Review Summary: Four records in, and Iowa's finest still know how to rouse the teens and scare the children. With style, mind.
Take a look at your country’s top 40 charts. Do you notice anything in particular? With a few exceptions, one ideology one may come away with is this: it really is not as difficult to become a figure in popular music as one may think. It is, however, a much more complex task to actually stand out as a unique and memorable act, especially amidst overcrowded genres.
One band that has managed to make their mark on both popularity and recognition is Slipknot. Since the release of their self-titled record in 1999, the band have soared to almost inexplicable heights of fame and success, as well as establishing one of the most recognisable sounds in modern heavy music, heralding what is known as the new wave of American heavy metal.
If there’s one thing that can never be doubted, it is the sincerity of this band’s connection to their music- they give it their all every single time, and are fully dedicated to keeping the band alive. “Maggots”, the title by which Slipknot fans are known, are also unquestionably some of the most dedicated fans in music today.
Regardless, critics of the band often question whether there is actual substance to what Slipknot do beyond their gimmicks- there are nine members of the band, and each have constantly changing masks. Certainly our last encounter with the band, 2004’s Volume Three: The Subliminal Verses
, gave some evidence to the affirmative- a borderline schizophrenic array of blistering, crunching guitar, vehement ranting vocals, drum lines executed with military precision and almost shocking contrasts (intimate acoustic guitar, drawn back keyboard loops and choir-like harmonies). This was the sound of a band revitalized and ready to go the next level, whilst many of their contemporaries floundered or chased their tails. All Hope is Gone
sees the band pick up exactly where they left off in this respect.
Bad news first, unfortunately- clocking in at just shy of an hour, the album is not for those lacking attention span (i.e most of us). Naturally, there are tracks that feel padded out and repetitious. In spite of all its anti-authoritarian angst (“My anguish conquers all/pay the price and watch me fall”), “This Cold Black” fails to reach its full potential, plodding where it should stomp. “Butcher’s Hook”, too, also has trouble being, as an overall song, better than its shout-along chorus.
Given there are two members of the band dedicated to electronic elements of music, as well as a further two dedicated to custom percussion, you would think it would not be too much to ask to hear more than the occasional vinyl scratch, keyboard loop or untuned snare. Unfortunately, this part of the music is all but buried under the core quintet, leaving the remaining four members to basically twiddle their thumbs until the songs are performed live. Thankfully, however, when Slipknot are good on All Hope is Gone
, they’re fantastic, and the album’s flaws are almost instantly forgiven.
“Sulfur” sees the band create the best of both worlds with a scathing guitar attack the driving force behind vocalist Corey Taylor’s belligerent barks and the hook that brings the entire song together. “Dead Memories”, meanwhile, is the musical equivalent of a love-child parented by “Enter Sandman” and “Come As You Are”, with soaring harmonies and a solid backbeat in the spirit of Burton and Ulrich. There are even moments in album highlight “Gehenna” where you will feel genuinely frightened as a tormented Taylor surrounds his agonised and unpredictable vocals (arguably his best on the whole album) with Craig Jones’ sinister synth line and the distortion-laden sirens of guitarists Jim Root and Mick Thomson.
The band’s finest moment, however, comes in the most unexpected of forms. “Snuff” is, quite simply, the ballad that Stone Sour wishes that they wrote. The guitars are the key to the song’s emotion here- the chord progressions commence on a lone twelve-string, followed by subdued harmonics, leading to perfectly-toned ringing distortion. Overscoring this, Corey Taylor’s still-beating-heart-on-sleeve poetry depicts lovers torn apart by spiralling depression and unforgivable deeds (“I couldn’t face a life without your light/But all of that was ripped apart/When you refused to fight”). His use of dynamics on his distinctive, emotionally wrought vocals here emphasise this to a far greater degree.
There is clear evidence throughout All Hope is Gone
to the sound of Slipknot in 2008- bridging the gap between the callous aggression of the first two records and the newfound sense of melody found in Volume Three
. Lyrically, the war still rages on between Corey Taylor and the world. “I am the worm of pure distinction/I am the remedy- spit in my face”, he seethes on the hard-hitting title track; as well as along with the affirmation that he will “never become another piece inside the paralytic construct” on “Wherein Lies Continue”, before adding “Live Forever
? I’d rather die”. The more understated battle here, and yet the most vital yet, is the one Corey Taylor undertakes with his worst enemy yet- himself. “Free my severed heart!”, Taylor wails in the chorus of “Gehenna”. “I don’t want to be myself”. Perhaps the most telling of this inner struggle is found in the first chorus of “Snuff”:
So if you love me, let me go. And run away before I know.
My heart is just too dark to care. I can't destroy what isn't there.
Deliver me into my fate. If I'm alone, I cannot hate.
I don't deserve to have you.
My smile was taken long ago
If I can change, I hope I never know.
Certainly a man who is miles away from the “Fuck
everything that you stand for” of yesteryear.
And so the next stage of Slipknot’s career has begun. Whilst Volume Three
remains the band’s best overall record to date, this is certainly not to discount All Hope is Gone
as a very close second.
The band may have lost all hope in humanity, but rest assured that not all of humanity has lost hope in Slipknot just yet.