It’s never been an easy ride for Slipknot. In 2019 their album build-up was scarred by unspeakable tragedy and the band’s internal combustibility. The effects of that might someday make it into the music. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Slipknot’s fifth Roadrunner Records album was released in 2014. .5: The Gray Chapter was so named in honour of their late bass player, Paul Gray, who passed away in 2010. Gray had been integral not only to the band but also to its creative output.
Slipknot lost a brother and a writer. They also said goodbye to drummer Joey Jordison in 2013, and combined with Gray’s death it raised questions not only about the future of the band but where its songs were going to come from.
In short, there was some trepidation about this record before a note had been heard. Some fans still don’t hold it in high regard. Some took a while to warm to it. Some, like me, adored it from the get-go.
It sometimes feels like advocating for .5: The Gray Chapter involves a level of apology. Not me. It might not be Slipknot’s best record – hell, it’s not even in the top three of five – but there’s music on this album that stands on its own two feet.
Some of the clean vocals generated comparisons to Corey Taylor’s other band, Stone Sour, a criticism which is nothing but bullshit. If ‘Killpop’ is any part of the proof then the argument is null and void.
‘Killpop’ is twisted and dark. Stone Sour don’t do that and I’d argue they’ve never made a song as good as ‘Killpop’ in any case. They simply aren’t alike and suggestions that they are smack of rank laziness.
The other big singles were ‘The Devil In I’ and ‘The Negative One’, which hold up their end of the bargain. If there’s a weakness it’s not in Taylor’s singing but in the album’s deep cuts, where the standard falls short of Slipknot’s best but, well, it’s still Slipknot, motherfucker.
The response to ‘Custer’ was rightly more unified – it’s brilliant and dirty and heavy as balls – and the opening track, ‘XIX’, is a moody and modern interpretation of what an older, more emotionally literate, more craft-driven Slipknot can be.
Gray’s presence is felt throughout. The songs reference him with crispness and clarity, never more so than ‘Skeptic’, and the pacing, themes and atmosphere of the more measured songs on the album represent a fine tribute.
Perhaps what comes through most clearly from this album is the lyrical and emotional rawness in the songs. There’s nothing hidden, no barriers, no mystery. .5: The Gray Chapter is a lament of pain, loss and regret. It’s hugely powerful as a result.
It dips in places; I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t, though the fact that those dips move from listen to listen suggests it’s at least worthy of debate. And it doesn’t have an ‘Eyeless’ or a ‘Left Behind’ or a ‘Duality’.
But Slipknot’s fifth album proper still hits the right notes. It’s disgusting and spiteful and aggressive. It’s got bangers. It’s got mood pieces. And it’s a fantastic showcase for a talented band fronted by the best vocalist in the game.
15 years after Slipknot blew up you’d better believe I’m claiming that as a triumph.
.5: The Gray Chapter came out in 2014 on Roadrunner Records.