When Slipknot roared out of Des Moines, Iowa with their self-titled debut some 22 years ago, they were greeted by one of two responses. One was a guttural disgust: this was a band that huffed the fumes of dead crows before stage time, who punched each other in the face onstage. The other was adoration: if you felt different, strange or unique at the dawn of the millennium, few bands offered you sanctuary like the nine-piece did. They were Slipknot, and you were a Maggot.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Alice Cooper, GWAR: rock and metal had seen shlock before, but a band comprised entirely of big bads plucked from the gnarliest horror movies never made? This was an entirely new proposition. Slipknot had existed, in an evolving form, since 1995, after being conceived by percussionist Shawn Crahan, drummer Joey Jordison and bassist Paul Gray. All had served their time on the Des Moines circuit. The trio met regularly at the Sinclair gas station where Jordison worked nights. Here they would plot. Masks, mystique and pulverising, pop-edged metal. This time things would be different.
How tragic, after the abrupt, but reportedly peaceful passing of Jordison this week, at the age of just 46, that only one member of Slipknot’s Sinclair days remains. Gray, the group’s principal songwriter, passed in 2010. At 51, Crahan remains not just the groups elder statesman, but its sole founding father.
The band were unusual in that their ferocity came from the rear of their set-up and not the front. It’s unfeasible to imagine Slipknot having anyone but the energetic Corey Taylor prowling the lip of the stage, but scan your eyes back – past Sid Wilson’s turntables and Mick Thompson’s stoic chugging – and the sinister, spooky, even androgynous Jordison was less playing his drums than attempting to distil thunder and lightning through mylar and chrome; he was a syncopated spectre. Jordison’s playing was precise, powerful, and sexy. He was the group’s engine, but an exposed one: a hot rod tearing up tarmac.
That epochal 1999 debut was followed by ‘Iowa’ in 2001. “Wait till you hear our fuckin’ next record,” Jordison said in the run-up to the release of album number two. “It smokes our first album. The shit’s twice as technical, three times as heavy.”
This was no hype. With the band lost in the fug of alcoholism and drug addiction, the stories that emanate from the recording of ‘Iowa’ are the stuff of metal lore. Taylor recorded his vocals naked, vomiting upon himself, writhing around on broken glass. Returning producer Ross Robinson broke his back in a motocross accident, subsequently turning up to the studio in a wheelchair to “channel his pain into the album”. “When we did ‘Iowa’, we hated each other,” said Crahan. “We hated the world; the world hated us.” Jordison’s drums sound like a march towards the end of days.
It’s testament to Jordison’s skill behind the kit that he managed to make the greatest heavy metal band of the modern era sound even better. “Slipknot and Metallica were on tour together,” he recalled of the night in 2004 when he replaced an “out of sorts” Lars Ulrich. “When we hit the Download Festival, I got offstage [from Slipknot’s set]. I barely pulled my mask off and they said that James Hetfield needed to talk to me. He said, ‘Lars can’t make it to the show. Can you fill in?’ I just freaked out. I instantly said: ‘Yes.’ Without Metallica, I wouldn’t play the way that I do.”
A burgeoning friendship with the North Carolina-born songwriter Wednesday 13 led to more moonlighting, via the horror punk outfit Murderdolls, in 2002. Two albums followed: that year’s ‘Beyond The Valley Of The Murderdolls’ and 2010’s ‘Women and Children Last’.
“The heart bleeds music, no matter what,” said Jordison. “It bleeds different types.” Jordison was rarely without a heavy musical project on the go, be it Scar The Martyr formed in 2013, industrial metal band Vimic in 2016 or the extreme metal supergroup Sinsaenum (also comprised of members of DragonForce and Mayhem) two years later. A musician’s musician, he sat behind the kit for tours with Rob Zombie, Satyricon and labelmates KoRn. He produced 3 Inches Of Blood and remixed Puscifer.
2004 saw the release of Slipknot’s ‘Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses’ and, after the primal rage of ‘Iowa’, it was a healing of sorts. Not that the record’s creation came easy. “We didn’t talk to each other for three months; we just sat there wasting money in the fucking Houdini mansion,” said Jordison of the band’s decision to decamp to producer Rick Rubin’s Lauren Canyon studio. Regardless, album three was a triumph, a collection of deftly composed modern metal classics, with the drummer embracing the more obvious musicality at play within.
Album four didn’t come easy – four years felt like an age to wait for a new Slipknot record at the time – and when a new collection of songs did emerge, the nu-metal sound the band had helped define had largely given way to one with more focus on groove and stadium rock girth.
“It’s testament to Jordison’s skill that he made the greatest heavy metal band of the modern era sound even better”
Released in 2008, ‘All Hope Is Gone’ contains some of the band’s finest moments – to a later generation of Maggots, hit single ‘Psychosocial’ is an entry point and an anthem. And yet members of the group have expressed their dissatisfaction with the set as the years have passed. In 2015 Taylor stated the record was his least favourite to bear the Slipknot name. Jordison disagreed. “It’s finally the record that I’ve wanted Slipknot to sound like,” he said. It would be his last.
Confusion abounds as to the precise reasons for Jordison’s parting with the group that took him out of the Des Moines bars and onto global stages. Then and now, the news didn’t sit comfortably with fans. This was, after all, a band who, for all their friction, were relentlessly vocal about their brotherhood and unity. After the band declared, on December 12, 2013, that the drummer was leaving the group, Jordison issued his own statement, plaintively saying: “[Slipknot] “has been my life for the last 18 years, and I would never abandon it, or my fans.”
Gray’s passing in 2010 created a permanent schism in the group, as well as a creative void that, in truth, they struggled to fill until the creative triumph of 2019’s ‘We Are Not Your Kind’. After Jordison revealed in 2016 that his reasons for exiting lay with an illness he’d since tamed – a neurological condition called transverse myelitis that took the use of his legs – many Maggots hoped that a coming together of drummer and band would take place at some point down the road.
That will not be, and yet rock music is united today in its celebration of one of the genres greatest ever players. A fan, a freak, one of them, one of us.
“The simplest beats, on what rock music or any music has been formed on,” Jordison once said, “can be the toughest beats to execute and perform… It’s really easy to not respect a simple 4/4 beat.” It’s this kind of musical thirst, contemplation and knowledge that should be the drummer’s legacy. Boiler suits, blood, huffing dead crow and wanton acts of violence are a cheat code to being the most exciting rock band in a generation. Jordison’s passion for music and creation was key to his band being one of their era’s very best.