Three Bugs, A Pound of Dust: Slipknot at 20

From the state that brought us Caucus Fever and “Monday Night Rollins” emerged metal’s greatest oddfellows with a debut LP for the ages

Slipknot now / Photo by Alexandria Crahan-Conway

On June 29, 1999, Des Moines, Iowa-based nü metal horde, Slipknot, unleashed its scathing, self-titled debut album upon unsuspecting ears.

Released on Roadrunner Records, the album quickly went platinum, gained an immediate fanbase and attracted loads of attention from MTV and OZZfest.

With a shredding amalgam of styles — including death metal, nü metal, thrash, speed metal, alt metal, rap metal and industrial elements — the innovative album put Slipknot on the musical map with urgency. By combining massive percussion rudiments, catchy samples and scratching, gritty, down-tuned riffs and a mix of rap-styled vocals, the album’s 15 tracks run the musical gamut.

On first impression, the band’s image (horrific masks, matching orange boiler suits with numbers identifying each member, etc.) was something the kids of the day could latch onto, while their outrageous stage theatrics and heavy instrumentation set the band apart from its peers. Simply known as #8 (Corey Taylor – vocals), #7 (Mick Thomson – guitars), #6 (Shawn “Clown” Crahan) #5 (Craig “133” Jones – samples, media), #4 (Jim Root – guitars), #3 (Chris Fehn – percussion, backing vocals), #2 (Paul Gray – bass, backing vocals), #1 (Joey Jordison – drums, mixing) and #0 (Sid Wilson – turntables), the nine-headed metal troupe took the music world by storm.

Producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Sepultura, Machine Head) valiantly captured the band’s aggressive intensity that it created in the live setting, which can only be described as a  dog-on-bone mentality with a ground-and-pound style of aggression.

Kicking off the self-titled release is the 36-second sampled intro track “742617000027.” With its eerie guitar scratching and the repeated sped up/slowed down spoken-word phrase of “The whole thing I think is sick” (from a Charles Manson documentary), the track sets a violent mood of what’s to come from the rest of the album.

Slipknot then in 1999 press photo

The first proper cut, “(Sic),” explodes with a battering of percussion, raging riffs and Taylor’s vicious barks. For three-plus minutes, your ears are pleasantly bombarded by a wonderful mix of melody and aggression. “Eyeless,” which appeared on an episode of The Sopranos, takes the listener on a spastic journey of feedback-laced guitar melodies, pounding drum cadences and a maniacal vocal delivery. The nasally, main metaphorical lyrical hook of “You can’t see California without Marlon Brando’s eyes” always sounded awkward to me – almost a little off-putting in a way – but intriguing nonetheless.

The numerous samples throughout the entire record are standout qualities of the band’s overall aesthetic, as well as the triple threat percussion assault does. It’s two elements that Slipknot has perfectly perfected from the get-go.

Continuing with the rhythmic thrust of “Wait and Bleed,” it matches up nicely next to the squealing melodies and sludgy riffs of “Surfacing.” On “Spit it Out,” Taylor’s juxtaposed rapped vocal delivery combined with his melodic, clean croons — often switching back and forth seamlessly — is spot-on. Taylor’s vocals are also a defining element to the band’s sound, with his juxtaposed harsh barks and melodic crooning, most notably on tracks “No Life,” “Spit it Out” and “Only One.” He pulls off a style that soon became much duplicated throughout the years from many genre wannabes that emerged in droves after Slipknot’s success.

The somewhat repetitive “Tattered & Torn” (originally appearing on the band’s 1996 demo Mate.Feed.Kill.Repeat), is infectious yet lacks variation with its tempo. However, it’s a psychotic almost three-minute jaunt, so just grip tightly and enjoy the ride.

 

VIDEO: “Frail Limb Nursery/”Purity”

The original Slipknot release featured the controversial 45-second “Frail Limb Nursery” and “Purity.” Although “Frail Limb Nursery” was never re-released, “Purity” was included on the Disasterpieces DVD, the live 9.0: Live, the ‘best of’ Antennas to Hell, and the 10th anniversary edition of Slipknot. The bludgeoning “Me Inside” replaced both of those tracks on the 1999 slightly remastered standard and digipak versions of the album.

The pulsating and maniacal “Liberate” is a vitriolic diatribe, as Taylor’s anguished screams of “liberate my madness” is deafening. The psychotic atmosphere of “Prosthetics” is a great follow-up and surges to its boiling point, while “No Life” introduces down-tuned riffs, rapped vocals, stuttered percussion beats and a confrontational chorus decorated with Taylor’s aggressive, quick-witted vocals.

The catchy and hypnotic “Diluted” is followed by the eerie “Only One” (originally appearing on Mate.Feed.Kill.Repeat, but with different lyrics), which includes an anthemic chorus. Album closer, “Scissors,” is a 19-minute nightmarish journey that includes several minutes of silence, a fly on-the-wall band conversation and the heavy as fuck hidden track “Eeyore.” It’s a great way to end the hour-plus album with a savage roar. 

 

AUDIO: “Scissors” 

Fourteen tracks in total may seem like overkill, but the band’s aggressive momentum never slips and the songs never diminish in quality throughout the album’s duration.

Who would’ve thought twenty-plus years ago that these nü metal freaks from Iowa would morph into one of the most prolific metal bands in the history of extreme music? Slipknot’s self-titled debut album still holds up today as they continuously prove that their passion for creating their dark art hasn’t waned in the least bit throughout their career.

Look out for Slipknot’s scathing sixth studio album, We Are Not Your Kind (released Aug. 9 through Roadrunner Records).

 

VIDEO: Slipknot “Solway Firth”

Kelley Simms

Kelley Simms is a Des Moines-based freelance writer and a graphic designer/illustrator at a daily newspaper. His bylines have appeared in many diverse publications such as The New York Post, Outburn Magazine, BraveWords, Powerplay Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Hails and Horns Magazine, Consequence of Sound and Illinois Entertainer. Reach him on Twitter @simmsbury or check out his website at KelleySimms.com.

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