In just a few weeks, Slipknot will release their first album in six years. Our full review is in Issue 193 of Rock Sound (order it to your door here, grab digitally here or pick up from UK stores now). Whet your appetite with our walk through the whole hour-and-six-minutes of '.5: The Gray Chapter'...
Slipknot's first album in six years starts in typically foreboding fashion. A few seconds of static leads into mournful pipes, a lone acoustic guitar and Corey Taylor’s mumble of, "This song is for the dead" as the machine slowly wakes up and clinks into gear atop bare, slow-moving percussion. Taylor's ominous croak of: "I don’t want to get back up, but I have to. So it might as well be today" and "Walk With Me!" gang vocals give a feel of recovery here, and it begins to hit home that this is actually happening. Slipknot are back. Say it again. Slipknot. Are. Back.
If the first track on the album is a little slow and out of leftfield, second song ‘Sarcastrophe’ represents classic 'Knot. A crunching riff descents into their trademark mix of fury, pounding drums and that inimitable guitar sound. They’re already at their most frenzied in years, and a storm of clattering percussion, the odd humming, buzzing solo and five years of aggression pour out in five short minutes. They’re really back, you know.
Where the last two tracks were night and day, 'Aov' mixes the best of both worlds. The verses see Taylor at his most unhinged, spitting out his words so venomously that he's almost tripping over them, before what might be the cleanest, most skyscraping chorus this band has ever written. Lyrics like, "Know yourself, because no one seems to know you now" act as a vicious broadside against person or persons unknown, while the song winds down with some soothing piano, then comes galloping back into view for a relentless, riff-fuelled outro.
4. 'The Devil In I'
We already know how this one sounds. Though the album version has a longer, more atmospheric into and outro, 'The Devil In I' ploughs a similar calm-fury-calm to its predecessor. Further proof that this is the most diverse Slipknot album we've ever seen.
Bare and brooding, Corey Taylor begins the fifth track with a sigh of: “She’s sticking needles in her skin” and things don't get that much more optimistic from thereon in. Ticking along with all the swagger of one of King 810’s slower numbers but twice the beef behind it, 'Killpop' has a theatrical quality to it. Clean guitar and booming, distant percussion gradually build and subsequently crash down around Taylor's surprisingly light delivery, and cap one of the most surprising songs on the album.
The lull in tempo doesn’t last for long. Opening up with an unintelligible, guttural roar, this is one of the album's more obvious tributes to Paul Gray. Taylor's bellow of "The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you / The world will never know another man as amazing as you" is wholly sentimental, but the rest is a pained, open wound of a song that ends all of a sudden with wailing guitars and a battering cry of "Skeptic. Skeptic. Skeptic".
The considerably less sentimental but no less terrifying ‘Lech’, which begins with Taylor spitting: "I know why Judas wept, motherfucker". One of the album's many, many, (many) tracks where Corey Taylor sounds genuinely furious. He drives the point home by repeating the line: "No one is bulletproof" over clattering drums and an outrageous number of time signatures.
Ethereal and gloomy, 'Goodbye' takes things down a notch or 12 and sees Slipknot writing the closest thing they'll probably ever come to anything approaching a ballad. A first two mintes of the odd peeling guitar note and distant, booming drums eventually get a bit of meat on them, but the low-key rumble of drums and final, wah-ridden guitar solo have no hint of the fury of the songs that precede this one, and make track 8 feel exactly what it is: a sorrowful, brooding goodbye.
If the hook found on 'Nomadic' was by anyone other than Slipknot, it'd go down as a piece of songwriting genius. As it is, the chorus is an accomplished break that sits between fiddly, wailing guitar solos and a chunky riff, and while the melody on show may feel at odds with lyrics like: "It's not a punishment, but now it feels like home", and is interspersed with the odd fizz of distortion that adds yet another coat to this most multi-layered albums.
10. 'The One That Kills The Least'
The title is sinister - a cry of "I've seen hell today" emphasises that feeling - and 'The One That Kills The Least' is a sign that this band are still very much hurting, but using their music as a form of catharsis. Following a soar-scream-soar formula that sounds remarkably similar to Stone Sour at times, this one meanders via a hazy guitar solo, the odd grunt and a couple of breaks to show off the new drummer's impressive percussive chops, making for one of the more expansive, rangy tracks on the album.
'Custer' begins with a clip of voices mumbling in the studio in a surprisingly candid break in tempo. It doesn't last for long, mind, as an uncharacteristic lack of sheen (for this album, at least), big riffs and even bigger talk come into play, with Taylor switching from fast-paced talking to bone-shaking screams of "Don't waste my fuckin' time" at the drop of a hat. He sizzles: "Cut, cut, cut me up and fuck, fuck, fuck me up" at odd intervals, with a word delivered on each pound of yet more accomplished, tumultuous drums that do a great job of apeing sticksman Joey Jordison's relentless style.
12. 'Be Prepared For Hell'
If patches of '...The Gray Chapter' represent little pieces of departure for Slipknot, the opening minutes of 'Be Prepared For Hell' sound like a different band entirely. A compressed, distant effect on Taylor's breathy lines like, "Just tell me when I can open my eyes" are laid on the sound of running water, a colony of bats, creaking fairground noises and maniacal laughing in what sounds more like a movie soundtrack than an actual song, before the theatrics give way to gentle distortion and single piano notes in yet another captivating new sound for the band.
13. 'The Negative One'
Here's another track you'll already be familiar with. Rough, ready and full of bile, 'The Negative One' is the final, furious punch on this album, and perhaps the most typically 'Slipknot' song of the lot. Need a reminder of how it sounds? Listen below.
14. 'If Rain Is What You Want'
The final track is a less weighty than 'The Negative One' but has a similar impact. Garbled speech and Taylor's dark, dark coo of "All you have to do is close your eyes" open up the last song on what's surely the most emotional clutch of songs this band have ever put to tape, before open chords and big, greasy guitars build in tempo, volume and ferocity before a pause, yet another melodic, Stone Sour-esque chorus and a final round of pounding guitar, drums and screams cap a song - and an album - that's Slipknot's most diverse, engaging offering yet.
You can read our full review of '.5: The Gray Chapter' in Issue 193 of Rock Sound, which you can order to your door here, grab digitally here or pick up from UK stores on Wednesday, October 08.
The album itself is out Octoer 20 through Roadrunner and you can pre-order it from iTunes or Amazon now.