Where to even begin with Slipknot’s self-titled 1999 album?
Nine dudes in masks and boiler suits showed up and laid the world to waste in a tornado of hype and hysteria, and went on to be the biggest metal band of their generation.
Slipknot changed the game and it changed me. It took a little while to settle but once it had me, this phenomenal album transformed me from a fan of classic metal who viewed screaming and extremity with suspicion into a lover of ugly.
Slipknot arrived fully formed into the mainstream in the summer of 1999. Tales of debauchery, violence and self-inflicted pain were everywhere.
In those early days Slipknot were mysterious and dangerous, a band that appealed instantly to those of us of a mind to embrace such things.
They brought with them enough of a threat to give conservative adults flappy gums and even flappier arseholes, too, which only made Slipknot more attractive.
It’s difficult to explain the subcultural impact of Slipknot on the teenagers of the UK. Nu-metal was gaining a foothold, staking a claim to be the leading category of ‘alternative’, when Slipknot arrived.
Bang. Hoodies everywhere. Kids in every town centre wearing Slipknot tees and pseudo-goth get-up. In 2019 metal can’t get a look in with the equivalent generation. 20 years ago even dance and hip-hop had been put into the shade.
And the album at the centre of it all was a Molotov cocktail, a spiteful, angry, unrelenting masterpiece.
Slipknot was a whole new sound and yet most definitely metal. Guitars, bass, drums, vocals.
Oh, and percussion, samples, turntables, mixing, beer kegs and more guitars – you can do a lot with nine guys in a band.
The aesthetic helped establish the band in a noisy scene but the music was the key.
The band’s traditional core – vocalist Corey Taylor, guitarists Mick Thomson and Jim Root, bassist Paul Gray and drummer Joey Jordison – provided modern, spiky metal inspired by the genre’s extreme fringes.
But the compositions in totality are the imagination of Shawn “Clown” Crahan given life. Along with Chris Fehn he added aggressive percussion to the mix. Craig Jones and turntable genius Sid Wilson overlaid a frenetic, glitchy layer that lent the sound both modernity and restlessness.
Only in the combination of all nine does the sonic truth of Slipknot exist, but it wouldn’t have been successful without the songwriting ability and musicianship in the band, which were and are extraordinary.
The album begins with the disturbing, distorted intro ‘74617000027’ and explodes into the famous Slipknot stomp within seconds of the start of ‘(sic)’, which is as good an introduction to what this band sounds like as any song.
The first half of Slipknot is widely regarded as flawless. ‘Eyeless’ is a fantastic showcase for Wilson and Taylor in particular, not to mention the infectious, powerful groove that set Slipknot apart from other Angry Young Bands.
There follows the small matter of ‘Wait And Bleed’ – a song of such status that I need not expand further other than to be clear that any suggestion that it is in fact a weak moment on this record is, of course, complete bollocks – and the gruesome twosome.
‘Surfacing’ takes all the elements of ‘Eyeless’ and somehow turns everything up even higher before adding one of the best choruses in the entire history of heavy metal. The instantly iconic ‘Spit It Out’ is nearly as good. Nearly.Embed from Getty Images
There is a school of thought that the second side of Slipknot struggles to keep up with the first. I don’t subscribe, but side two does get pretty fucking weird.
The version of the album I’ve revisited here is the reissued version without ‘Frail Limb Nursery’ and ‘Purity’ – more on those on these pages in the very near future, I promise – so ‘Tattered & Torn’ is followed by the low-key brilliant ‘Me Inside’ before the unholy bounce and intense mid-section of ‘Liberate’.
‘Prosthetics’ is perhaps the song that most feels like an insight into the fractured imagination of Clown – strip away the power and Slipknot somehow possess the ability to become even more dark and disgusting.
‘No Life’ and ‘Diluted’ make you want to tap your toes and tear the skin off your face at the same time. ‘Only One’ suffers from merely being an excellent Slipknot song at the end of a record.
Some versions end with ‘Scissors’, which evolves from glorious misery into the secret-track silliness that was so prevalent at the time, but the Slipknot pantheon extends far beyond the album itself. There’s easily another record’s worth of demos and b-sides and bonus tracks, all of which are worth checking out.
But even with just its core tracklisting Slipknot is genuinely brilliant and truly unique. It occupies a place of musical originality, unbeatable songcraft and psychological menace.
It’s brimming with choruses and moments that have been etched irrevocably into the history of its genre, and that’s without even taking into account the spectacular success of its biggest hitters; Slipknot reveals these flashes as deep as the twelfth and thirteenth songs.
The best album of 1999. One of the top five albums of the 1990s. Bigger picture? One of the greatest records ever made.
Slipknot came out in 1999 on Roadrunner Records.