"The whole thing, I think, is sick."
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Right from their self-titled major label debut in 1999, it was obvious there was something vastly different about Slipknot. You weren’t just watching some band of dudes shred on stage, you were watching a gang of nine individuals create varieties of sound and noise that would be unlike anything else you’d heard. Slipknot isn’t just a band, it’s an identity that has inspired millions of fans around the world and united them together under one “S”-adorned flag.
Over the last 20 years, Slipknot have notched a few records under their belt, which fans have devoured with a cult-like hunger. We talked to singer Corey Taylor about the band’s discography and its impact on himself, to the world.
5. All Hope Is Gone (2008)
Noisey: So this one is almost seven years old, how do you hear it now as opposed to when it came out?
Corey Taylor: Just because of the experience around it—it has nothing to do with a lot of the music—but I have to say my least favorite is All Hope is Gone. Which is strange, because when it was finally done I loved a lot of the music that was on there. It had a lot of strong songs, but now six, seven years later, I listen to it and that’s kind of all it sounds like. It just feels like a collection of songs, and not an album, which is something we’ve strived to do over our career. Plus, you add all the turmoil that was going on at the time, it was very much a tale of two cities. You had one half of the band wanting to do one thing, the other half wanting to do the other, and I was in the middle being, “Isn’t this supposed to be the part we enjoy?” [Laughs] So it was really difficult to get that album made in the first place, and it was difficult to get everyone on the same page going out on the road. It was a miserable two years. One of the only reasons I can look back fondly on it is I got to spend a lot of time with Paulie. So other than that, the rest of it was so much hard work and pulling teeth, I have a hard time listening to that album without conjuring up terrible memories of what happened. So I’d have to say it’s my least favorite of all the albums.
4. Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses (2004)
This is probably going to blow a lot of people’s minds, but I’d really have to say Vol. 3 is my second least favorite.
I kind of figured as much, weirdly.
You know, again, it’s not about the songs themselves because I love the story they tell and the production, and the risks we took because it’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to keep expanding our range so it wasn’t just the same album over and over again. And that was a huge step for us with Vol. 3, and it enabled us to really see what we could do and do well. My problems with that album are my vocal performance, a lot of it. Because I was trying something different with my voice, and later I came to my senses and I was like, “Man I really don’t like what I’m doing with that,” as far as the heavy side goes. I was trying a different scream and it just didn’t work.
Which songs specifically stick out to you for that?
Probably “Welcome.” I have a hard time listening to that song because it didn’t have the aggression I really wanted some of those songs to have had. Not to say some of those songs aren’t fantastic. People sort of view “Duality” as our “Whole Lotta Love” or “Stairway to Heaven,” I mean it’s been played to death. [Laughs] But that song, man, when we play it live people still lose their shit. “Before I Forget,” great song. And some of the more melodic stuff, like “Vermillion,” parts one and two, and the risks we took on stuff like “The Nameless.” There’s so many great songs on that album that it’s hard for me not to love it. But because of what I was trying to do vocally, and because of a lot of the shit I was doing in my own life—that was the album I got sober during, it was when I was really trying to pull my head out of my ass, and it took me a long time to figure out who I was and I think that took away a lot of confidence in my vocal delivery. It was weird. I’m proud of that album, but not so much proud of what I did with that album. I think everybody else was fantastic on it, and we were really able to do a lot of cool things with it, but taking myself out of it, it’s my least favorite vocal performance.
I remember hearing Rick Rubin had a weird presence on the record too.
Well he was never there. He’d show up for 45 minutes a week, the same day, I think it was on Wednesdays, and he’d sit down and take a listen. He’d be like, “You need to do this, this, and this,” and then he’d bail. For the most part, Greg Fidelman is the unsung hero of the album. If it wasn’t for him and us, that album would not have sounded the way it does. Rick Rubin famously told me I needed to change the chorus to “Before I Forget,” because he said it wasn’t a strong chorus, and I told him that’s just not going to happen. I agreed with him on a couple of occasions, but when it came to that song, I knew it was powerful enough that the chorus would carry it. And then we won a Grammy for it, so y’know. It was very strange, it was a very strange thing. Plus, a lot of things going on behind the scenes with us as far as management went that people don’t even know. We were in such disarray, it’s amazing it came out in seven months.
Since the self-titled, you guys really busted out on the scene pretty big and fast, but this was the album that cemented at that time Slipknot being the biggest fucking metal band in the world.
Thank you so much for that. It cemented just how serious we were. People started looking at us differently, and not as, and I fucking hate the term, nu-metal band, because we never were. But they started looking at us as a legitimate successor to the bigger bands at the time. We were very serious about our music, it wasn’t just “Kill Kill Kill” all the time. The music could reflect a lot of the different emotions we tried to show on the previous albums, but it always got too out of hand. So that was the album that established the fact we take ourselves very seriously, and they should take us seriously in turn.
3. Iowa (2001)
So your third favorite would be Iowa then?
I was so messed up in my life just from all the shit we were getting wrapped up in. All of a sudden, we were huge, we’ve got access to all this stuff, and now it was time to follow it up. And we knew we were going to do something crazy. But that didn’t stop us from kind of losing our minds. We all stayed pretty fucked up for the most part, we recorded a lot of the album fucked up. But there’s something about the album that’s so visceral, and so dark, just insanely dark. You listen to that album and it doesn’t sound like anything else. The production is so thick, so in your face, and the aggression is so unchecked and fucking out there. You can see where we were trying to step out of where we had come from, and where we were going. I remember when the album was finally finished, it was a moment of rare lucidity for me. I was very present. We listened to it, and I was blown away by how heavy it was. Like holy shit. And honestly, I think that album would’ve had more impact if it wasn’t for 9/11, which a lot of people forget happened a week after Iowa came out. A day after Slayer released their new album that people had been waiting for. We were kind of ostracized because of the things that were going on. We’d just gone through this terrible fucking tragedy, so they were looking for anything they could control as scapegoats. So we got fucked, Slayer got fucked, Rage Against the Machine got fucked. All of these seriously heavy artists got thrown up against a wall, and a lot of the safer shit got in. Nothing happened to fucking Linkin Park. All these lilly white fucking bands where people were like, “Well they’re safe enough, we’ll listen to them.” At the same time, we didn’t go anywhere. We went out and toured that album for another year and a half just to make sure it got its due credit. And now there’s some of the fans’ favorites. As dark as it is, there are so many fucking anthems on it, they still get played on the live set. I think it’s a testament to how far we were willing to stand our ground.
Going back to this coming out of 9/11, it’s always weird for me to think about because people assume the kind of music you make incites violence, when really it helps people release a lot of built up anger or anxiety. Especially in times of gross tragedy that you can’t explain.
It’s a nice way to tap the valve. I know [Marilyn] Manson got lumped in with so much shit, and we do too. But because he’s a singular artist for the most part, a lot of the focus goes on him whereas we can spread it out between the nine of us. It’s crazy, man. Anything bad that happens, we’re the focal point. It’s just not fair. It spits in the face of everything we try to do, which is give an outlet to people who don’t have that outlet. Take the violence some people have the propensity for, and make it positive. Give them the outlet to let that shit go. For the most part, we win. When people try to belittle that and treat it with disdain, it makes me want to break shit. But then I remember, “Wait, I can just listen to my own music and calm myself down!” [Laughs] So it’s good, it’s good to have that.
What influence do you think Iowa as a physical space has had on the record, and your art in general? You were saying how you got super huge after this, so I imagine a bunch of kids from Iowa experiencing what “fame” was it must have been bizarre.
It was very weird. The whole reason we did Slipknot was because we were waiting for a band to make the kind of music we wanted to listen to. And it kept not happening. So we just said, “Fuck it, we’ll do it ourselves.” There was no band that had the intensity of Slayer, the electronic brutality of Ministry, the groove of Korn, the spastic shit that would happen on stage like GG Allin or early Butthole Surfers. Just that antagonistic purity we wanted, with melody, with chorus, with hooks, with the ability to do whatever the fuck you want. We kept waiting and waiting, and one of the reasons we did it was out of necessity. Plus nobody fucking comes here! [Laughs] Nobody. Once in a while, we’d get a cool fucking concert, but then the audience would be so insane that the band would be fucking afraid to come back.
2. .5: The Gray Chapter (2014)
So this is the newest one, and right in the title it was obvious this one was going to hit hard in more ways than one.
Yeah, that hint of melancholy. Paul’s not there, we’d just split with Joey [Jordison], and there was this moment of, “What do we do? What are we going to do?” And luckily, we got together and did exactly what we needed to do. It was so gratifying to put it out there and destroy everyone who said we couldn’t do it. Even though the expectations were so high with our fans, the negative expectations were almost bigger from the people who’d been waiting for fucking years for us to fall on our face. So to come back, and not only to give them a one-two punch but also give those fuckers a kick right in the gooch, that was fucking beautiful, man. To come back out and be, “We’re going to be in your fucking face until the day we die, so go fuck yourselves,” that was a beautiful moment. Especially doing it the way we did, which was an album basically about our fallen brother. Which needed to be said, and also an album about us coming together and sharing those feelings. For a brutally heavy album, the album’s very emotional. It’s evocative, everything I wanted it to be.
One of the songs that really did that for me was “Goodbye” because there’s just so much atmosphere and vulnerability to it.
I wrote that song about the day Paul died. I was sitting in my house, and it was the first time the whole band hadn’t been in the house because Paul wasn’t there. It was a heavy moment for me. We were all sitting in my basement looking at each other, and it was the thickest kind of silence. So quiet you can’t ignore it. Finally we started to help each other let loose a little bit, there was a lot of crying, we tried to laugh as much as we could just because we were so thrown for a fucking loop we didn’t know what to do. And that carried on for several days, especially that press conference we had. I’ve watched the footage, and fuck, man. It’s hard for me to even realize I was there. To go from that, to take that experience and make something positive out of it, I’m so proud we put together something that was so poignant that the fans needed.
1. Slipknot (1999)
So what was the initial undertaking like?
We went into this so positive, there were no expectations whatsoever. Because who we were, and what we were as a band, there were actually less expectations. No one expected us to win, least of all us to be totally fucking honest, man. We went into that album so young and green and just ecstatic to make our first album, after we recorded it was like, “Well now what?” We had to wait six months just to see what happened. We got added to Ozzfest ’99 at the last second. True story. We’re out in Malibu on top of a mountain. Nine assholes from Iowa, no idea what the fuck we’re doing. [Laughs] With this mad scientist, Ross Robinson, helping us create this crazy fucking album. Really it was a blank check, metaphorically we were playing with house money. Nobody knew what would happen. Every other band on Roadrunner was expected to blow up and not us. Machine Head just put out a new album at the time. Amen was finishing their record at Indigo Ranch before we moved in, and I was convinced Amen was going to be so much bigger than us. I love those first two albums. They’re unbelievably amazing. So here we are, these nine kids playing heavy metal, wearing masks, wearing coveralls, doing crazy shit, our highest expectation was that we were maybe a band that sold 200,000 albums. Which at the time was enough to keep you on the road.
That’s so insane to think about now. “Only 200,000.”
It’s so crazy! And we did Ozzfest ’99, and you could tell something was happening. Something was becoming fucking crazy. The album hadn’t even come out yet. It came out halfway through that tour. So really there was nothing to prepare anybody for anything. And then after Ozzfest ’99 ended, we had three days off and we went right into the Coal Chamber tour where we were third on the bill, right below Machine Head. Halfway through that tour, we ended up switching places with Machine Head and becoming direct support. Because we would play, and this is nothing against any of these bands, nothing at all, we’d play and half the audience would leave after. It was no shit. We didn’t have anywhere to go after we played so we’d go out to the audience and hang out, watch the other bands, and we’d watch people streaming out—buying our merch and heading out. So it became a point where nobody wanted to take us out on the road with them. So we had to headline out of necessity.
Meanwhile, the album goes gold and we didn’t realize it. We didn’t get the plaque for it until February 2 of 2000. When we got the plaque, we found out within two months it would go platinum. Then it went double platinum. People don’t understand just how fucking insane it was. We’re sitting back going, “What?” Suddenly we’re the biggest band on Roadrunner, and no one prepared us. We didn’t know what the fuck was going on. We had shitty management at the time, and it was insanity. It all started because we went up a mountain, and had an absolute fucking blast making that album. It went through three people’s hands to mix it.
I don’t know if anyone’s ever told this story, but Clown, Joey, and Ross Robinson broke into the studio where the master tapes were, because we weren’t liking the mixes we were getting. They broke in, stole the tapes, and mixed it themselves! [Laughs] I think Paul was there too. I had to go back to Iowa to go back to work, and I get a call from Clown: “By the way, we committed grand larceny, we just stole our own fucking album.” And they sat down and mixed it because no one else understood it. When you’re the first, no one knows. There’s not track record for it. So we’d get these shitty fucking mixes that were either too thin, too bass-laden. People didn’t understand what this noise was. So we ended up mixing it ourselves, man. There’s so many crazy stories from that first album, I can look back and smile that it’s happened to us, and the subsequent years. It all started from the first album and all the crazy shit. Living off 20 bucks a week, having to hide your ramen because your asshole bandmates were trying to steal it. Having to come up with 30 ways to make ramen so you don’t lose your mind, that’s how we lived. It was so insane, but it was so awesome because we were in it. All the talk, dreaming was over. It was time to do the work. And we did, the rest is fucking history man.
John Hill is on Twitter - @johnxhill