You look at that 1999 image of Slipknot, boiler-suited, clad in cheap, nasty horror movie masks, crowded together in a playground, the bleached-out bright weather eerily at odds with their back alley menace, and it’s hard not to be moved by the distance they’ve travelled. A bunch of hicks from Iowa, social misfits who only made sense to themselves once they adopted monikers and numbers, made some of the most uncompromising music imaginable and became one of the biggest bands in the world. It’s so unlikely, and so brilliant.
Of course, some of the men behind the masks in that picture aren’t even on the sixth Slipknot album, ‘We Are Not Your Kind’, the title taken from standalone single ‘All Out Of Life’, released last year. Iconic drummer Joey Jordison (#1) and phallic-appendaged Dicknose (#3) have sadly since left. It’s amazing that Slipknot have retained that early menace despite motor-mouthed frontman Corey Taylor having become an affable celebrity, his band the kind of behemoth whose recent single ‘Unsainted’ racked up 4.7 million YouTube views in a day.
Yet Slipknot have always been dogged by heartache: founding bassist Paul Gray suffered a fatal overdose in 2010 and, appallingly, Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan’s 22-year-old daughter Gabrielle passed away earlier this year. Slipknot transmogrify pain, give it a face, take universal experiences of loss and disgust at life and help to turn them into something that makes some kind of twisted sense. ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ is an astonishing record, a roaring, horrifying delve into the guts of the band’s revulsion, a primal scream of endlessly inventive extreme metal and searing misanthropy. It opens with ‘Insert Coin’, a one-minute-and-39-second soundscape that resembles a machine being gradually cranked up. “I’m counting all the killers,” Taylor warns.
And then we’re off. ‘Unsainted’ is one of the greatest things Slipknot have ever done, with its school nativity choir sawn in half when Taylor roars, “I’m finally holding on to letting go”, before he insists, “I’m just weathering a rough patch”. Like the band’s 2004 masterwork ‘Duality’, the track combines a gothic-pop chorus with a kick-drum verse that sounds like a series of sharp implements bouncing from a stab-proof vest. On ‘Birth Of The Cruel’, a drone-like verse gives way to a claustrophobic and taut refrain whose lyrics – “We are the bitter, the maladjusted” – suggests that Slipknot 2019 has much in common with Slipknot 1999.
‘Red Flag’ is quintessential maggot-bait, a four-minute fuck-you“(You don’t know me / You can’t hold me”), punctuated with building, squealing siren sounds, sure to become a live favourite. ‘Nero Forte’ and latest single ‘Solway Firth’ are, similarly, a perfection of the band’s unstoppable, mechanical style. Yet it’s often the quieter moments of ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ that prove the most compelling. ‘Death Because Of Death’, clocking in at 38 seconds, is a burbling sound collage which combines bleeps and blips with the kind of lolloping, lumbering percussion that evokes thoughts of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: it’s slow and it’s unsophisticated, and it’s coming to destroy you anyway.
The hushed interlude to ‘Critical Darling’ is unsettling, too, crunching sound effects like an old computer connecting to the internet weaving around Taylor’s voice as he simpers, “Darling, you’re so critical,” before the song takes off again into a clattering blast of punishment. Perhaps the most nightmarish track here is the tellingly titled ‘My Pain’, a warped lullaby of atonal keys, glockenspiel and the word “Love” chanted over and over in the background.
It’s Slipknot at their artiest, an implicit riposte to detractors who would write them off as eternally adolescent shock-rockers that bang bins and shout at lot (although, thankfully, there’s also a massive amount of that on the album). ‘Spiders’ earns its title in a similar fashion, a spindly piano melody creeping through the track as Taylor confesses that “everyone’s a little bitter.” He’s implied this is the band’s political record, a response to a globally divisive climate characterised by Trump’s America, and indeed on ‘Birth Of The Cruel’ he warns with snarl, “We’re all dressed up with nobody to kill / The rhetoric stops tonight.”
It’s a tantalising concept, given that Slipknot hail from a red state, but only half-true as they’ve always stood apart from the world at large. That’s why the album’s title is so inspired: a reference to the President’s apparent mistrust of anyone who doesn’t look like him, it’s also a testament to the band’s outlier status, as they align themselves with the outsider (and against the bigots). Crahan recently claimed that 18 songs failed to make the cut on ‘We Are Not Your Kind’, an indication of how much gasoline flows through the Slipknot machine in 2019.
Hell, that soon-to-be-iconic title hails from a song that wasn’t even included on the record. 20 years on from their debut proper – and from that chilling photo of them in the playground – Slipknot have somehow remained true to their core as everything around them (and even their line-up) has changed. Ironically, this is the same band that appeared in that photo, more experienced, equally effective and similarly drunk on rage, self-disgust and lacerating, redemptive nihilism. As Taylor sneered on 2001 classic ‘People = Shit’: “Here we go again, motherfuckers.”