For bands that build their entire sound and image around raw, blunt, teenage anger, if they’re not careful time eventually catches up with them. They grow up, their fans grow up, and before they can regroup, the next generation of teenagers has a new crop of disposable bands through which to channel their pubescent rage. After peaking in 1999, the repetitive, tuned-down sounds of the angst-ridden metal subgenre otherwise known as nu-metal rapidly decreased in relevance as each year passed, and only the smartest acts were able to grab onto a branch as the avalanche gained momentum. While some of the sound’s progenitors, like Korn and Fear Factory, carried on the same shtick to the brink of self-parody, other bands either relied on inventiveness (System of a Down) or shrewd, calculated promotion (Disturbed) to prolong their careers. Over the last decade, though, the one band that’s been able to most successfully transcend the nu-metal label has been Slipknot, their willingness to exhibit musical growth without alienating their rabid fanbase, along with a potent live show, going a long way towards proving the rubber mask-sporting band was more than just a novelty act.
The Rick Rubin-produced Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) (2004) was particularly clever in how it maintained the ferocity of hugely popular albums Slipknot and Iowa, yet managed to throw listeners more than a few curveballs without betraying that core sound. “Before I Forget” was the band’s best marriage of aggression and melody to date, the seething “Pulse of the Maggots” threw the fans a bone, and “Vermilion” especially was a watershed moment, an excursion into much more murky ambient territory that, while mellower, still made listeners sense the darkness that lurked underneath. The entire album was confident, creative, and at times audacious, the mark of a band determined to lead, not follow.
In the four years since Subliminal Verses, however, a lot has changed in Slipknot, as various members of the nonet found new creative outlets. Vocalist Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root found considerable success with the more straightforward mainstream rock of Stone Sour. Drummer Joey Jordison has started to make a name for himself as a producer, having helmed 3 Inches of Blood’s fantastic Fire Up the Blades a year ago. Percussionist Shawn Crahan runs his own record label and plays drums with the band Dirty Little Rabbit. Turntablist Sid Wilson, meanwhile, has attracted the attention of the underground jungle scene, operating under the moniker DJ Starscream. With such fracturing within the band, one had to wonder just how much of a priority Slipknot would be to these musicians, and with the much-anticipated release of All Hope Is Gone, the answer is clear: not very much.
The album is mailed in, plain and simple. On the surface, all the characteristics are there: mosh pit-inciting riffs by Root and Mick Thompson, solid vocal work by Taylor, strong double-kicks and fills by the flamboyant Jordison, that reliable formula of hollered verses and cleanly sung choruses. Also, the production by Dave Fortman is nice and thick, the drums more prominent in the mix than before. But aside from a couple of moments, very little passion is felt, the band tosses off some of their laziest riffs, lyrics, and melodies to date, and there is none of the creativity that made the last album so revelatory.
Give these guys credit, though, the barnstorming “Gematria (The Killing Name)” gets things started with a bang, Jordison’s blasting propelling the atonal, pinch-squealing riffs, Wilson punctuating the song with sly scratches. Taylor’s rallying cry of, “We are the fatal and vital ones of the world / And we will burn your cities down,” will have cynical eyes rolling, but he’s nothing if not convincing in his approach, which is the only route to take when delivering such lines. The title track is even better, the band sounding its most ferocious since the days of Iowa, Jordison absolutely throttling, Taylor’s normally measured delivery passed over in favor of some inspired roaring, his lyrics typically unflinching but sometimes perceptive (“The Bill of Rights is a bill of sale”). Meanwhile, the straightforward “This Cold Black” is rote in its approach, but its energy is palpable enough to let its predictability slide.
Unfortunately, a couple of top-tier songs are all we get as the rest of the album derails quickly. The tame “Sulfur” locks itself into a decent chuggin’ groove, but Taylor’s chorus comes dangerously close to aping the maudlin dood-rock of Disturbed. “Gehenna” is an outright failure as a mood piece, paling in comparison to “Vermilion” as Taylor launches into an inexplicable, cringe-inducing, Josh Homme-aping falsetto. The mid-paced “Dead Memories” treads the same goth-infused metal path worn out by everyone from Lacuna Coil to Soilwork. “Snuff” is shocking only because it’s a power ballad performed by grown men wearing clown masks. When you hear Slipknot sing lines like, “I still press your letters to my lips / And cherish them in parts of me that savor every kiss,” you know the metaphorical shark has officially been jumped.
It’s in the single “Psychosocial” that we hear everything that’s wrong with Slipknot circa 2008. A caricature of nu-metal thuggery delivered with a straight face from the get-go, the complete idiocy of the song, which is so clearly lost on the band, is far better suited to the cartoonish approach of GWAR. One could easily argue that “Psychosocial” is fun on a “guilty pleasure” level, as the riffs are mind-numbingly dumb, the faux-tribal percussion cacophonous, and the gang chorus just plain silly, but when compared to such inspired moments from the past like “People=Shit” and “Eyeless”, it’s an unmitigated embarrassment. Metal is supposed to be larger than life, especially in Slipknot’s case, and on this record, their attempt to sound more musically varied has them coming off as tired, apathetic, and above all, weak. If All Hope is Gone turns out to be the last album we ever hear from Slipknot, it’ll be an ignominious conclusion to what was, for a while anyway, a tremendous run.
// Notes from the Road
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