60:21 min • Roadrunner Records • June 29, 1999
Released during the zenith of the American Nu Metal scene of the late ’90s, Slipknot’s debut album proved a watershed for the movement. While most of their contemporaries, such as Korn, Powerman 5000 and System of a Down, had already introduced denser sounds, heavy down-tuned guitars and a hint of industrial to their metallic mix, Slipknot unleashed an hour of the heaviest, most intense metal heard by the American mainstream since Slayer’s Divine Intervention hit #8 on the Billboard Charts in 1994.
The album starts with the intro ‘742617000027’, thirty-six seconds of squealing noise courtesy of Craig Jones (#5), coupled with a loop from the Manson Family trials, repeating, “The whole thing I think is sick.”
‘(sic)’ kick-starts the album properly with a barrage of guitars and some of the most intense percussion ever laid on an American metal album. Sonically, the lyrics sound like typical Nu Metal fare, “Fuck this shit, I’m sick of it, you’re going down, this is a war”, but this isn’t the band’s strongest point on this track. The real genius comes through with the intense sound of nine band members somehow working together to create a surrealistic musical nightmare. And while certainly avant-garde in its own way, the sound comes together here mosh pit ready.
In terms of lyrics, ‘Eyeless’ is the first track that shows the band ready to break out and go beyond the aggression of independence and self-determination of standard Nu Metal with lead vocalist Corey Taylor (#8) spitting out repeatedly during the chorus, “You can’t see California without Marlon Brando’s eyes!” According to legend, this was inspired by the rants of a homeless man the band encountered while recording this album, but who knows? In terms of sound, the band’s industrial influences leak out a bit stronger here with noise from sampler Jones and DJ Sid Wilson (#0).
‘Wait & Bleed’ is the most surprising track on the first half of the album as it is downright melodic and radio ready. While still having an intense sound, it seems restrained. I’m usually not a fan of heavy bands arbitrarily attempting a melodic and polished sound, but it works here. Due to its more subdued sound, this would be the single that lead to the band being embraced by millions of listeners.
The first half of the album ends with ‘Spit It Out’, a two and a half minute mosh pit burner, with lighting fast lyrical delivery, bordering on a rap influence. As with this group, the interesting parts lie buried underneath the down-tuned riffs, a chaotic mix of tribal drums and strange noise courtesy of Wilson and Jones.
‘Tattered & Torn’ kicks off the second half and this starts to show a far more avant-garde side of the band, the introduction of strange, squealing noise and intricate percussion which transitions into heavy rattling bass and half-groaning whispered lyrics. Treading beyond their roots in death and thrash, the band starts exploring more noise-based territory.
Moving further into musically darker territory, ‘Prosthetics’ takes the tribal, Bo Diddley rhythms of Shawn Crahan (#6) and Chris Fehn (#3) and adds slower, doomier riffs, which pick up in speed as the song progresses. The only thing that remains typically contemporary metal about this cut isTaylor’s aggressive vocal delivery.
The last track of note on the second half is the last song on the album, ‘Scissors’, which compounds the band’s experimental metal tendencies. Scrapping percussion, intense bass riffs and samples drag through the track, only broken by Taylor’s clean vocals before blowing his voice in one last burst of metallic aggression.
What set this album apart from the slush pile of metal albums that were coming out at the time was how new and different the sound was. Other bands were starting to sound repetitive, Korn’s follow up to ‘Follow the Leader’, 1999’s ‘Issues’ sounded like a B-side collection, Limp Bizkit was turning into a bad joke and Rage Against the Machine was on its last legs.
Even the long established metal bands seemed to be a creative slump, Metallica still facing a fan backlash over the Load/ReLoad albums, Iron Maiden had released the mediocre Virtual XI and Megadeth’s Risk was considered a creative flop.
What metal was looking for was a new band with a new sound. Slipknot’s sound definitely had tinges of commercial nu metal to it, but they also mixed in noise influences and riffs from the heaviest thrash and death bands. It could have been a disaster, it doesn’t always work to mix different sounds together, but it ended up being one of the best debut albums in American metal of the last fifteen years.
In about an hour, this nine-member band from Iowa destroyed the stagnant nu metal scene.