“Let’s play a game”, says Corey Taylor, leaning towards the camera. “Let’s see how many news stories this story turns into. How about that? I did one last week and it turned into 10 different, fucking bullshit, horseshit news stories. And it’s just gotten to the fucking point where I just wash my hands and I just give up.”
Speaking to us over Zoom from his home in Las Vegas, where the Slipknot vocalist is performing chores, cleaning his house and folding laundry between interviews (“All that metal shit,” he chortles), he’s clearly working off some tense energy. Throughout our one-hour interview, the man known as Metal’s Great Big Mouth lives up to his reputation – he’s affable and friendly, cracking jokes, but every now and then, a combative edge peppers his answers. A question about his well-publicised Twitter beef last year with Machine Gun Kelly is dismissed outright with palpable impatience and rolled eyes. “I haven’t said shit about it in fucking months. I’ve said what I’ve said, and I’ve got better things to talk about.”
By “better things”, he means Slipknot’s excellent new album, ‘The End So Far’, their seventh record and the most experimental and inventive of their career. It contains all the hallmarks of classic Slipknot – the record’s exhilarating lead singles, ‘The Chapeltown Rag’ and ‘The Dying Song (Time To Sing)’, lean on nihilistic, razor-sharp riffs and colossal hooks and will be like crack to the band’s fans – lovingly known as maggots. But it’s also a reminder that, 27 years into their career, you should never try to predict where metal’s nihilistic, 18-legged war machine will go next.
Deliberately seeking to confound expectations from the outset, the album kicks off with haunting opener ‘Adderall’, which comes across like a twisted take on Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, before morphing into contemplative Alice In Chains territory.
Elsewhere, Slipknot dabble with monstrous murder balladry (‘Yen’), nightmarish vocoder fantasy (‘Medicine For The Dead’) and ‘Acidic’, a track drummer Jay Weinberg has described as the “heaviest blues song on earth”. Although the album picks up where the band’s 2019 album, ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ – an album that toyed with new sounds – left off, Taylor confirms that ‘The End, So Far’’s DNA most closely resembles the band’s dynamic third record, ‘Vol. 3: (Subliminal Verses)’. Released in 2004, that was the album where the band focused on melody, taking their songwriting in new, unexpected directions.
“Musically, we’ve never shied away from a challenge,” he says. “It got to the point where you’re like, ‘Where do we go?’ [We said] let’s look back for inspiration instead of trying to look forward, and let’s try to embrace some of the shit that made us wanna do this in the first place.” On this album, he says the band worried “less about the cohesion of the album and more about the strength of the songs.” “Each song has its own identity, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the identity of the album.”
It takes a couple of listens for the new record to ‘click’ exactly how it should be when you’re throwing curveballs at your audience – although, as Taylor argues, the fans should know by now that that’s business as usual.
“We’ve always been experimental,” he points out irritably, commenting that some fans will have “a fucking cystic embolism” when they hear the new record. “Everybody just assumes that we’re heavy all the fucking time. We do have moments of blasts and brilliance, but at the same time, we have songs like [acoustic and string led ‘Vol 3’ cut] ‘Circle’. We also have songs like ‘Snuff’ [brooding and clean from fourth album ‘All Hope Is Gone’]. When people hear [the new album], they go, ‘Well, that’s a departure.’ It’s like, ‘What are you, fucking new?’ We’ve spent 20-plus years throwing people for a loop.”
In an interview last year, Taylor commented that in the same way artists like David Bowie and Marc Bolan took risks, “Slipknot are now doing that for a heavier generation”. “I mean, pardon me for assuming we have anything in common with somebody like Bowie,” he elaborates. “But for me, the great thing about Bowie was that his fearlessness was so ahead of its time. It didn’t matter what he put out; you just couldn’t wait to hear it. You knew it was interesting, and you knew it was gonna be different. That’s always been my hope with Slipknot, and I feel like we’ve done that.”
‘The End, So Far’ closer is acoustic slow-burner ‘Finale’, which sees Taylor sing, “Well I’m sorry to say, that I have to stay, because I like it here.” It’s a steadfast refusal from the band to bend to expectations from outside the ranks.
“One of the problems about writing one of the heaviest fucking albums of all time is that people just expect you to do that over and over,” he says. He is, of course, referencing the band’s second album, ‘Iowa’, their dense and malignant second album, still considered by many to be their artistic peak. “Well, fuck, that’s so boring. If we had done that, we wouldn’t be where we are today, 100 per cent.”
“Everybody just assumes that we’re heavy all the fucking time – we’ve spent 20-plus years throwing people for a loop”
Released in 2001, ‘Iowa’ entered the UK charts at Number One, still the darkest, dirtiest, thickest album to do so by some margin – an unlikely mainstream success that transformed Slipknot from alternative weirdos into one of the biggest commercial bands in the world. “You also have to remember a large part of the population are also people who have created petitions against every Batman that has ever been fucking cast in a movie, and they’ve always been wrong,” Taylor continues. “Who’s really right here? You fucking idiots, sometimes you just need to shut the fuck up and listen to what we give you.”
In a world where social media have given internet trolls everywhere a voice, he has a message for those fans who have “bullshitted themselves into thinking that if they bitch enough that they’re gonna get what they want”. He fixes us with another warning stare. “That only happens with weak-minded people.”
When NME last caught up with Slipknot during the ‘We are Not Your Kind’ cycle in 2019, the band were weathering a particularly tumultuous period, following a period of change and instability. Twenty years after their self-titled major label debut introduced their masked annihilation to the world in a red mist of violence and chaos, Chris ‘Dicknose’ Fehn had left the band after filing a lawsuit against Slipknot regarding royalties, while most horribly, percussionist Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan’s daughter, Gabrielle, had died, aged just 22.
Taylor was in a dark place too. After years of physically destroying himself onstage, he was wincing from the aftermath of double knee surgery and struggling to process a brutal divorce from his second wife, Stephanie Luby. The breakdown of his marriage loomed large over ‘We Are Not Your Kind’, a record Taylor, as the band’s lyricist, described later as a “purge”, not least on album closer ‘Solway Firth’, which hinted at how difficult the relationship had actually got: “You want a real smile? I haven’t smiled in years.”
Since then, Taylor has turned a corner. He’s now happily married to Cherry Bombs’ Alicia Dove, who accompanied him to therapy and helped him kick an addiction to social media. In 2020, he launched his solo career, releasing his free-wheelin’ debut, CMFT. Clearly, he’s in a better place, a new mindset that influenced his songwriting process for ‘The End, So Far’. “This album is more about relating to people and less about purging again for me,” he says. “And maybe that’s one of the reasons why the album feels as diverse and varied as it does as well is because there isn’t just one narrative, it’s several.”
Given his personal life has turned a corner, is it difficult for him to get into the artistic mindset for Slipknot, a band that clearly thrive on misanthropy? “Oh, it’s quite easy. I have just as many dark periods as I do light periods.” He says the emotional hurricane of 2019, combined with years of alcoholism [he’s now 12 years sober] and depression, have created in him “a fire, an anger, an energy that has never gone away”, a dark place in his mind he can unlock when he needs to tap into Slipknot mode. “To this day, my anger can get away from me,” he says carefully. “I don’t do anything stupid like I used to when I was a kid. But I still have bursts of loud anger and I know that that can promote anxiety in people. I’ve really tried to use therapy and self-restraint to reign that in.”
“One of the problems about writing one of the heaviest fucking albums of all time is that people just expect you to do that over and over”
Life in Slipknot has always been a prickly affair. Famously, when the band headed into the studio in 2000 to record ‘Iowa’, frayed interpersonal relationships were at an all-time low, as various band members battled addiction and spiralling mental health, leading to a toxic, often violent environment ripe for combustion. “When we did ‘Iowa’, we hated each other,” Clown confirmed in an interview last year. These days though, Taylor confirms the waters are calmer.
“We’re kind of reaching that point where we’ve kind of embraced each other for who we are,” he says, noting it’s a far cry from the days when the band would “avoid each other like the plague” on tour. “The beautiful thing about Slipknot has also been one of the hardest things: we’re not necessarily people who would’ve been friends. We came from such different backgrounds, different points of view, and different musical standpoints. At certain times, that’s where the tension comes from, and that’s where the genius comes from.”
Another shift in the narrative this album cycle has been around new(ish) percussionist Michael Pfaff, better known to the maggot legions as Tortilla Man because of the doughy appearance of his onstage mask. While the band point-blank refused to answer questions about his identity during promotion for ‘We Are Not Your Kind’, this time around, Tortilla has unmistakeably been assimilated into the gang. As such, ‘The End, So Far’ represents the first studio Slipknot album he’s worked on, and, as anyone who’s seen Slipknot live recently will attest, he’s injected new energy into the band.
“He’s such fucking conundrum because he’s probably the most overly qualified dude in the band,” says Taylor smiling fondly. “He plays pretty much every instrument; he’s classically trained. He could play piano for any goddamn symphony orchestra, like anywhere. And he’s just such a good dude. I honestly keep telling him, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing here; this is not the band for good people. This band basically eats good people, so you need to fucking watch yourself’.”
The fiercely loyal way Taylor talks about his bandmates proves that, despite all the turmoil, he still views Slipknot as the tightest of brotherhoods. After spending years on the road and pushing each other past their physical and emotional limits, spilling blood for the art they create, while they haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, they’re now bonded by something thicker than blood. Perhaps love?
“I don’t know about love, but we certainly appreciate each other,” replies Taylor. “We’ve been through incredible highs, the worst of lows, and we knew that we could prop each other up, put our backs to each other and we would all have each other’s back. So at some point, you kind of have to embrace that as love.”
“The beautiful thing about Slipknot has also been one of the hardest things: we’re not neccessarily people who would’ve been friends”
Of course, there’s no getting away from the fact that Slipknot today looks very different to the line-up that clawed their way out of the bowels of Des Moines in 1995. The departure of Chris Fehn in 2019 further splintered the original line-up following the death of original bassist Paul Gray in 2010, while original, much-loved drummer Joey Jordison, who was fired from the band in 2016, died last year. Taylor becomes noticeably sad when his name is raised.
“We all had such a complicated relationship with Joey at one point or another,” he says quietly. “He was a man who was tormented by his brilliance and his demons. And it made it hard to live with him sometimes. I’m not saying that to cut him down because we’ve all gone through it. It’s something that we as addicts, we as artists, we as really mentally fucked up people, have had to deal with.” Taylor says he and Joey had reconciled over the years, texting back and forth, calling the exchanges “strained but civil”: “When we lost Joey, it took away the chance for us to make peace with him,” he continues. “I know some of us had talked to him on the side. We never talked to him as a group, and I think that’s something that we all regret. It’s a hard thing to realise that you missed an opportunity.”
When Slipknot announced ‘The End So Far’ back in July, the album’s title sparked frenzied online rumours that the band was about to call it quits. “People have been saying that about every fucking album we’ve put out for the last 20 years,” shrugs Taylor. “And I don’t know why.”
We suggest that because of the band’s combustible nature, people probably expect them to… well, combust.
“That is fucking true,” he hoots. “But we’ve never had issues that would threaten to break us up. Every album, it almost feels like everybody is so stoked for us because it was a miracle that it got made in the first place.”
Instead, the record’s title refers to the band’s departure from Roadrunner Records, their home since they released their self-titled 1999 debut. Did they still feel like the label represented them?
“When we lost Joey [Jordison], it took away the chance for us to make peace with him”
“Who knows? It’s such a different label than it was when we first signed with it,” Taylor says darkly. “Once you’re in the hands of people who don’t care, it’s just a fucking business. And that’s what happened.” At this point in our conversation, Taylor has worked himself into a rage. “We’ve had to fight for every fucking release that we’ve had because the people who now work for Roadrunner think they know what they’re doing and they just don’t,” he spits. “They’ve tried to give us fucking advice, and we’re just like, ‘What are you talking about? What band do you think we are?’”
The band’s departure from their label spells a new era. “This is almost like the second phase of Slipknot,” considers Taylor of a period that’s now coming to an end. “The first phase was the original nine. The second phase was obviously dealing with loss, dealing with the loss of Paul, the loss of our innocence in a weird way, losing Joey and, and reconfiguring in a way that was never gonna be like the original.”
Despite it all – the fights, the line-up changes, the grief, the trauma, the injuries – Slipknot have no intention of stopping anytime soon. “After all these years, I’m so stoked to still be in a band with guys who just give it as hard as they go to this day. None of us have tried to dial it back. We’ve always expanded, but we’ve never changed. And that is the sign of a band that a. is very confident in what they do, and b. trusts each other.”
As he stares down the barrel of the band’s seventh album, Taylor declares this to be Slipknot at their “most fearless, most risk-taking, most gloves off”. “Wherever we go in the future, whether it’s just going in and doing 10 of the most punk rock fucking tunes of all time, live in a room with Steve Albini, or if we go in and just do a double fucking concept album with a movie, it doesn’t matter because it’s always going to come from us and it’s always gonna come from a place that we wanted to go,” he says, a challenge to anyone foolish enough to believe Slipknot might be remotely running out of gas. “Not [a place] somebody told us to go, but we fucking wanted to go. Nobody created us except us. The fans came with us, but we have always drawn our own map.”
‘The End, So Far’ by Slipknot is out now