|image courtesy of @Slipknot on Twitter|
I don't care how ridiculous people think it makes me sound: I'm proud to have been a fan of this band for the past 20 years since their debut self-titled album was unleashed. I'll never forget the moment my best friend handed me his headphones and said "check this out" with a slightly evil smirk. It was like nothing I'd ever heard--unbridled energy; angry and frustrated and disgusted and desperate and powerful. When the world was introduced to Slipknot, most people thought they were a complete joke--a flash-in-the-pan gimmick that would be here today, gone tomorrow. But it's twenty years and six albums later and this band has firmly established themselves as elder statesmen of heavy metal music and future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. With "We Are Not Your Kind," the nine-piece ensemble of chaos and beauty has not only done it again but has actually established themselves as a band that is still continuing to get better at what they do. They're more focused and confident than ever before while also being more bold and courageous about expanding their sonic perspectives and possibilities. I can hardly ask for more out of one of my favorite bands.
There has been a lot of talk among Slipknot die-hards about comments made by lead vocalist Corey Taylor stating that some of the new material they were working on at the time (which would become "We Are Not Your Kind") was "Iowa levels of heavy." That was a bold statement from the band's frontman, as the Iowa album is considered a modern classic and perhaps the band's best (or at least heaviest) work. The phrase has been thrown around a LOT as a barometer for this album with a lot of people being disappointed that it doesn't live up to this admittedly high bar. For me, it sort of depends on your definition of "heavy." Heavy can mean a lot of different things depending on the genre you're talking about, but with Slipknot, it has largely come to mean blistering guitar tones, monstrous breakdowns, and, to a large extent, Joey Jordison's inhumanly fast drumming. With Jordison replaced by Jay Weinberg for the last two albums, many feel the band has lost their edge. For me, nothing could be further from the truth.
"We Are Not Your Kind" depends on its speed, energy, and unpredictability for its heaviness more than any Slipknot album since, perhaps, their debut. The riffs are crisp and violently fast like lightning, especially with the treble-heavy production to emphasis that very precise kind of whip-crack brutality. This album definitely demands to be listened to in headphones. I've listened to it both in headphones and relatively decent speakers and the difference is all the difference in the world. And I don't hesitate to say that Jay Weinberg's drumming is a huge part of that. I've seen some people saying they feel his drumming doesn't mesh well with the band and I think I might take it the opposite way: I think his drumming might actually mesh better with the band than Joey's ever did. He doesn't have the same level of speed, to be sure (who does?), but what he lacks in speed he makes up for with precision. The precision that allows the guitar and bass to meld with the drums in this cohesive, percussive hammer-blow that is as heavy a sound as Slipknot has ever made. Pair that with some of the fastest, most ruthlessly kinetic guitar work the band has ever produced and damn if this doesn't belong in the conversation about Slipknot's heaviest album.
At the same time, this album also sees the band exploring melody (not just vocal but electronic/atmospheric melody) and experimentation more boldly than perhaps any album before it. Although I do think they could benefit from relying a little less heavily on the brutal-verse-melodic-chorus template (as in "Unsainted," "Nero Forte," and "Critical Darling"), they make it work and their melodic choruses are undeniably catchy and memorable which is an impressive thing to be able to work into songs as heavy as these. There are also a few moments of significant departure from the conventions of the band's own sound that really stand out:
"A Liar's Funeral" is a breathtakingly beautiful track that sort of is and isn't a convention of the band--the vulnerable, emotional, "softer side of Slipknot" track has been a bit of a mainstay since Vol. 3's acoustic-only "Vermilion Pt. 2" (in addition to its first part being a very impressive departure for the band) but they always seem to put a different spin on it. "Dead Memories" is a Stone Sour-esque romp. "Snuff" is a powerful epic. "Killpop" is a somber, meandering meditation on addiction. "Goodbye" is desperate, vulnerable tragedy that resolves to a hopeful future that, ultimately, is ferocity--the path forward from tragedy for the band. On "We Are Not Your Kind," we get the spellbinding "A Liar's Funeral," perhaps the most highly contrasted of these tracks, swinging wildly (but seamlessly) back and forth between delicate ballad and massive breakdown before exploring a perfect melding between the two with a riff-heavy creeping crawl resolving into a towering, majestic chorus. "Spiders," on the other hand, is perhaps the most experimental Slipknot has ever been. It's no surprise, based on the song title, that this song literally sounds like if Tom Waits wrote a Slipknot song. Much like many Tom Waits songs, this song actually sounds like spiders, but with a distinctly Slipknot touch, making it one of the most interesting entries into the band's catalog we've ever heard.
All this points back to one immutable fact: this is a band who knows who they are and where they want to go. There's something magical about listening to a band truly find their sound over the course of several albums and being able to hear and feel the confidence it brings them to solidify their identity in that way. It happened with Deftones on "Diamond Eyes" and "Koi No Yokan." It happened with Radiohead on "In Rainbows." And now, with "We Are Not Your Kind," Slipknot has joined the ranks of bands that know exactly who they are and ooze confidence because of it. The album isn't perfect--it gets a bit formulaic at times and I really feel like it sorely needs a heavier 2nd song (maybe "All Out Life"?) between "Unsainted" and "Birth of the Cruel" (which would be a great 3rd song with a kind of "Prosthetics" vibe that, on this album, pulls the energy back a little too early)--but it absolutely belongs in the conversation about Slipknot's best work.