We revisit Slipknot’s classic second album. Rick Martin reveals why he loves the most depraved album of all time
Before we get onto sniffing dead crows in jars and mutilating goat carcasses, first a bit of pre-amble.
I’m by no means NME‘s metal kid, never have been, never will be. And in my eyes, there’s been no more than a handful of great metal albums – ever. I’ve played the likes of Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson and Raging Speedhorn (yes, really) on heavy rotation for much of my music listening life. But little else has stood out as brutal, heavy or ridiculous enough (or ideally all three) to be something worth bothering with. To believe in. To not get very easily bored with.
With this in mind, Slipknot’s 2001 masterpiece ‘Iowa’ ticks every box. Tunes? Every track. Something to buy into? Without a doubt. Believably, certifiably nuts? Definitely.
Its conception has already gone into the rock annals as among the most debauched album sessions ever. They were crazy. Producer Ross Robinson practically tortured this lot to get what he wanted – to the point that by the end singer Corey Taylor was doing vocal takes naked, cutting himself with glass, while his bandmates sniffed dead crows outside the booth and ingested Doherty-loads of drugs. You don’t get any of that with Summer Camp.
But debauched studio time often doesn’t a great album make. For Slipknot, at this point it was time to deliver musically. And they did in such emphatic fashion they ended up scoring a UK Number One album, the first time metal had hit the top spot over here in eons – keeping The Strokes off in the process. Where so much metal sounds like processed cheese, totally detached, little more than old men still slamming their bedroom doors in their 40s, ‘Iowa’ sounded fresh, 100% genuine, truly deranged.
It’s still amazing nearly 15 years on how brutal, yet multilayered, it all sounds. Everything is detuned to 11 – the guitars, the lyrics, the nutzoid mood. It sounds like a band making an album as if their lives depend on it – which they probably did in many ways. And, at the same time, so much of it sounds massively pop. Lead single ‘Left Behind”s chorus-verse structure and hummable riff certainly endeared them to a much wider audience than ever before. The sloganeering of stuff like ‘People = Shit’ and ‘The Heretic Anthem’ (“If you’re 555, I’m 666“) also ensured they had the disaffected teen vote.
When they do pop, it’s perfect, two-and-a-half-minute stuff. When they get their heads down and smash out some straight-down-the line metal like ‘Everything Ends’, it’s as focused as it is brutal. Subsequent albums kept the brutality but never quite knitted all the components together as successfully. Needless to say, they’ll never top it. You can’t see another metal band doing so either.
Above all else, ‘Iowa’ breaks one of the genre’s oldest rules – that metal should sound dated almost as soon as its left the studio. Everything here sounds as fresh today as it did then. It’s not just a classic of the genre, it’s a classic full stop.