Slipknot : Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses

They've gone a bit Radiohead. Really...

[I]”This is the year when hope fails you, when the test subjects run the experiment and the bastard you know is the hero you hate”[/I], barks [a]Slipknot[/a]’s sergeant major singer Corey Taylor as if addressing an imaginary army of fans on the anthemic ‘Pulse Of The Maggots’. As air raid sirens wail and jackboots fall into step before him, the company credo continues: [I]”Cohesion is possible if we try. There’s no reason, no lesson, no time like the present. Tell me right now: what have you got to lose? Except your soul.”[/I] Then comes the battle-cry: [I]”WHO’S WITH US?”[/I]

If your taste in heavy music doesn’t extend much beyond [a]Linkin Park[/a] then the chances are it won’t be you. Despite first crawling out from their godforsaken hole at the peak of nu-metal’s popularity, Slipknot are, in essence, as old school as a faded [a]Slayer[/a] shirt – and, in the current climate, just as unfashionable.

Look beneath the Hammer House Of Horror haberdashery and you’ll find nine misfit malcontents who grew up overdosing on death metal and gore-soaked slasher flicks. They may count a resident DJ among their number but the only ‘rap’ Slipknot have been associated with is the criminal charge copped by bassist Paul Gray for possession of drug paraphernalia last year.

And yet Slipknot have managed to make an impression on the mainstream. Their self-titled debut sold two million copies worldwide, while their caustic second, ‘Iowa’, entered the UK charts at Number One – almost certainly the most extreme record to do so. By distilling [a]Marilyn Manson[/a]’s anti-authoritarian aesthetic and then adding fast drum fills and razor-edged riffs nicked from old Megadeth records, Slipknot appealed not only to the disaffected, but also the disenfranchised metal kids put out by the sudden popularity of ‘their’ music.

As such, their decision to start experimenting with their sound on ‘Vol 3’ is a bold one. At least two thirds of it is still comprised of head-spinning speed metal, but there are signs of genuine progression – not to mention progressive rock – from the off. Opener ‘Prelude 3.0’ is three minutes of ambient noise and half-whispered vocals, whereas the album’s centrepiece, a histrionic two-part gothic love story entitled ‘Vermillion’, features an unexpectedly poignant unplugged reprise that’s part Black Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’, part [a]Radiohead[/a]’s ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’. Rick Rubin produced this record in the same reputedly haunted house that he recorded The Mars Volta’s debut, which suggests that it might well be the ghost of Syd Barrett’s fragile sanity rattling the radiators at night.

More surprising still, given that this is a band who were criticised for including a catchy chorus on their last album, is the introduction of acoustic guitars, piano parts and – whisper it – string sections. ‘The Nameless’ intercuts thrash riffs with softly-strummed interludes, while the off-kilter coda ‘Danger, Keep Away’ goes as far as to steal its unsettlingly simple synth motif from ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, which perhaps explains Corey Taylor’s recent claim that ‘Vol 3’ occupies the middle ground between ‘Reign In Blood’ and [a][/a].

And, as if to counterbalance the more off-message moments, elsewhere Slipknot sound more ferocious, more frenetic and more generally fucked off with the world than they have done before and the Ministry-meets-Manson mash-up of ‘Pulse Of The Maggots’ is an exemplary exercise in modern metal and as exhilarating a song as you’ll hear all year.

There’s so much going on throughout ‘Vol 3’, so many ideas, so much to hear, that it takes several listens to fully take in. On the first listen it feels fractured and unfocused; on the second it sounds like the metal album of the year. One thing that is certain is that Slipknot have made an ambitious attempt to move things forward. So, who’s coming with them? After all, what have you got to lose?

Dan Silver

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