately is probably the most forgettable song on the album. I hate saying it, but it's true, I expected a slow moving piece. Instead the song is heavy, and features terrible vocals. The chorus also feels slightly annoying, I respect the message, but it's so not Slipknot. I'm not going to spend too much time bashing the song, as I know it means a lot to the band, which I can respect fully. But it's one of the only songs on the album that I skip instinctively.

"Lech" - This song almost sounds like it was inspired by the great Ministry with the crazy samples during the frenzied riffs and drumming. The song is fucking heavy, and sounds like a statement made through the barrel of a tank. It doesn't sound too much like Slipknot, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. Opening with the line "I know why Judas wept motherfucker!" pretty much sets you up for what you get with the song, hard, fast, heavy, and filled with Corey going from insane speech patterns, to rage filled screams. If you love fast music this is definitely a track you should check out.

"Goodbye" - This sounds more like what "Skeptic" probably should have been. It's slow, solemn, and mournful. It is a fantastically beautiful song, and is an odd choice sandwhiched in between "Lech" and "Nomadic", but I'm glad it's there. It shows the band in the vulnerable state the band is probably in.

"Nomadic" - This has become my favorite song on the album, it has the old sound, mixed with the new sound in such a way that if they made an album on a more singular thread I would hope it sounded like this. Flawless verses, into the stellar chorus, and the entire band on point. I'm not sure why the rest of album is not as on point as this 4 minute song, but it's absolutely stellar. If you only bought the two singles as mp3's, you need to buy this one as well.

"The One That Kills The Least" - Much like "Skeptic" this song for some reason just doesn't gel with me. I really can't place it, but I just don't really care for it. It's kind of all over the place, sometimes singing in the verses, sometimes screaming, sometimes, melodic, sometimes just plain boring. I'm hoping it will grow on me, but I've listened to the album about 7-8 times now and still don't really care for it.

"Custer" - Another song that kind of sounds like a mixture of Ministry and Slipknot. The song is outright apologetically heavy, and immediately catches your attention. This one has also emerged as a fan favorite, and being that is was the 3rd song revealed, it's not surprising as people have had plenty of time to listen to it.It follows the usual formula for a Slipknot song, and has a chorus that took I would imagine 3 seconds to write "Cut, cut, cut me up, and fuck, fuck, fuck me up", but that doesn't mean it isn't effective as it does borough into your head and will have you singing along by the time it's finished.

"Be Prepared For Hell" - It's a creepy 2 minute interlude, full of piano, and loops. There's not a whole lot I can say about it, but it does fit nicely where it's at.

"The Negative One" - Probably my second favorite on the entire CD. It is a throwback to "Iowa", and it hits the mark with precision. It stands as a testament that Slipknot is just as good at forging new ground as they are at exploring what got them to where they are now. Everyone has already had plenty of time to listen to the song so I'm not going to delve to deep into it.

"If Rain Is What You Want" - Probably the most abstract track on the album, and it's fantastic from beginning to end. It's certainly no "Scissors" or "Iowa", but could definitely stand toe-to-toe with "Danger - Keep Away".

Bonus Track "Override" - Another track that probably was best left as a B-side, it's incredibly weak, with an atrocious chorus. But the breakdown is fucking blissfully heavy, and verses are definitely on point. But that chorus, really brings the whole song down. It feels like a bonus track, just not in a good way.

Bonus Track "The Burden" - Reminds me of newer KoRn, but then this moment happens towards the middle where the song turns into pure hell on earth. It's not the greatest song to ever be labeled Slipknot but is definitely far more attention worthy than "Override" and feels like a fitting way to end the album.

All in all the album is worth your attention, as I said earlier this is a band forging a new path and figuring out where they want to go. There is definite experimentation, with sprinkles of classic Knot. But if you were standing in there with the standard version in one hand and the special edition in the other, I'd save your money and just get the standard as the bonus tracks really offer no more worth to the album as a whole. If anything buy the album, and purchase "The Burden" separately. Either way I look forward to the future of Slipknot as they embrace their new found artistic freedom, this is merely the first step on a long journey. If I had to assign it a numbered review score I'd say it lands around a 7.5/10 as it has it's down moments and a couple forgettable tracks, but is overall one the best Metal albums I've heard in quite some time.

You can catch the band on tour with KoRn on the Prepare For Hell Tour in most major cities this Fall. You can purchase ".5: The Gray Chapter" from all major retailers as of today.