Seven Albums In, Slipknot Still Has Something Left to Prove

Seven albums and 28 years into their career, Slipknot maintains the same chip on their shoulder they’ve had since day one.

Metal’s most enraged export has triumphed again – not that I’d expect anything different from the biggest, baddest and battle-hardened group of musicians in the genre. But this time, they overcame the one thing that could ever catch up to them: time.

On the surface, The End, So Far is as typical a Slipknot record as you could expect (or hope for) from the Iowa natives. But behind the curtain, a different story develops.

The fact that this album came out as good as it is, given the isolation of the pandemic, the lack of pre-production, the conclusion of a record deal, and the mere fact many of the members are nearly 50 years old (frontman Corey Taylor is three years older than Tom Brady, if that gives you any idea of his endurance), is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Slipknot’s members unveiled new masks for The End, So Far album cycle, as they do with every album cycle. Taylor is not afraid of moving forward: He actually debuted his when live music returned following the pandemic. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Weiner)

But the truth is not everyone was satisfied with the result. Recently, guitarist Jim Root addressed his own mixed feelings on the recording, which were shared by percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan. “With my mindset being the way it was, I didn’t have a ton of creative input.” Root said to Revolver. “We weren’t rehearsed as a band. We did not come in knowing the songs top to bottom, and that affected the record.”

Let’s be honest here: With nine members, there’s no way you could come out with a record that appeases everybody’s creative appetites. In fact, I’m not surprised to hear a few members expressing some misgivings – they are human, after all, and the honesty is refreshing from one of metal’s most enduring groups.

Fortunately, vocalist Corey Taylor balanced out any hesitations about the record with a ridiculous amount of hype – it’s no wonder he’s the Great Big Mouth. Of course, he’s no stranger to the headlines (but seriously, what doesn’t Corey Taylor think about anything?). During an interview with SiriusXM, Taylor called it “really killer” and a heavier version of their 2004 LP Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. “People are gonna shit when they hear it,” he said.

Taylor’s comparison to Vol. 3 hits the mark. Vol. 3 was the best of both worlds for Slipknot, dabbling with experimentation and atmosphere while maintaining the band’s signature heavy metal and percussive sound. (Photo Credit: Steve Thrasher)

It’s clear The End, So Far isn’t Slipknot’s strongest effort (seriously, can we stop comparing everything to Iowa?). But given the circumstances surrounding the recording process, given the fact the band has replaced multiple members while their legacy looms larger every day, it’s clear this is not an act ready to settle.

Slipknot’s seventh album comes at an interesting crossroads. It marks their final release on Roadrunner Records, an event so crucial to the record cycle the band even referenced it in the title (fortunately, it sounds like this is merely the ending of one chapter and the start of another).

Some have claimed this record is Slipknot “phoning it in,” as if The End, So Far only exists for Slipknot to part ways with Roadrunner. But if you compare this to Corey Taylor naked in the studio, vomiting all over himself, and cutting himself with glass (during the recording of 2001’s Iowa), then anything short of that is phoning it in for the band.

Instead of expecting a bunch of musicians in their 40s to continue destroying their bodies for the sake of art, let’s just let Slipknot be Slipknot. They’re simply in a groove at this point, and they’re carving up everything in their path.

The End, So Far is raw and heavy, while simultaneously melodic and hook-driven – the perfect companion piece to Vol. 3, which Slipknot used to push their metal sound into the mainstream without losing their core savagery. If we look at the band’s career as a whole, the most important moment in the second half of their existence was the single “All Out Life,” which sucker-punched every fan accusing the group of “going soft.”

“All Out Life” is as aggressive and anthemic as Slipknot has ever sounded. The song is Taylor’s critique of the music industry and the executives chasing the “shiny new thing.” It’s clear that Slipknot has given the finger to the fountain of youth.

“All Out Life” followed two albums with mixed results – All Hope Is Gone a bit too clean of a Slipknot record and .5: The Gray Chapter attempting to move forward following the death of bassist Paul Gray. The band had to reconfigure who they were, with new drummer Jay Weinberg a new part of the unit who was just working his way into the mix by the time The Gray Chapter came around.

“All Out Life” and the album that followed, We Are Not Your Kind, saw Slipknot putting to bed any criticism that they had lost it. Gone was any fear that the outfit would slide into “legacy act” category whose best days are behind them. If We Are Not Your Kind was necessary to their survival, then The End, So Far finds the band not merely surviving, but thriving.

Shawn “Clown” Crahan is the sole founding member of Slipknot remaining. Six of the nine members have appeared on almost every Slipknot’s record, but three new members have joined since 2014.

For the contractual obligation in the album’s title, The End, So Far may also be mocking Father Time. All good things may come to an end, but can Slipknot defeat the inevitability of aging? 

Jim Root may have felt like he didn’t have a ton of creative input on the new record, but that just tells you how impressive a guitarist he is – and a key component of Slipknot’s consistent success alongside fellow shredder Mick Thompson. The gnarly opening riff of “Warranty” throws back to “The Heretic Anthem,” while the twisting solo of “The Dying Song (Time to Sing)” defines the song’s anthemic ascent.

Corey Taylor soars to new heights, too with more vocal dynamics than ever on “The Chapeltown Rag” and “Yen.” It helps that he got to work with legendary rock producer Joe Baressi (Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, Chevelle) – even if Root feels the band could’ve done more with him. He balances out the disgustingly heavy with the enormously poppy.

That’s exactly what The End, So Far brings to the table, too: one of Slipknot’s nastiest efforts while also arguably their most melody-infused. Unfortunately, that leaves us with a mixed bag of grimy metal bangers and coasting hard rock songs that tend to wear out their welcome (“Adderall,” “Heirloom,” and “De Sade” are, to be frank, skippable tracks).

But from “The Dying Song” through “Warranty,” Slipknot is at their strongest, offering plenty of career-defining highlights – even if there won’t be a single to rival “Unsainted,” “The Devil in I,” or “Psychosocial” to be found.

“Unsainted” and “The Dying Song (Time to Sing)” gave us first glimpses at We Are Not Your Kind and The End, So Far, Slipknot’s sixth and seventh records. Both tracks rely on big hooks and layered vocal harmonies to stand in front of the band’s dense instrumentation.

Despite the collaborative differences, not a single member holds the band back. Sid Wilson’s fingerprints smother this record, with the turntable breakdown on “Yen” one of the standout moments of his career as Slipknot’s DJ. His scratching permeates the entire record, with sampling on tracks like “Hivemind” (“Tattered & Torn,” anyone?) constantly leaving listeners on edge.

It’s also another album for Alessandro Venturella and drummer Jay Weinberg to gel, as both keep the record’s underbelly loose and gritty. Jordison and Gray may be sorely missed (may they rest in peace), but Slipknot is still trudging along.

Slipknot’s career can be divided into two halves, marked by the sudden death of bassist Paul Gray in 2009. But since his passing, the group has come back with three full-length albums and a slew of hits (13 singles in total).

For a record “built in the studio” as Root says, it’s a testament not just to the band’s durability and zest, but also their pure talent as writers and players. Clearly Slipknot at their most dysfunctional is still better than 99 percent of metal bands.

“You can make a plan, and you can plan as much as you want, but the big clock above your head and the budget from the label, and all this stuff, the studio we were at and the scheduling of that, there are so many factors that were against us making this record that I am surprised we were able to finish it,” Root said.

The End, So Far may not be a masterpiece, but it’s still a big success story for one of the most influential bands in metal. So many new artists want to be Slipknot, and it’s wild to see this oft-mimicked act continue to uphold their own identity while their contemporaries – without letting the attention make them complacent.

For Tallah, it’s clear that Slipknot is their top influence. But what’s even more telling is that drummer Max Portnoy would rather model the Iowa metalheads than his own father’s progressive metal act in Dream Theater. Even Weinberg grew up a Maggot, meeting the band when he was a kid before eventually joining his idols as an actual member.

Slipknot may be carrying on their own legacy, but plenty of metal contemporaries are popping up to join in on the effort. This includes burgeoning acts in the subgenres of metalcore, hardcore, deathcore, and even nu metal revival.

Slipknot runs in the family, too. New metalcore players Vended feature Simon Crahan and Griffin Taylor, sons of Shawn and Corey. It’s clear heavy metal is in their DNA. Last year’s What Is It // Kill It EP serves up plenty of nu metal stylings, and it’s even led to an opening gig with their fathers’ band, as well as a tour with In Flames.

An entire Slipknot revival is active across the metalcore scene, from the nu metal musings of Vended and Tallah to the -core tendencies of Blood Youth and Wage War to the hardcore-rooted Vein.FM and Code Orange.

Slaughter to Prevail’s Kostolm provided plenty of comparisons to Slipknot and Iowa – a sort of deathcore Slipknot, if you may. Other deathcore acts like Whitechapel and Suicide Silence played up their own Slipknot mimicry on Our Endless War and The Black Crown. It just goes to show how widespread the Iowa unit’s fingerprints have ranged in the metal genre, reaching practically every subgenre possible over the past decade-plus.

“Mono” is one of many metal tracks from the past 20 years to take inspiration from Slipknot, especially in terms of guitar style. Without Slipknot, bands like Whitechapel, Five Finger Death Punch, and Demon Hunter wouldn’t exist, at least as we know them today.

It’s a testament to Thompson and Root popularizing down-tuning and heavy distortion, commonly utilized effects in metalcore and deathcore today. Alongside their massive percussion line, no other group is more responsible for bringing extreme metal to the mainstream, with their sound ranging from death metal to grindcore to speed metal.

Twenty years later, they’re more in tune with themselves than ever, retaining the characteristics that made them an international sensation while pushing forward through the muck. The End, So Far is a “reset” after We Are Not Your Kind, a record written all about Taylor’s struggles with depression.

“I felt like I had a lot to say again, you know?” he reveals. “This album felt almost like a reset. I could get away from the shit that I’ve needed to say, and get back to the stuff that I want to say.”

The result is an LP less cathartic and urgent than We Are Not Your Kind, and though it doesn’t have tracks as emotionally gratifying as “Unsainted” and “Solway Firth,” it’s simply a joy to listen to. Taylor gives us everything he’s got: He gets political and nihilistic on “The Dying Song,” offers a glimpse of storytelling on “The Chapeltown Rag,” and is self-referential on the band’s own career on “Warranty.”

Slipknot has already gained everything, so it may seem like they have everything to lose. Yet, album seven sounds like a band with nothing to lose – instead, everything feels free and steadfast.

“Vermilion” changes pace from Slipknot’s faster, heavier offerings, but it maintains the band’s eerie sampling and dueling guitars. The song hit #2 on the US Rock & Metal charts and was featured in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse soundtrack.

If there’s one song that offers the best look at contemporary Slipknot, a band fighting to prove to the doubters that they still have something to offer, it’s “Yen.” While the track may not catch you immediately – it’s quiet and very melodic, with more emphasis on atmosphere than metal proclivities – it harkens back to the band’s artistic heyday with tracks like “Vermilion.”

“It’s such a great, cool departure for us, because there are obviously very Slipknot elements to it, but then some of the music is us kind of touching our inner Tom Waits in weird ways, you know? It’s really, really cool.” Taylor told Kerrang!.

“Yen” may seem dark and gloomy on the surface, but the title (slang for “yearning”) isn’t about loss or heartbreak. It’s actually a love song for Taylor’s wife. “She brings things out in me that I never knew existed,” he said.

Perhaps this is the Slipknot of the future, like the band we saw on Vol. 3 pushing the boundaries of their metal identity sonically – yet nonetheless sounding just as dark, dirty, and downright destructive. Whatever tomorrow holds for one of metal’s biggest names, they’re holding onto their prime out of a sense of self-preservation. In heavy music, artists like Metallica, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden are in the legacy stages of their careers. Slipknot refuses to be next.

The End, So Far truly honors its name: It’s the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another, and as Taylor says, “We’re always looking down the road at what our next chapter is going to be.”

If Slipknot’s newest effort is the product of creative ineptitude, collaborative setbacks, or a band whose best days are behind them, these circumstances simply can’t touch metal’s most enduring act – and endure they will.

Bang your head to the top songs by Slipknot and other artists associated with or influenced by the Iowa metal mongers.

Featured Image Credit: Corey Taylor (Josh Druding), Jim Root (David Phillips), Shawn “Clown” Crahan (Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images), Mick Thompson (Brandon Marshall/REX)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s