Slipknot: Fade To Gray
Have Slipknot snatched victory from the jaws of tragedy?
Dear reader, cast your mind back to BLUNT #107, in those far-away days of February 2012. Slipknot were on the cover. They were about to play Soundwave, performing their first Australian shows since the tragic death of founding bassist Paul “#2/Pig” Gray in May 2010 via an accidental drug overdose.
The interviews were with the other two founding members, percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan and drummer Joey “#1/Superball” Jordison. And, to put it (ahem) bluntly, there was some question over whether or not the band would survive.
Crahan was still grieving the loss of his friend – “I hear all this shit all the time about how Paul wanted us to go on: well, cool. Maybe I don’t wanna go on without him, you know?” – while Jordison was already looking to the future. “Everyone knows there was no-one more important to the band, writing-wise, and no-one was a better friend to me than Paul, but enough with the shit, OK? It’s starting to become sickening to me. Let. The. Guy. Rest.”
Two years on and things have changed. Gray’s doctor – the one who prescribed him Xanax despite supposedly knowing he was using opiates – was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter after a long trial. The band have a new album: .5: The Gray Chapter. And Jordison is no longer in the band.
The band refuse to discuss what happened – although reports subsequently surfaced that Jordison was sacked via singing telegram – or confirm who comprises the band’s new rhythm section (although fans recognised tattoos sported by the new bassist in the video for “The Devil In I” as being those of ex-Krokodil bassist Alessandro Venturella).
.5: The Gray Chapter is an unrelenting listen: 14 tracks of rarely-tempered aggression, punctuated by a downright punishing amount of double-kick. As a tribute to Gray, it’s a powerful one – and while some critics have called it a return to Iowa-era form, it’s far more forward-looking than nostalgic.
Finally there’s some positive Slipknot news,” chuckles a relieved sounding Corey “#8” Taylor. “Not that it was all negative, but there was definitely some doubt in the air. But lo and behold, here we are – so I’m extremely happy.”
“There really was that question of, ‘Do we want to continue?’”
If you caught Slipknot last time around, then congratulations: you’re part of the reason they’re still here.
“It started when we started doing the tours – honestly, it was seeing that we wanted to,” Taylor says. “That’s what it came down to.”
That said, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that there’d ever be another album.
“Paul was such a big part of this band, not only as a major contributor and one of the quote-unquote chiefs, but he was also one of the biggest lovers of this band. He would get stoked about the music in a way that I’ve never seen; whether it was his that he was writing or music that other people were bringing in. He could see the potential in everything – and without that there, obviously it kicked the crap out of us,” Taylor sighs.
“There really was that question of ‘do we want to continue?’ And starting with those shows, it really helped us get back on our feet – and the fans were able to be there with us. That was the first stage of it. We started to see the future a little stronger: ‘OK, we still like doing this, so what’s next?’”
Aside from the absence of Gray and Jordison, the lion’s share of the songs ideas came from a member who had never had a huge role in the songwriting: guitarist Jim Root.
“In November of last year I sat down in the garage after having a conversation with Clown and just decided that it was time for us to start,” he explains. “It was the big white elephant in the room that nobody wanted to talk about, that we needed to do another record. We’d been touring for quite a while and there was a little bit of pressure on us. And I don’t know that anyone else had made any steps to make that happen, so it was kinda thrown into my court to be the initiator of what we ended up with.”
And hey, no pressure. Just save the band by writing a new album, that’s all.
“Exactly!” he laughs. “Hey, no big deal: just write a fuckin’ record, dude. You can do it: go!”
“In January a bunch of us started looking at what was on the horizon, what felt right,” Taylor continues. “And it turned out that all of us had written a bunch of music – I had written some stuff, Clown had written some stuff, Jim had a tonne of material – and we started comparing notes. And all of a sudden the idea started to form. And that’s when it clicked. Clown and Jim and the person who’s playing drums right now started banging out some live demos, and I started writing to it. We could hear the life coming back into it. That was the germination of it.”
“There are moments that could be on a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album.”
Taylor is extremely proud of the result. “I listen to it every day – that’s how much I love it. It’s almost a perfect blend of raw and polish, of the original angst and aggression we started out with and yet that present day maturity.”
Root reckons it’s as much about survival as anything. “When you’re in a band that’s been around as long as we’ve been around you have to challenge yourself to not become redundant as a band. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that so far. I think maybe on the last record there might have been some moments where we’ve fallen into our comfort zone, but I think that as long as there’s this questioning of what it is that we’re doing and why it is that we’re doing it, we’re always trying to move forward and challenge ourselves to do something that we haven’t done before.
“Any band with a great career has that evolution,” Root explains, citing Radiohead as an example. “Listen to OK Computer and The Bends, and then listen to In Rainbows: they could be two different bands.”
“I’ve gone on record of saying it’s a blend of Iowa and Volume 3: the aggression and the darkness of Iowa and the experimentation and that esoteric artist vibe that Volume 3 had. But it’s even more than that; we’ve taken it even further. There are moments that could be on a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album!”
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion don’t typically rely quite so heavily on mad double kick drum rolls, though.
“No, not as much,” he chuckles. “But it’s definitely that frenetic ‘what in the fuck was that!’ spirit – you know, those moments where you you’ve just gotta rewind it. Well, gotta skip back, I guess. I don’t think anyone actually rewinds anything anymore, but you know what I’m saying. You pull your mp3 to that point in time and go ‘oh, that’s fuckin’ killer, I wanna know how they did that’. And there are a lot of those moments on this album, those bursts of ear candy.”
He’s also adamant that the album sounds like… well, Slipknot.
“It hasn’t been mastered out of juice. It feels like a band recording in a room,” he spits. “We’re not some commercial metal band with the same 12 fucking samples that some engineer sticks in to cover the fact that this band has no talent.”
Is that a concern, that the line-up dramas and the loss of Gray mean people have forgotten that Slipknot are first and foremost a bunch of guys that play music?
“I think so, yeah. Well, I don’t know that they forgot but they maybe let that fact get away from them. And you know, it’s been six years [since All Hope Is Gone in 2008]. That’s a long time between albums. That’s Def Leppard time! And there are obviously circumstances why that happened, but at the same time just because we’ve been gone for a while doesn’t mean we can’t create a record.”
“We’re all a bunch of alphas,” Root adds. “We’re back to having nine guys in the band, but the seven guys I’ve been paying dues with for the last fifteen years are all very opinionated and strong-willed people, but that’s good. That’s the dynamic we have.
“The doubts came just because we were dealing in new territory,”
Taylor clarifies. “Paul was gone, we’d split ways with Joey, what was going to happen? And I think we all really stepped up and filled those shoes the best we could, and I think it came out pretty magnificently. There were a lot of smiles going on in the studio, let’s put it that way.”
“That’s the thing about this band: we take all these things that we’re confronted with and we roll our sleeves up and brush the fucking dust off and put some ice on our black eyes.”
That’s not exactly a sentiment one immediately associates with Slipknot.
“Well, yeah. But it was that maniacal smile, going ‘holy shit, people are going to lose their minds when they hear this part.’ That bedeviled smile.”
The album did something else too: it made the band talk to each other.
“It was such an emotional rollercoaster ride being in the studio in the first place,” Taylor explains. “But when people started to hear what I was talking about, this amazing thing happened: we started talking about what we had been through in the last four years. We really hadn’t talked about that.”
Seriously? Not even when the band were all out on the road together?
“When you’re on a Slipknot tour there’s so much energy expended and so much going on that you really at some point just duck your head and get through it, because you’re just exhausted.”
So no Metallica-style touring therapist holding group sessions between shows?
“Oh no no no,” he laughs. “Not yet, anyway. But at the same time we were getting up on stage, we were hanging out, but we weren’t talking. It was just pleasantries.”
The breakthrough, unsurprisingly, was in a song.
“We were working on ‘Goodbye’, a song which I had written, and we had tracked it and the guys were really listening to the lyrics. And it’s a heavy-duty tune. It’s about the band, sitting in my house on the day that Paul died, literally two hours after we had found his body: that’s how fresh that sadness was. It was so thick, it was palpable.” He pauses, remembering the moment.
“We’re all sitting in this house trying to find a way to talk to each other, but we’re so numb and so destroyed that we couldn’t say anything – and that’s what that song was about. And when we were sitting in the control room listening back to it we started talking about that day. We started having the conversation that we couldn’t have that day.”
The members started discussing what had been going on for the last four years: “the guilt that we all shared, the anger that we all shared, everything that was being reflected in the lyrics on the album. The fact that we missed Paul so much, that we loved his spirit, and that in a weird way his spirit felt like it was in the studio with us. That really broke the ice for us, in a way that we hadn’t felt in a very long time. And that allowed us to enjoy it. Just when you thought this band was going to fracture, we pulled together in a way that nobody else could have seen coming.”
And for now, that’s the last word. Slipknot are back. They have a new album. They’re here for Soundwave. And they promise the shows will be brutal.
“There’s definitely something to prove,” Root insists. “That’s the thing about this band: we take all these things that we’re confronted with and we roll our sleeves up and brush the fucking dust off and put some ice on our black eyes and we go ‘alright, now whaddaya got?’”
Taylor agrees. “We’ve been through hell. We’ve had a couple of pretty huge shots across our hull, and we’re still here. So let’s see what happens.”