.5: The Gray Chapter

Written by: AP on 20/10/2014 15:42:05

Say what you will about Slipknot, but you have got to respect the band for their achievements. It goes against reason that music as extreme as theirs should be so popular, yet all of the four albums preceding albums have gone multiple platinum, just as the nine maniacs have been a regular sight at the summit of festival bills for the best part of a decade now. More often than not, their rebellious birds-up attitude has served as a pathway into harder and more obscure forms of metal, the cult nature of their fanbase providing many a misfit the sense of belonging they desperately seek. Slipknot is a massive gimmick - there’s no question about it. But none can deny the importance of this band in preaching the metal to the masses, nor their aptitude at doing so. Not least on this latest miscreant “.5: The Gray Chapter”.

Six years have passed since the monolithic ”All Hope is Gone” surfaced from the pit of maggots, and they have not been without turmoil. First, the untimely and tragic passing of bassist Paul Gray from apparent overdose in 2010 sent shockwaves through the metal community; then, at the end of last year, drumming legend Joey Jordison was ousted from the band apparently due to personal differences. Both have since been replaced, and in the process part of the mystery that used to surround Slipknot’s true identities has been restored: no one knows with absolute certainty who the two musicians are despite the heavy and palatable rumours naming them as Alessandro Venturella (guitarist of British groove metal crew Krokodil) and Jay Weinberg (who has featured as drummer for Bruce Springsteen, Madball and Against Me! in recent years). As a result, there was always going to be some anxiety surrounding “.5: The Gray Chapter” - named, of course, in tribute to their deceased bassist; whether or not these new additions would be able to fill the enormous shoes of their predecessors.

The album purports to delve into Slipknot’s past, more specifically the era comprising 2001’s “Iowa” and 2004’’s “Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)”, with vocalist Corey Taylor describing it as shadowing the artistic direction of the latter whilst retaining the unadulterated brutality of the latter; and that portrayal is certainly hard to refute. Both “Sarcastrophe” and “AOV” at the beginning of the album deliver an exposé for such a balance, the former’s crushing riffs, turntable twists and furiously pummelling percussion fueling Taylor to spit his signature blasphemous venom (”You’ll get a day in this life before I kill your fucking light; burn open your atmosphere, burn up in your atmosphere; desecrate your temples. Only I’ll end the name I’ve made. Don’t look for crows, they’re scattered. Prepare for judgement day. We are killed gods.”); the latter enlisting slabs of Lamb of God-esque groove metal to enforce its anthemic chorus, ”To each his own, I can do with one less watered down excuse. If this is over you can tell me it’s no use. Used - just tell me it’s over.” in a way not unlike the Howard Jones-era of Killswitch Engage.

But the album also explores to an even greater degree than “Vol. 3” Taylor’s fascination with the fragile, with concluding piece “If Rain is What You Want” in particular raising an instant eyebrow with its repeating low key melody, melancholy atmosphere, and caved-in singing - not least because objectively speaking, the song sounds like an overt tribute to Nine Inch Nails’ classic “Hurt”. Remembering songs like “Vermilion, pt. 2” and “‘Till We Die”, this is of course not unheard of; but there is no denying that with “Killpop” and “Goodbye”, decent tracks though they may be, Slipknot are cradling the attention of the mainstream to a hitherto unseen extent. One must admire the control with which the transitions and contrasts are handled (see, for instance, the morphing of “XIX” into the already mentioned “Sarcastrophe”), but at the same time, my own fascination with Slipknot has always stemmed from the sheer lunacy of their music - something that has been dampened to a large degree on “.5: The Gray Chapter”.

Not surprisingly then, the best album’s best moments, for me, emerge in its most aggressive tracks, when the band revisits the madness of their yonder years. When Taylor rages ”I know why Judas wept, motherfucker!” as the preamble to the incendiary “Lech” and lets loose those deranged inhale/exhales and vengeful hisses, or when Slipknot descend into sardonic depravity in the standout “Custer”, spearheaded by the sort of bonkers lyricism (”Cut, cut, cut me up and fuck, fuck, fuck me up!”) that’s sure to be reciprocated by ‘the maggots’ in concert, and cement the track as a live staple; that’s where the presence of an “Iowa” influence is most felt. There’s a sense of chaos and dread to the proceedings across much of the latter half of the album, the eerie samples and maniacal laughter of “Be Prepared for Hell” sounding straight out of some horror movie involving a possessed porcelain doll, before it transfers its unsettling atmosphere into the punishing “Negative One” - another clear highlight.

Still, despite the frequent lapses into the pandemonium and frenzy that shocked and enamoured us all with “Iowa”, “.5: The Gray Chapter” never approaches that level of entropy. It’s hard to criticise, for Slipknot are, at this point, in a place where writing a great song feels like no chore. So although they don’t speak to me in the same way, or manage to conjure the same atmosphere of fanaticism, I must concede that even the tracks that feel weaker to me nonetheless bear the hallmark of extremely well written songs. Even the lyrics in the chorus of “Skeptic”, which, I suspect, was written in memory of Paul Gray, seem somehow at ease within the instrumental context, despite their rather prosaic nature (”The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you. The world will never know another man as amazing as you.”). Indeed, “.5: The Gray Chapter” is bursting with memorable hooks, mosh worthy chugs, and infectious choruses; and suffice it to say that the mere fact that it sounds exactly as one would expect Slipknot to sound, answers the question posed earlier in this review regarding the contributions of Venturella & Weinberg (if indeed it is them playing bass and drums, respectively). Discounting the slight lack of nerve and the persistent refusal to let go of the controls and see what happens then, Slipknot have, in “.5: The Gray Chapter”, assembled an album with which they will without question retain their position as one of the biggest metal bands in the world, though it is unlikely that they will blow any minds in the process.

Download: Sarcastrophe, Lech, Nomadic, Custer, The Negative One
For the fans of: Murderdolls, Mushroomhead, Stone Sour
Listen: Facebook

Release date 20.10.2014
Roadrunner Records

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