Slipknot’s second major label release, which turns 18 in a few weeks, is like nothing else the band has released its whole career. It wasn’t back in 2001 and it still isn’t now.
Think about that for a moment. This isn’t any old band we’re talking about here. This is Slipknot. And Iowa is Slipknot at their heaviest, darkest, confrontational and experimental.
It’s Slipknot at their most dangerous, which is probably why Iowa remains so absolutely fucking terrifying, and so wonderful.
It also lays serious claim to the heaviest record to ever make a dent in the mainstream. There can’t be many other records that topped the UK album chart on release and that open with blast beats, riffs and screaming galore.
The band’s drummer, Joey Jordison, described Iowa as the “heaviest and best metal record of all time” and, while he’s biased, he’s also not far off the truth.
My memories of Iowa are incredibly vivid. I was 15 and had spent the last year or so devouring all things Slipknot I could get my hands on. I was also a member of the Roadrunner Records UK street team, so the summer of 2001 was all about Iowa for me.
The fact that it didn’t get released until the end of August – school was practically back in session – was brutal. That it was also released while I was on a family holiday was actually painful.
I got home from said holiday and immediately chatted to a fellow street-teamer on MSN messenger. His words about Iowa have never left me.
“It’s so good, when you get to the end you have to lie down,” he said. “And then you have to listen to it again.”
He was right.
When I finally got my hands on it a couple of days later, it was everything I wanted right then: more riffs, more mad drumming, more swearing, more anthems! If the self-titled record was the album that made me fall in love with Slipknot, Iowa was the record where I knew I’d be with them for life.
It stayed on my stereo pretty much permanently for the next year, only really taking a break so I could spin System Of A Down’s Toxicity, which was released just a week after Iowa – imagine that! When Slipknot brought the Iowa live experience to the UK the following February, I got to see it, and got to meet the band after the show thanks to my street-teaming efforts.
If ever an album summed up my teenage years, Iowa was it.
Going back to it now as a fully grown adult complete with wife, child, dog and mortgage, I was delighted to find that Iowa is still every bit as incredible a statement and bold a piece of art as it was 18 years ago.
In fact, I think I like it even more now than I did then.
With a better knowledge of the band’s story and what their collective life was like when Iowa was recorded, it makes much more sense and is all the more impressive an album.
The whole world was waiting for this one. The music industry wanted an album full of ‘Wait And Bleed’ so it could rinse the band for cash and then throw them away as quickly as possible. The band themselves hated the world, hated the music industry and hated each other.
The result was something that sounds more real and visceral than should be possible even two decades later. It’s a horror movie in audio format.
Listening with fresh ears, Iowa still sounds like a 10/10 album, from the anguished screams of Sid Wilson mourning his grandfather to open the album, to the quarter of an hour epic title track that closes it, this is Slipknot allowing you deeper into their world than they ever have before or since.
The anthems that my teenage brain loved from first listen – ‘People = Shit’, ‘The Heretic Anthem’ and ‘My Plague’ – all still sound monstrous. But the real joy listening to Iowa in 2019 comes from the deeper cuts.
‘Disasterpiece’ is Corey Taylor’s favourite Slipknot song and you can hear why. ‘Gently’ is unnerving in the extreme while ‘New Abortion’ is just off-the-scale brilliant.
It’s staggering that Slipknot achieved such success with this set of songs. Art this dark shouldn’t be that popular. Even the lead single, ‘Left Behind’, has no right to be a Grammy-nominated single. Sure, the chorus is big. But listen closely to the guitars – how on earth is that opening riff so catchy and yet so weird?
Slipknot went to war with themselves and with the world to give birth to Iowa. Musically, they would go onto better it on their very next album but they’ve never sounded so evil as they across this 66-minute visit to Hell. It thrilled me in my teens and does the same in my thirties.
It’s still just fucking brilliant. It’s a flawless piece of magic from every angle.
Iowa came out in 2001 on Roadrunner Records.