The band themselves only see it as a demo. Some of the songs re-appeared in a more refined form on later albums. Only half the Slipknot line-up we know and love actually played on it.
But Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. is still the only place to start a look back at the full works of Iowa’s greatest musical export.
Funded by the band and recorded in 1996, it is an oddity of a record that is raw, rough and, at times, damned funky across its 51-minute run-time. It’s weird, it’s quirky and – because only 1,000 copies were made – it is a collector’s wet dream.
I have a fairly long relationship with this record; having gotten into Slipknot big time shortly after the release of the self-titled record, I quickly learned about this mysterious debut and started looking for it. Eventually, I found it on eBay and gladly coughed up a tenner for what was somewhat liberally listed as, “a copy of Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. by Slipknot.”
It was a CD-R copy rather than the real deal but, hey, it was still the album.
I pushed play not knowing what to expect and ended up being underwhelmed by the slower tempo, the different vocalist and muddy production. There was one jaw-dropping moment – we’ll come to that later – but otherwise the overpriced CD-R went on my shelf and stayed there for almost 20 years.
Being free of the shackles of a teenage brain that refused to accept anything less than a rough version of the self-titled record, my adult ears now listen to Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. with sheer fascination. No, it’s nothing like Slipknot as we know it. But there’s definitely something there.
Let’s get the weak spots out of the way first. The production isn’t great – what would you expect from a self-financed mid-90s record? – and the songwriting is pretty raw, but it’s original vocalist Anders Colsefini who really lets things down. It’s not even a case of him not being as good as Corey Taylor – he’s just not very good full-stop.
It’s worth a look at the line-up overall. Mick Thomson and Craig Jones are both credited but didn’t play on it, while guitar duties are handled by Donnie Steele and Josh Brainard, the latter of whom actually featured on the self-titled before handing over his mask to Jim Root. The former returned to Slipknot to handle touring bass duties after the death of Paul Gray.
But, most importantly, the spine of Gray, Clown and drummer Joey Jordison are all present here, and you can feel their influence on this record’s high points. There is an underlying drive and darkness that, without those three musical geniuses involved, Slipknot would not have found otherwise.
Let’s make no mistake: Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. is weird. It’s an unusual, sprawling and pretty ambitious offering of a debut record with a smorgasbord of genres hidden within, including bits of metal, rock, prog, and even funk and disco.
Yes, that’s right. Funk and disco. On a Slipknot album.
Before we get to that, though, let’s start with the more familiar stuff, of which there is plenty.Embed from Getty Images
The song ‘Slipknot’ sits on a slower version of the riff that would later kick off ‘(sic)’ and plods along with plenty of grunting but not much imagination. ‘Gently’ and ‘Tattered And Torn’ are both interesting versions of songs that would be improved tenfold when they reappeared on Iowa and the self-titled album respectively, while the first incarnation of Only One – and first bellowing of the line “Only one of us walks away!” – also appears.
The album’s finale – the lumbering ‘Killers Are Quiet’ – shows off just how good this band has always been at creating atmosphere, and we’ll overlook the frankly awful hidden track ‘Dogfish Rising’.
Indeed, ‘Killers Are Quiet’ is basically the embryo from which the track ‘Iowa’ would later be birthed. This first stab is not as dark as the masterpiece they would later create, but it’s also nowhere near as far off it as you might imagine.
But it’s veering into the stuff that only made it as far as Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. where things get most interesting. ‘Confessions’ is chilled and funky, taking more from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers than any metal influence, while ‘Some Feel’ is perfectly passable as mid-90s unsigned metal, but nothing more.
The real show-stopper, the song that floored me as a teenager and still smacks me round the chops now, is ‘Do Nothing/Bitchslap’.
If you’ve never heard it before, there’s no way you can really prepare yourself for Slipknot to start a song with a slapping and popping bassline, leap into a thrash riff, freestyle some jazz for a bit and then round it all off with a disco section complete with gang chants of “Woop, woop!” and a vocal line of, “I want to put a cap right in your asshole.” We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – and we’re not in Iowa either.
In fact, on ‘Do Nothing/Bitchslap’ it’s difficult to know where the fuck we are at all.
Not even the hippest of musical hipster snob could reasonably claim this to be their favourite Slipknot record, but it definitely has something about it. The use of disorientating and unsettling samples, the ability to lock into a riff, the tribal percussion and the (occasional) good vocal hook are all things that the band would, in a few short years, be able to turn into a career.
But the thing that really makes this record a Slipknot record is the ability to unnerve. For all of the slapping, popping and wooping, when you let it get hold of you this album has the ability to make you feel strange.
That darkness that infected the world on Iowa? Its roots are right here.Embed from Getty Images
As a time capsule of a band that was just a couple of years away from world domination, this album is a must-listen, even if you only listen to it once. You can’t fully understand the Slipknot story without it. In many ways it is both terrible and something of a masterpiece at the same time.
It’s certainly captivating.
That CD-R is going back on my shelf now and, to be honest, I don’t know when it will get plucked out again. But, I’m glad I have it and I’m glad I’ve heard it. Every band has to start somewhere and this was Slipknot’s weird firstborn.
Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. was self-released in 1996.