Slipknot are coming back. There is a new album on the horizon. Our Deputy Editor Hugh Platt has some concerns.
Let’s not get too excited by “the return” of Slipknot just yet. It has been damn near six years since All Hope Is Gone, a lot has changed since the last time Slipknot were a full-time concern.
Okay, here’s some lightning-quick context for anyone who missed the news. Yesterday, Slipknot updated their official website with what people are laughably calling a “teaser trailer”. Go watch it. It has some tiny fractions of sound in it. Various people with professional connections to the band gleefully tweeted about it. It follows an interview with Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor on Loudwire where he claimed that the new Slipknot record is “98 per cent done”. You don’t need to be Captain Media Monitor in Chief to understand that the opening shot in the long, long, long-awaited fifth Slipknot studio album promotional campaign had been fired, albeit in as cryptic a way as a band with millions of dollars riding on the success of their next release can ever hope to be.
Let’s start with the bleeding obvious – two of the nine men that were in the band for every previous Slipknot record are no longer there. Paul Gray died just over four years ago following a drugs overdose, and just over six months ago Joey Jordison quit/was fired [delete depending on who’s particular line of spin you believe most]. Gray and Jordison weren’t making up the numbers in The Nine either – although later Slipknot records would ascribe songwriting credits to the whole band equally, their Roadrunner debut split the writing duties just between Gray, Jordison, Corey Taylor and Shawn Crahan. You don’t have to dig your nose too deep into the fetid rumour mill to know that this quartet of songwriters continued to dictate much of the musical pace and direction Slipknot took on those later records too. Losing half your songwriters will have an impact on a band, however you try to dress it up.
Then we have the Jim Root situation. In addition to playing second guitar in Slipknot, Root also used to share some extra-curricular activities with Corey Taylor, joining him in Stone Sour. I say “used to”, as earlier this year Root was apparently unceremoniously dumped out of the side-project that his Slipknot bandmate is very much the main focus of.
Here’s Stone Sour’s version of what went on:
As some of you might have heard by now, Stone Sour and Jim Root have indeed parted ways. We were trying to wait until the completion of the new SK album, but in light of recent events, we are going to confirm this information and move on. We feel it’s best for both bands and hope that is reflected in the days to come. We will give you more information when the time comes.
Forgive me if I am putting a negative spin on things, but I don’t think that getting fired by one of your mates from one band is going to lend itself to having a 100% positive working relationship with that exact same friend in another band. This is the music industry – hell, in this case this is the rock star industry – where bruised egos stay that way, bitterness festers to the point where fisticuffs and court cases become the norm.
All of which brings us nicely round to Mr Corey Taylor, the giant, grinning centrepiece of the Slipknot war machine (it feels like we’re selling Slipknot short at this point by describing them as “just” a band). Corey Taylor has pretty much seemed to want to do anything but be the frontman of Slipknot since the band wound up their world tour in support of All Hope Is Gone. There were the rumours of him joining Velvet Revolver. There was the almost-but-not-quite instance of him becoming Anthrax’s new vocalist. There were the increasingly less-interesting Stone Sour records (including the vapid and self-indulgent House of Gold & Bones two-part album). There were those bloody books. There was “a roast”. There were lots and lots of media appearances where Taylor seemed to have nothing to say except the exact opposite of what Joey Jordison had said 24 hours earlier. The repeated claim that Taylor would dedicate his full-attention to Slipknot “when the time was right” felt increasingly hollow, and the sporadic festival appearances the band have made since the death of Paul Gray started to feel like exercises in keeping both the band in the public’s mind’s eye and the various members of Slipknot’s mortgages paid for.
Can you put up with an entire Scar The Martyr video? We gave up after less than a minute.
Now if that sounds like I’m being too hard on Taylor over the split with Joey Jordison, let’s reframe that by acknowledging that by the time Jordison left Slipknot, there was little doubt that he had become an increasingly difficult figure for the rest of the band to work with. Indeed, given that the lead singer of his most recent crappy vanity project that no-one would’ve cared two flaming shits about if it didn’t have a Slipknot connection in quit the band soon after it became Jordison’s main post-Slipknot project suggests that “Maybe the problem is me?” is a question that hasn’t featured in Mr Jordison’s periods of self-reflection recently. Henry Derek, said former singer of Scar The Martyr, claimed he quit over “personal differences, artistic direction and business decisions”, whereas Jordison once again found himself spinning a different tale to a former singer, claiming the band fired Derek. Oh Joey – when the same situation arises twice in less than six months, it’s probably a bit more than a co-incidence.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Slipknot in 2014 is not the tight-as-you-like, we’re-a-gang-and-we-will-take-on-all-comers-whoever-they-are unit that they used to be. It’s a bloody miracle the band were able to muster even a shadow of their old spirit following the death of Paul Gray (go watch their press conference about Gray’s death again if you want to remind yourself just how much this event affected the remaining members), let alone the post-Paul bickering that has festered in their ranks ever since.
We can’t even say for sure what impact these internal band incidents have had on the band’s creative process. Unless you’re in that studio with them, you will never know. We can only speculate on this. But no matter how many interviews where various members of Slipknot have claimed to thrive on chaos and adversity, this is the first time that that chaos and adversity has truly come from within the band themselves. This is the first time when overcoming the odds to gain victory isn’t possible – to do so would mean the band warring even further within itself. Given the seismic impact that the loss of half their songwriting core will have already had on them, I’m not sure they can take much more of that.
This is how I want to remember Slipknot:
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there will be triumph carved out of the open wounds of Slipknot’s struggles. Maybe they’ll let their bassist come out from behind the curtain now once they figure that it’ll be bloody weird if they stick Joey Jordison’s replacement behind a big fuck-off screen too. Right now Slipknot are riding a bigger wave of expectation than they’ve ever had at any point in their careers thus far. They’ve overcome hype before – both Iowa and Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses delivered beyond anything even their most ardent fans were expecting, and even All Hope Is Gone managed to make a respectable show of things. But this time, for album no.5, after so many years walking that tightrope between “going concern” and “heritage act of the future”, after all those many and varied setbacks I’ve revisited in tedious detail above, I’m just not sure Slipknot have got what it takes to get away with it this time.
Slipknot’s as-yet-untitled fifth album will be out sometime in the future. Maybe. Hugh Platt is the Deputy Editor of Thrash Hits. You can disagree with him as much as you like via his Twitter account.