Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter
New album marks the next brutal chapter in the history of one of the world's most successful metal bands
Masked nine-piece Slipknot are one of the biggest metal bands in the world but .5: The Gray Chapter finds them in a state of flux. A few years ago even the idea of a fifth Slipknot album seemed unlikely. After bassist and founder member Paul Gray's death in 2010 it looked like Slipknot might dissolve under the pressure. They returned to play a series of passionate shows paying tribute to Gray's legacy. His boilersuit displayed at the back of the stage. Then in 2013 drummer Joey Jordison left under a cloud of controversy (what happened behind the scenes is still a mystery).
As one of the first bands from a new generation of metal acts to step up to the festival headline slot there would always be a demand for Slipknot in the live arena. However it looked like they might need to trade on past glories, various members admitting that the thought of heading into the studio without Gray was too emotional to contemplate.
Now four years later we have .5: The Gray Chapter. Not only does the title acknowledge their fallen comrade, the first line on opener 'XIX' states: 'This song is not for the living, this song is for the dead' over a creeping almost folky electronic rhythm. It's deep, dark and downbeat, a sad and brooding start before the power and fury are unleashed on 'Scarcastrophe'. It's a heads down fast, propulsive blast of metal aggression. Corey Taylor's howl of anguish as potent as ever. New masked and anonymous bassist and drummer (rumoured to be Krokodil's Alessandro Venturella and Against Me!'s Jay Weinberg, son of E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg) ably aping Gray and Jordison's style. 'AOV' demonstrates Slipknot's knack for welding melody onto hardcore metal while 'The Devil In I' showcases Taylor's effortless ability to switch from scream to croon over a single verse.
Much of .5: The Gray Chapter is more considered than previous releases. 'Killpop' demonstrates their trademark drop, that love of the quiet, LOUD, quiet, VERY LOUD formula. Gray's ghostly presence informs the entire record but 'Skeptic' makes perhaps the most direct reference to their former bassist with its chorus of 'The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you/The world will never know another man amazing as you' (it's what he would have wanted). Perhaps a bit simplistic but heartfelt.
There's some Slipknot by numbers, which is perhaps inevitable over 14 tracks, but the all-pervading themes of guilt, anger and regret are palpable. There are some interesting digressions 'Goodbye' is a slowburn chugging ballad; 'Custer' is an explosion of ferocious nihilism with its repeated call to 'Cut cut cut me up, and fuck fuck fuck me up', followed by the chilling spoken word poetry of 'Be Prepared for Hell' and its twinkling piano coda. Closing with the big hefty groove riffs of 'The Negative One' and the sprawling 'If Rain is What You Want' complete with its Middle Eastern rhythms.
It could never top the feral attack of 2001's Iowa but .5: The Gray Chapter won't disappoint the faithful maggots. The production work is astounding and this glossy sheen is how Slipknot have made some inroads into the mainstream. Some will see that as a bonus, others will cite it as Slipknot's biggest fault. That this album exists is surprising; that it's this good is shocking.