16 October 2014

Slipknot - .5: The Gray Chapter

It seems strange to be listening to a new Slipknot album. Whether that’s because it’s been six years since the last one (All Hope Is Gone) or because it’s almost inconceivable that their debut album is now 15 years old or just because of the drama and strife surrounding the band over the last couple of years; the death of a founding member, the acrimonious split with another and, to a lesser extent, guitarist Jim Root being fired from Vocalist Corey Taylor’s other band Stone Sour.

Despite all that there IS a new Slipknot album. One with a very irritating title in that it’s .5: not Vol. 5 which would fit in with their third album Vol.3: The Subliminal Verses.  The inconsistency irks me.
Also The Gray Chapter is apparently a deferent nod to their deceased member Paul Gray. I get the Gray reference but this album is the first of a new chapter for the band WITHOUT him so it seems an odd term to use as the title. Maybe Beyond The Gray (or something less cheesy) might have been more apt?

Anyway, what’s more important is the music. Is it any good now that two of the principal songwriters are no longer with the band? Seeing as neither of those people were in Stone Sour and they manage just fine, I don’t see it being much of a problem. Their replacements aren’t being officially announced but are strongly assumed to be Jay Weinberg and Allessandro Venturella. If you haven’t already read about who they are then they’re easily googled. To be honest, it doesn’t reeeally matter. Both are competent at their given instruments (Bass and Drums) but don’t really add or detract anything from the overall sound.

The opening track is XIX and it’s not the usual Slipknot song. A slow and mournful droning fades in; it slowly builds in tension throughout. Corey sings an equally mournful lyric  over the top. As I said the tension builds and builds until it reaches the point where you know the band is going to come crashing in full force with the first song proper. But then they don’t. The song just drops out and all that’s left is some tinkling and squeaking noises for 10-15 seconds.

Sarcastrophe then begins with some quiet electronics and picked guitar. This gradually picks up pace until (finally!), after over a minute, they kick things off properly as the guitars growl and Corey barks vitriol like he’s just as pissed off as he was 15 years ago. Sarcastrophe is a great song and would have made a perfect opener. I know what they were trying to do and maybe they thought it would have been too predictable to launch straight into it. Still, the break in tension is perplexing.

AOV is next and is one of the heaviest songs they’ve done in a while and has some full on thrash riffs but then it slows down a little for the chorus and Corey breaks out into full on Emo crooning with the rest of the band chiming in with some lovely ‘oooooh’s . The contrast works nicely and the song is an early highlight.

The Devil In I was the first official single, though the second track released after The Negative One. I had heard told that it was a ballad which is quite patently bollocks. A big grinding riff pounds its way into your brain before stopping and an, admittedly subdued, verse creeps in. It’s slow and ominous but The Devil In I is about as ballady as I am athletic. Once it gets going there’s even a few blastbeats in there.  It’s yet another very strong song on an album and it’s promising not to be the last.

The next song is the oddly titled Killpop. This sort of IS a ballad. It starts with what sounds like muffled air raid siren before the gentle verse starts with Corey singing about a loving a girl who’s using drugs. It’s not a bad song but isn’t up to the standard of what’s come before it sadly. The chorus is pretty in a haunting way though.

Skeptic is the first song that is quite obviously written with Paul Gray in mind, nowhere is it more obvious than in the chorus:
“The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you.
The world will never know another man as amazing as you”

So far this is the most retro sounding song on The Gray Chapter and could quite easily have been on their debut. There are scratches, guitar squeals and the trade-off vocals between Corey and the Clown. The aforementioned chorus is one of the most infectious so far and I’ve found myself singing it to myself quite a lot this week. Not great while I’m at work.

Lech is next, it’s very percussion heavy and aggressive, good but it doesn't particularly stand out. Not sure what the title is about really either. It's followed by a song that offers some respite from the intensity; Goodbye. It’s like a calmer version of XIX, some gentle electronics accompany some sorrowful vocals. Knowing that this also about Paul means the beautiful melody in the chorus of sorts is genuinely moving. The band then weigh in with some chugging but it’s still quite subdued. The vocals pick up but never reach screaming point.

Much like Lech, I found Nomadic passed me by on the first couple of listens. It’s not a bad song and, on its own, may be pretty good but as an album track on an album with 14 (16 with the deluxe) it gets lost somewhat. A shame.
The One That Kills The Least starts off more rock than metal with a lightweight guitar line and some soft singing from Corey. It picks up in places but is much more of a Stone Sour song than a Slipknot one in my opinion.

Custer was the third song to be released, though not as a single I don’t think. It’s quite an odd song structurally. It begins with Clown laying down the tempo, the guitars then mirror him and there’s some weird squeal that sounds like a robot impersonating a native American. It all gives way to a spoken word verse but when this becomes the usual barking vocals the music doesn’t ramp up to match him like you'd expect but continues on its own meandering path. It’s not until the simple but effective chorus of “Cut me up and fuck me up” that everything sets off properly. It works well and the song is a good one.

Be Prepared For Hell is a short, and pointless, interlude/ intro for The Negative One. It seems strange to me that the song that served as the flagship track for The Gray Chapter is buried so far into t. Almost like it’s tacked onto the end. Anyway, it’s a brilliant song with a dumtish dumtish dumtish beat that should sound a bit shit but actually powers the song along really well. Again it harks back to their earlier sound too with squeals and scratches and that unique guitar tone they have.  There was talk and rumour that this song was written about former drummer Joey Jordison but, to be honest, I think that’s more people looking for something to gossip about that actual fact.

The final proper song is a slow, brooding epic called If Rain Is What You Want. It reminds me, in tone and structure, of the last two songs on their first two albums: Scissors and Iowa. It’s unsettling, creepy and leaves you with an unpleasant feeling in your tummy. It’s an uncomfortable listen but a rewarding one despite what I might have just said!
Whilst If Rain Is What You Want is the official album closer there are also two bonus tracks on the deluxe version of .5: The Gray Chapter. They’re Override and The Burden. They are both good songs but I feel like they are bonus tracks because they didn’t fit in with the feel of the rest of the album. Override is very melodic and features a lot of clean vocals. It really seems like more of a Stone Sour song, even more so than The One That Kills The Least. The Burden is another of the slower, menacing songs they do. I suppose they felt it would be one too many on this album.

So, in answer to the question of whether or not they’re any good without Gray and Jordison is a resounding yes. This is a fantastic album. It’s not an easy listen at times and it’s probably longer than it needs to be but it reeks of quality and is more than a worthy addition to their catalogue. There’s plenty of songs that would do well as (bleeped) singles but enough evil and riffage to keep the “sellouts!” crowd at bay. If you’re a slipknot fan then it’s definitely not going to disappoint and it’s one of my favourite albums of the year so far.

9 out of 10 – Almost perfect. Almost.

Best Track: AOV

Listen On Spotify HERE

Buy from Amazon HERE

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