For a band as durable as Slipknot – this June marks twenty-years since their iconic self-titled debut; next year it’s a decade since the passing of founder member and principal songwriter Paul Gray – for a while there, it felt like Slipknot as we knew them were in danger of being dashed upon the rocks. 2013 saw the departure of another founder member, drummer Joey Jordison. This year saw percussionist Chris Fehn – he’s the one with the mask that had a nose that looked a little bit like a dick – pack up his oil drum and ship out, claiming he was treated like a “second-class citizen” by the group. Were Slipknot, who from the outside seemed a band of brothers who’d been through so much, really just Corey Taylor, percussionist Shawn Crahan and a bunch of hired hands?
2014’s fifth album, ‘.5: The Gray Chapter’, was good but not great. Recent years have blurred the lines once so defined between Slipknot and vocalist Corey Taylor’s other band, Stone Sour. A bit too much melody. A worrying indulgence for a ballad. Most disturbingly of all, Corey Taylor’s new mask appears to be an old Wii Remote Controller stretched across his face. It’s unrealistic to expect the band that roared out of Des Moines, Iowa, all those years ago to be the band Slipknot are now – a supergroup made up of your favourite video nasty icons, nine masked maniacs huffing the fumes of dead crows and punching each other in the face. Fires ultimately fade. Most bands become businesses.
But not Slipknot? Surely not Slipknot. Please not Slipknot.
At Nürburg, Germany’s Rock am Ring, it takes seconds of opening song, ‘People = Shit’ to dispel any notion that this is a band going through the motions. The song, taken from the band’s ferocious, unhinged second album, 2001’s ‘Iowa’, is delivered with bile befitting that which it was born from. In the midst of this madness, imposing guitarist Mick Thompson provides some ballast. He moves little, and yet his eyes dart around within the eyelets of the metallic grill he calls a mask, seemingly surveying the neighbourhood for a babysitter to butcher. His compadres, fellow guitarist Jim Root, always the member of Slipknot with a bit of sass, sways on the spot. Craig ‘133’ Jones – since Jordison’s departure, the second longest serving member – as ever looks a bit like he might take an eye out with all those spikes on his noggin. ‘Disasterpiece’ follows. ‘Psychosocial’. ‘Prosthetics’. What is happening onstage is absolute chaos.
You can’t help thinking that this is largely due to the new blood that now flows in the group’s veins. Bassist Alessandro Venturella – more tattoo than man – and drummer Jay Weinberg have been fixtures of the group since 2014, and so are part of a well-oiled machine. But the new member, a percussionist – as yet unnamed – who’s replaced Fehn, seems to be infusing the group with so much renewed vigour. He looks like he’s wearing a tortilla on his face. An evil tortilla. A tortilla that has seen some stuff. His chemistry with fellow percussionist Shawn Crahan – God knows how he’s keeping it together, the man’s 22-year-old daughter died barely two weeks ago – is undeniable. And then there’s DJ Sid Wilson, who now looks like an elderly woman who’d try to sell you bits of cursed heather in the haunted forests of German folk tales. It all feels very painful. Very cathartic. Ridiculously exciting. All the things that Slipknot were always supposed to be.
And with new song, ‘Unsainted’ – which in truth is pretty much exactly how you’d expect Slipknot to sound in 2019, an even marriage of melody and viciousness – it seems this is a group that still has gas in the tank left to burn. That still has much to offer. That still matters. It’s a great song. It’s trying things. It’s moving forward. It’s Slipknot. If you’re heading to Download Festival to see them this weekend, chances are you’ll feel much the same – that your fears, should you have them, will be dispelled too. Just don’t offer Corey Taylor a game of Wii Tennis. Thankfully, his controller is very much indisposed for the foreseeable future.