Metal Edge, June 2004
Corey Taylor is pissed off.
Not that that’s really anything new for the leather-and-lace larynxed Slipknot front man, but this time it’s his artistic sensibilities that are being stabbed, and sometimes those are the hardest parts to shrug off. Turn the other cheek? Not when this is the passion we’re talking about. If we’ve learned anything from Slipknot over the past five years, it’s that the only cheeks they’re going to turn are a pair of dropped pants in any direction they damn well please.
But when Slipknot prepare to drop, it’s more than your typical middle finger in the face of society – it’s nine sets of middle fingers, connected to nine of the Midwest’s most musically devious geniuses the world has ever known. Quite frankly, Corey Taylor represents just one set of snarling fangs on the nine-headed heavy metal hydra, which is why it would be smarter to keep things personal. Attack Corey, and it’s just Taylor you deal with. Attack his art, and you’ve got eight other musical miscreants to fend off – Joey Jordison, Shawn Crahan, Mick Thompson, Jim Root, Paul Gray, Chris Fehn, Sid Wilson and Craig Jones. That’s 18 cheeks that have no intention of turning. Nine cracks out of which one of the most pissed-off, raging mad, toxic twist of flesh burning, soul-sucking, skin-scraping heavy metal music discord will be released this summer… Oh yeah, and don’t forget the melody. Lots of melody.
So, why is Corey Taylor pissed? Take a look at this summer’s Ozzfest and it becomes readily apparent. While the mainstage is set to be charred by a handful of bands to which Slipknot not their musical heads in homage, there are sure to be just as many bands on the tour that owe Slipknot their due – While Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Slayer, Dimmu Borgir and Superjoint Ritual front man Phil Anselmo’s former outfit Pantera have paved the way for Slipknot, it’s the Iowa nine-piece that have paved a path for far too many of today’s unapologetic headbanging heathens.
Slipknot don’t take it personally, but they’re sure as hell not about to be taken for granted.
“That’s why we’re upping the ante, my friend, that’s why we’re pushing it,” says Taylor, sitting with Metal Edge in a breakfast nook-turned-business center of Rick Rubin’s Hollywood Hills mansion where their stunning follow-up to 2001’s sophomore release Iowa was recorded. “All of the bands that are sounding pretty similar? You think you fuckin’ know what you’re doing? Check this out – let’s see you fuckin’ step it up!”
Catch him in the right mood, and Taylor litters his language with as many f-bombs as the best of them. But if you spend enough time around him, you realize it’s not because he’s crass, it’s because he’s passionate and uninhibited. Drummer Joey Jordison is just as passionate, but much cleaner spoken. Catch him outside the padded walls of Slipknot, and his tone is calm and softer spoken. Talk to him about Slipknot, and his language races, his speech flying almost as fast as his drumming. That says a lot. Sitting alongside Taylor, he cuts into the conversation with the same precision that marks his band’s onstage attack.
“One of the trademarks that I think all the bands are ripping off from us are our tempo changes and our structures,” Jordison says. “Those are some of our biggest trademarks, and you’ll see it in songs like ‘Sic,’ ‘Surfacing,’ ‘Eyeless’ and ‘Wait and Bleed.’ It’s that straight, stabbing, driving, Ministry-esque approach – even though we’re not industrial. All the bands are ripping that off right now, you can hear it. That’s cool, but…”
“Yeah, it’s cool, but as big a compliment that it is, at the same time, where’s your voice?” says Taylor, finishing Jordison’s thought mid-stream, and aiming his rhetoric at a bevy of the bands on today’s surging metal scene. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m friends with a lot of the bands that do that, but that doesn’t change anything. We know where we’re going with it, but where are you going with this? Are you gonna wait to see what’s going on with us next to see where you’ll go next? That’s not taking anything away from them as musicians, but we started out as a very individual sounding band – no one in Des Moines sounded like us, and nobody in the fucking world sounded like us. We are the only ones that control our destiny – who controls yours? We’ll have to wait and see. A lot of these bands are babies – and we are in a way, this is only our third album – but we have done so much and accomplished so much, this band only knows success or failure. There’s no middle of the road for us. We are either going to go down in history, or down in flames.”
Or down in history, in flames.
“More likely that,” laughs Jordison.
Like most great rock bands, it’s not the sands of time that wear them away, it’s the inner turmoil and personal trials and tribulations of success that crack through the chinks in the armor, eroding away at their very heart and soul. Before you can go down in flames, you’ve got to be on fire, and a few can argue that Slipknot are the hottest band on the metal scene.
While stories of substance abuse aren’t tearing the band apart – as was the case with Metallica, who Slipknot are rumored to be touring arenas with this fall – good luck trying to figure out the working dynamic of a band with nine members. Most four-piece outfits have one or two chiefs that run the tribe, and while there is something of a pecking order in Slipknot, there are still nine scalp-hungry warriors with a bloodlust wielding their axes. Weather it was a Shawn “Clown” Crahan spitting gasoline on the breakup fire with his speculation that Slipknot would break up while on top, then surfacing with a Beatle-esque To My Surprise outfit of his own, Taylor fanning the flames with his assertions that Stone Sour was his priority, or Jordison’s persona shift as a guitarist in the glam-driven Murderdolls, who knew if Slipknot would even make it into the studio for album number three?
Not the band.
“Had we tried to make another Slipknot record at the end of Iowa, it would have been a fucking disaster,” says Jordison, his emphasis duly noted. “Me and Corey had the ideas of doing our projects while we were on our first tour with Slipknot – even though Slipknot was always the priority – and at the end of Iowa, it was time for a little of that breathing room. If those projects did not exist, Slipknot might not exist today.
“We definitely might not be here right now, “agrees Taylor. “There was a lot of darkness around the band at that time – not just what you hear on the album, but from the people and forces around us. Just when the world was ours, we wanted to fucking kill each other. To decompress, to get away, we had to get the fuck away from each other for a while and let everyone see the world, see that this band is fucking nine people and, if we work together, we can do anything… There were a lot of people trying to push us back together, and we were like, ‘Fuck off, it’s not right yet, it’s not time.’ We weren’t going to get back together unless we wanted to, and we all came together when it felt right for us. So we got away from each other, we got back together, we reconnected, and now we’ve got what I think is our best fucking album.”
“We’ve been working on this band every day since the fall of ’95, and I really think that we’re one of the hardest working bands to ever be involved in this business – being nine guys, the show, the look, what it takes to get onstage, it’s a lot of stuff – it’s not bitching, we’re very fortunate to have what we have right now, and we know that, it’s just that this band is very involved,” details the drummer. “We spent 18 months on our first tour, took 25 days off, went right into writing Iowa, then went straight into the recording of Iowa, then went right back to touring for ten months. That was so involved, so insane, that we were really hurting at the end of that tour.”
So side projects it was, with Taylor and guitarist Jim Root garnishing the biggest headlines with their Grammy-nominated Stone Sour, a much more radio-ready outfit that showcased Taylor’s vocal range as a singer, rather than his screaming prowess. “For me, I just needed to take that break so that I could do Slipknot again,” said Root, perched alongside percussionist Chris Fehn on the mansion’s front balcony. “It was a good, much needed break just to catch our breath. We’d been in this whirlwind of mayhem, it’s chaos when we all get together, and we really needed a break from that.”
For Fehn – who didn’t release any side material but did spend the break playing with a bunch of friends from home – the physical toll of Slipknot alone was enough to justify the break. “This band is not Nickelback – It’s tough being in this band, we throw down every night, Clown and I get in the mosh pits, we’re very crowd involved during the shows, and it beats the piss out of us. For that break to happen, it make it a lot easier and a lot more exciting to come back and do this record. Slipknot is always Slipknot, not matter what everybody else has on the side. We all had bands before Slipknot, we just know that when these nine guys get together, it’s ‘Knot – it’s showtime.”
“The great thing about this band is, we do exactly what we feel,” continues Taylor. “We’re zero bullshit, and it’s all about what we’re feeling at the time. I know I said a lot of things about Slipknot, and they were feeling that I was really feeling at the time – It took us getting back together and reconnecting for me to see the truth. We’re the kind of band that don’t believe and don’t buy into the hype. We see what we fucking see, and we go from there – whatever is real for us is what we fucking feel. That’s why the fans are endeared to us, because we always shoot from the fucking hip, and straight from the fucking soul. Kids always know what’s going on with us, even if we’re honest enough to say that we don’t know if the band’s even gonna be together… But after all that, here we are, in the studio together, making another fucking album, looking at the road ahead, and seeing where we’re going to go with it. The kids see that truth, and they think it kicks ass. But we still have out detractors…”
“But we feed off that,” adds Jordison, “Just like we did on our first record.”
“Exactly. We love the fact that, as big as we are, we’re still the fucking underdog,” says Taylor. “We love the fact that people have put us in the position where it’s either put up or shut up. We live for that. Nothing has ever come easy for this band, and everything we have is worth it. Now it’s time to show the fucking world that we’re going to chew it up, spit it out, and fucking shit on its ashes.”
We’re a week removed from Thanksgiving, and three weeks away from Christmas when we join Slipknot in their Hollywood Hills retreat, but there are no turkey carvings in the refrigerator, nor is there any yuletide cheer hanging from the plastered walls. As Fehn said, “It’s showtime,” and the bands surroundings are proof of that. While the rest of America focuses their attention on Christmas shopping, the Des Moines, Iowa, nine-piece are shoulder high in road cases, recording gear, empty take out containers, and plenty of water, coffee and soda on the liquid front. Alcohol makes its way in at night, when the atmosphere often relaxes a bit, but it’s always gone by sunrise.
And if the Slipknot family isn’t enough to turn the proceedings into heavy metal’s answer to The Nightmare Before Christmas, add the estate’s haunted history into the mix, and you’ve got the perfect atmosphere Slipknot’s perfect fusion of metal madness, melodic meltdowns, off-beat brilliance and sonic mayhem. Ass off-kilter as the proceeding may seem, they couldn’t have been any more ideal.
“Me and Clown share two rooms and a bathroom, all the way in the back of the house, with a common opening between them,” says Taylor, insisting that it be noted that the hair on his arms is standing on end just thinking about his eerie tale. “He was out of town, so his door was locked, I had my bedroom door closed and locked from the inside, and the doors to the balcony were closed and locked. There was no way to get in. I was taking a shower, I had the door to the bathroom open – he was out of town, so why the fuck should I close the door? – and I’m standing there lathering up, washing my hair, and I look over, and somebody walked by my door. I saw it as clearly as I’m fucking staring at you right now! I jumped out, buck naked, shampoo in my hair – it literally took a second-and-a-half to get through the door – and there was nobody there. I can’t remember the guy’s face, but he was wearing a tuxedo, and that’s no bullshit! It scared the fuck out of me!”
A bit of house history that Taylor didn’t know: The mansion, currently owned by legendary music industry impresario and Slipknot producer, Rick Rubin, is fables to have been the home of Harry Houdini’s mistress, which explains the basement tunnels that connected the former estate of the magician, across the street. While there’s no shortage of urban legends surrounding this property – which has played host to other Rubin-produced acts including Slayer, System of a Down and Red Hot Chili Peppers – one, in particular, tells of a man who hung himself in the house while it was between owners. He was wearing a tuxedo when they found his body.
“I don’t have anything that good, but me and Mick live at the very top of the house, and something definitely happened up there,” says Jordison. “There’s a crawlspace in Mick’s room, and I have two doors in mine – I’m right above Corey and Clown’s room – and at nine o’clock every morning, no matter what I have in front of them, all of the doors open. Before he taped it up, Mick’s crawlspace would open up too – right at nine.”
For Fehn and Root, the supernatural presence has been a lot more subtle, but evident, nonetheless.
“You know how you’re sitting in a dark room by yourself, you could feel if someone came in the room and is standing next to you, without having heard the? That happens a lot here,” says Fehn. “I sleep in the basement, and I constantly have that feeling that someone just walked past me, or even like I’ve been touched, really lightly. I’m into that kind of stuff, but I’ve never had solid proof anywhere in my life, so I want something tangible – I want someone to yell, “Get the fuck out!” he laughs.
“I’ve felt like that before,” says Root, “and I’ve also had a couple of times where I’ve been sitting there alone, and it was quiet that the ringing in your ears is the loudest thing you can hear, then I’ve heard my name.”
“You know how the doors would open at nine?” asks Taylor, “the weirder thing is, the first couple of weeks we were here, we were all waking up at nine in the morning – No matter what time we went to bed, or how much alcohol we had, we would wake up at nine in the morning. It was fucking horrible! It was happening for a while, but we didn’t realize that it was happening to all of us until we got together one time and someone mentioned it. It was really weird – this place is definitely touched by something… And now it’s been touched by Slipknot.”
“And it will never be the same again,” deadpans the drummer.
The same might be said for the modern metal scene, once Slipknot’s latest canon is unleashed later this spring. While few of the tracks had titles at the time Metal Edge listened to nine of them, that was about all that was missing. As the work-in-progress – not even the album had a working title, at press time – is Slipknot’s most epic statement to date. Tentative opener “Prelude 3.0” is an ethereal, doom-laden space odyssey that pays homage to Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, as much as the tracks that follow pay homage to the hardest, fastest, fiercest metal in the band’s personal collections. From “Prelude,” the album erupts at a pulverizing pace, crushing the senses like a sledgehammer being swung by the heavy metal gods, the thundering blows crashing the senses with complete disregard for the standard sounds and structures we’ve come to expect from modern metal bands, and even Slipknot.
Marching snare drums that echo like shotgun blasts. Chainsaw rips of shredding guitar riffs. Breakneck instrumentals. Apocalyptic crashes. Rhythmic rapture. Haunting paranoia. Death stomps that start and stop with hypnotic precision. The anarchistic wait of air-raid sirens. The blitzkrieg savagery of musical napalm, offset by a twisted acoustic alchemy. Somber spoken word, belligerent howls, and some of the most pristine vocal melodies true metal has ever known, all given breath of life by Taylor’s Jim Morrison-meets-Dave Mustaine lyrical savvy.
Whether shredding like the best of the New Wave of British Heavy metal, glowing like the musical shine of Faith No More meeting Slayer in a head on collision, or calming tiers of The Wall to newfound metallic heights, the return of Slipknot is being marked by one of the most adventurous albums in heavy metal history. How important are the band Iowa roots? Not as important as the band will be to heavy metal’s American roots, which previously have been limited to the East and West Coasts – Anthrax, Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth are the big four, and Slipknot crash somewhere in the middle of them all, the new release exploding into a Midwest-bred culmination of heavy metal’s past, present and future.
“We’ve always been good at the heavy stuff, everyone knows us from that, but we’ve always done things in an unconventional way,” says Jordison. “Like on Iowa, we did the opposite of what everyone thought we would, and put out a record that was heavier than our first, telling everyone to fuck off, because the press was already slagging our credibility and calling us a one album wonder. That made us even more pissed off, and that’s why that album came out that way. We’ve always had our backs up against a wall, and that’s what feeds this band. With this album, we’re taking the songs into a different soundscape than we’ve ever done before, and that’s really turning into something special, better than I thought it could.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about evolution,” nods Taylor. “We built the foundation, now it’s time to build the fucking house. It’s all about branching out and getting outside of what people think that they know about us. Right now, everybody thinks that they’ve got us figured out, ‘It’s going to be watered down – They’re only together because of blah, blah, blah…’ Well, in actuality, the only people that know the fucking truth about this band are the nine of us, and when we come out, it’s going to be like holy fucking shit thrown against a wall with our fucking thumbs straight into people’s eye sockets. There’s a lot of hard fucking shit on this album, but at the same time, there’s a lot of melody. There’s a lot of good, chaotic noise, and slower, more somber pieces, like ‘Prelude.’ While we’re very good at what we do, we’re also very good songwriters, and that’s the thing missing in a lot of metal bands today. This album I all about what we want to do now – We do what we do really fuckin’ well, but now it’s time to show the world that we do even more, even better.”
“All the great bands in history, the ones that really mattered, never made the same album – or anything even remotely sounding the same – twice,” adds Jordison. Make no mistake, when he cited The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd as examples, it wasn’t by happenstance – Slipknot are far more than your typical heavy metal band, and they feel it’s high time they got acknowledged as such.
“Those bands were constantly fucking growing, constantly challenging the fans to figure them out,” says Taylor, trailing off as Jordison continues: “We’re lodged into the metal thin, we’ll always be a hard, aggressive band, that’s what Slipknot’s all about – but there’s no we can’t jump into other realms, as well, and that’s definitely what we’re looking to do with this record.”
“Obviously, as a musician, you want to better yourself and evolve, and there are two different ways you can do that,” says Root. “You can either try and get more technical and more aggressive, or you can try and go more toward the song. I think we just tried to do what was best for the song on this album, because, at the end of the day we’re songwriters, and that’s what we want to do.”
One of the biggest differences in the songwriting for the new release? Input from all nine members of the band.
“Before, it was pretty much, ‘Bam, bam, bam, here’s the way it is going to go,” says Fehn. “But now that we’re all under the same roof, if we have an idea, we have access to people. I’m a horrible guitar player, so I can go to Jim and say, ‘Dude, I’ve kind of got this thing, can I hum it to you?’ And he can play it, we can work on it, everybody’s available, and we can lay it down instantly and hear it. That’s a definite advantage we’ve had for this record.”
“It’s been a real collaborative effort,” agrees Taylor. “In the past, a lot of it was four or five people coming up with the core of the music, then everybody starting to fit it together. With this, everybody’s had their chance to say what they want to say – maybe not literally, but in the sense that they helped get the songs to this place. And that’s huge! A lot of five-piece can’t fucking say that, and we’re a nine-piece band that can say everyone has at least one fingerprint on this fucking album.
“The great thing about this band is, we’re nine people, and we’re all turned on by very different things – you can feel that when we all come together and make it Slipknot,” the front man concludes. “When we’re together, we do something very special, and I think that’s the reason so many people are into Slipknot – It is at the same time, eclectic, and very fucking heavy. Melodic, and just fucking crazed. That’s the beautiful thing about it and it’s awesome…”
With that, Taylor stops talking and stares at Jordison’s shirt, trying to decipher the black metal scrawl across the chest. He shrugs, lets out a laugh, stops suddenly, is silent for a second, then lets out a piercing, savage wail. It’s one of the ugliest screams you’ve ever heard. The scream is so ugly, it’s beautiful. The scream is so horrifying, it’s endearing. You want to turn away, but you’re captured in its hypnotizing depths…
The scream is Slipknot.