Review Summary: Not a return to form, but a hopeful future lies ahead
I've said it many times before, selling anger in the form of art comes at a price. Slipknot slithered its way onto the Iowa music scene back in 1995; a collection of nine members so pissed off with life, their only way of controlling the hatred and self-loathing was by channelling it through music. The band's first two albums were crushingly heavy, angry and about as in your face as you could possibly get. But, as time has gone on, the hate has dimmed, which is easy to understand when everything you could ever want is given to you at the drop of a say-so. Their third outing, Vol.3
, was the band's first attempt at honing in and evolving their sound: the result mixed melody with the bands face-crushing NU-metal roots. Vol.3
is a perfect example of how to shift a sound seamlessly, whilst maintaining who they started off being.
2009's All Hope is Gone
, however, brought the band one step forward and two steps back. While it wasn't a bad
album, it was by no means the progression Vol.3
brought us; the albums stagnant and lacklustre sound left much to be desired, while Corey's clean vocals were beginning to saturate the bands sound to the point of blurring the line between a Slipknot album and a Stone Sour project. It was also a signal that the visceral beast that once lay inside these guys seemed to be slowly dying, and a band merely going through the motions. A spanner was thrown into the works shortly after, with the untimely death of Paul O'Gray, leaving fans to wonder if it was all over -- and for the band at the time, it was. After four years of leaving the band dormant, it was gradually resurrected. But during the four year hiatus, Joey Jordison was fired and two anonymous members were brought in for the rhythm section.
But despite the added members, the big question remained: did they still have what it takes? The quick answer, judged from .5 Grey Chapters
, is split down the middle, several misfires with a few highlights inbetween. The positives of Slipknot's fifth effort come from the music, the musicians and the production behind it. The guitar work on this album is fantastic; Jim Root took over the heavy burden of lead songwriter after Paul's death, and, for the most part, he did a fantastic job. A nice variety of different effects scattered and brushed along tracks to create a more engrossing atmosphere; solo's are interesting and don't feel forced; Mike and Jim bounce off each other throughout and build this untameable wall of sound. The biggest compliment has to go to Jay Weinberg though, taking over from Joey on what I consider to be the most crucial instrument for the Slipknot sound: the drums. His style on this album is chaotic, unhinged, menacing and the fresh injection the band needed. He isn't a Joey impersonator either and his style is very much his own. He manages to bring all the prerequisites you'd expect from a Slipknot record, with a bucket load of new ideas come into play, that range from intricate fills, to simple face stomping rhythms. He really makes the band sound massive. It also helps that the production throughout is really good. When it's heavy -- it's heavy; going for a slow atmospheric song -- it easily caters for it.
The drawbacks, however, are almost overcombesome. Firstly, the album is far too long. Weighing in at 14 tracks, this LP gradually becomes a chore to get through. If it had been brought down to 10 tracks, it would have benefited the album greatly. The glaring problem, and the inconsistent nature and tone of the songs, really make the albums length suffer. More often than not the songs don't know what they want to do, they'll build on a certain idea, and eventually thwart that idea with a section so random it kills anything it was trying to build. "Goodbye" starts off slow and soft, with the guitars setting the tone with layers of gentle and beautiful reverb, but half way through it badly kicks into heavy mode for no reason at all. It feels like two different songs mashed together because they felt got cold feet and felt they had to go in heavy because it's Slipknot. Some tracks bare better than others, but it's a frequent issue throughout -- struggling to hone in on one specific idea and, instead, blindshooting and hoping for a hit. The band seem to have listened to some of the criticism that was laid out on All Hope is Gone
aiming more at their roots, leaving some of the Stone Sour stuff behind, and .5 Gray Chapters
is musically -- and sometimes vocally -- the heaviest its been in a long time. Although, it has to be said that it feels slightly forced at times when you can hear them trying their hardest to pull out an Iowa
The biggest hindrance on here comes from metal's figure head and leader these days, one, Corey Taylor. Now the guy has done some fantastic things in his time. He has a fantastic voice that caters for both metal and rock music, and has released stuff that will be loved by millions forever. But as I opened up with this review, the fire in Corey's belly died a long time ago. The guy has become a renound success in every aspect of his art and some of the things he sings about on .5 Chapters
can sometimes reach ridiculous levels of hilarity. Lyrics are this albums biggest shortcoming. There are a couple of songs like "Devil In I", "Negative One" and "If Rain is What You Want" that manage to bring a level of maturity to them, but for the most part they are contrived and terrible. Clearly written to relate to a new gneration of hurting teenagers. The lyrical angst of "Custer" 'cut, cut, cut me up and ***, ***, *** me up
' must be congratulated to Corey for making one of the worst songs of 2014. It isn't just the forced attempts of the likes of "Custer that do damage either, the Paul O'Gray, written in respect of a fallen brother, track is one the worst song on here in almost every aspect: the lyrics are corny; the vocal delivery is cheesy; and the music just comes out as if it's a bad punk song. Not the best way to send off an old member. "Killpop" is a nice track, but its lyrics try so hard to be another "Vermillion" its end result hurts the songs presentation a little bit. But the real damage goes to songs like "Nomadic" and "AOV" -- that start off really well -- giving you a large slab of the old heavy sound, before quickly snatching it away and giving you the forced melodic parts that made All Hope is Gone
suffer. The problem isn't using cleans in songs, it's that they never naturally fit into the tone of the songs that are written.
.5: The Gray Chapter
is a rollacoaster of ups and downs. When it gets it right, it's a fantastic album, but the problem remains that Corey's lyrics stain the album, and when a band of this sort doesn't sound honest, it makes the whole process feel irrelevant. The constant tugging and pulling at songs having an unnatural clean section did no favours either. The musicians behind the band are extremely talented, but its lack of focus damages the bands return. Some solid moments, but far from a return to form. Here's hoping the additional members play more of a roll in the future, and we see a new dynamic to the band, with less of the contrived elements found here. It's a better experience than it's previous effort, but there's still a way to go.
Editions: S̶t̶a̶n̶d̶a̶r̶d̶, Deluxe Edition, V̶i̶n̶y̶l̶, M̶P̶3̶.
Packaging: Digipak, with folding panels, and the lyric book attached to the case.
Special Edition: The Deluxe Edition of .5: The Gray Chapter
includes Two bonus tracks (UK). (Override and Burden.) The tracks aren't particularly interesting, and don't expand on anything the standard tracks don't already tell. "Burden" goes through the awkward transitions of clean and harsh vocals, that plagued the album, however, "Override" is a lot brighter in sound, and the mixing of the two voices actually comes across more natural. The deluxe does come in nice packaging, but isn't really anything special, and going off the tracks, it doesn't justify the extra money spent.