JTF’S HS Jams Review — 2) Slipknot’s Self Titled

Released June 29, 1999; Produced by Ross Robinson

Recently I spoke with some friends about something really important that I think kids are missing out on these days: the incredibly satisfying method of discovering bands the hard way. Anyone who knows me knows that I cherish my physical music collection. I have 1,000+ CDs and 100 or more vinyl records and both collections are always growing. As a kid I always loved going to stores and flipping through the cassettes and reading the names of the bands on their spines. When CDs became the medium of choice, the local CD stores in town were my favorite places to be, especially if they allowed you to sample the music. For both CDs and cassettes, I loved sitting on my bed or in the basement unfolding the booklets, reading the lyrics, learning the band members’ names, learning names of the crew and the positions they held, etc. 

And then there’s the art! Holding a CD case in your hand — or better yet, an LP — is a multi-sensory experience! Green Day’s Insomniac is one of my favorite records of all time and while it’s the music that hooked me, the Winston Smith cover art fascinated me to no end and really helped give a visual vibe to the music it represented. 

I learned about new artists by listening to the radio, of course, but I also just liked finding albums with cool art or a cool name and checking it out at the record store. And then, the best way of course, was to have a friend hook you up! Much like how Ricky hooked me up with System of a Down’s self-titled album, this album was brought to me by a good friend who introduced me to most of the heavier music I was into at the time: Matt.

Matt was a huge Nirvana fan who had collected not only their entire domestic discography but also every one of their imports and bootlegs — and this was in the days before Amazon! Matt would introduce me to the Misfits, Hed PE, Kittie, Soulfly, Cradle of Filth and … Slipknot.

2) Slipknot — Slipknot

When he pulled the CD out of his book bag, I was equally irritated and fascinated by the nine masked individuals that graced the cover. As I studied the aesthetic of Sid Wilson, Joey Jordison, Paul Gray, Chris Fehn, Jim Root, Craig Jones, Shawn Crahan, Mick Thomson and Corey Taylor, I couldn’t help but think they were going to be some kind of heavy metal version of Insane Clown Posse. Fortunately for me, I was very very wrong.

The 14-track album kicks off its thrash / nuMetal / grind / speed / death / industrial frenzy with an intro track made of guitar feedback and a sampling from a Charlie Manson documentary — two things that are not only gnarly but intentionally designed to make one feel uneasy. When (sic) fires up, you’re blasted in the face with a wall of rage … or a wall of spinning circular saws and loaded nail guns. Corey has a scream that I can never get sick of (though I’m admittedly not a fan of his clean vocals most of the time) and his relentless fuck this shit, I’m sick of it on the proper opening track made me a huge fan of the band before even listening to the rest of the album! 

The guitar tone on the intro to Eyeless grinds on the nerves in my brain that control sanity and I love it. When the groove kicks in, it’s a total thrasher followed by a fun, almost funky, melody and verse structure. Wait and Bleed was the only real single on the record (I figure this is because it’s the only song that wouldn’t require heavy editing to become radio-friendly) and while it’s a strong track, it’s probably my least favorite on the album (hello, Corey’s clean vocals). 

Surfacing is one of the strongest tracks on the album and is still one of Slipknot’s best songs in my opinion. The intro’s buildup is enough to make your heart want to come out of your chest before it lets loose into total thrash leading to the first verse. The expletive-laden chorus is maybe a little unnecessary but the strong language helps drive home an equally strong message that seriously resonated with teenage me — someone who just thought they had troubles and was misunderstood. 

For a long time Spit it Out was my favorite track because of the hip-hop elements found in the verses and the call-and-response chorus was fun to sing along with. This brings up an interesting bit about this record — I love singing along with it! And that’s strange … not because I don’t like singing but I don’t do a lot of singing along with heavier metal music. Primarily because with screaming, growling or screeching vocals, it’s difficult for me to understand them clearly and I usually don’t care what they’re saying enough to look it up and read it. In this case, I cared enough and I loved it. 

Which brings on the next funny part to me — the lyrics are not very good! The quotable bits of aforementioned expletive-filled choruses are not particularly poetic or creative but they’re emotional and fun to shout out loud when you’re alone in your car or at home. I think anyone who claims Corey Taylor is some kind of master lyricist has been performing surgery on themselves (Scissors reference — see what I did there?) but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I read recently that AllMusic reviewed the lyrics thusly: 

[the] lyrics that are discernable are not generally quotable on a family website; suffice it to say that the members of Slipknot are not impressed with their fathers, their hometown or most anything else.

This is, unfortunately, common with nearly every band who was classified as NuMetal in that decade. Lucky for them, I rarely care about the content of a song’s lyrics and I was also unimpressed with my dad and my hometown at the time.

I hate to go back to sounding like an old man who wants to tell the young’uns how different things were “in my day,” but one of my favorite parts of this album is that the standout song — I would even say my favorite song on the record — comes in the form of a hidden track after album closer Scissors. I used to get SO hyped when my CD player would tell me the final track was 20 minutes or so long because it usually meant there was a surprise at the end; a surprise that is now ruined by Spotify. 

Hidden track Eeyore immediately puts you on edge with a highly distorted guitar slamming on the brakes after a comical recording of the band watching what I can only assume was Two Girls, One Cup (do not Google this if you’re not already familiar). The next few seconds are equal parts noise, thrash, death and I’d even say black metal. Grinding guitars and blast beats create a wall of sound that’s the perfect bit of chaos to back Corey’s insistence that he’s the great big mouth. The ending of the first chorus that includes Corey’s “Burn!” followed by a brief thrash-style rhythm guitar solo is probably my favorite part of the entire record.

This album came into my life at a time when I was rather creatively fertile. The band’s mix of so many different styles of metal to create a chaotic cohesion of sorts was something I was strangely able to identify with. I became obsessed with Shawn Crahan, or simply “Clown,” or even more simply “#6.” The fact that he was a percussionist who didn’t actually play any drums was fascinating to me and I loved that he was a wild-ass clown that wasn’t generic like all other horror-themed clowns that have oversaturated the industry. I spent a huge portion of my creative time in high school doodling the band members’ masks and even carved Clown out of linoleum for a print project we were doing in art class. I still have the linoleum block and some of the original prints here 22 years later.

I’ll take this time to also point out how I used to have a negative opinion of bands who wore masks or try to stay anonymous. I thought it was cheesy and a horrible gimmick to get into. I was, however, more fascinated with the masks Slipknot chose rather than disgusted by them. I remember fans speculating who the guys were, some even obsessively comparing photos of hands and taking photos of every person who entered or exited their venues hoping to catch a glimpse of who was behind the masks. I didn’t understand this weird need to verify someone’s identity in this way and wondered why we couldn’t just appreciate the music they gave us as these characters and not care about who they really were. 

By the time their followup record Iowa was released, each band member’s identity had been revealed and it changed nothing. I was very happy about this because at this point, I realized Slipknot wouldn’t be Slipknot without the image. I was afraid that after their identities had been revealed that they would begin performing out of costume much like the strange era when KISS stopped wearing makeup. They were still KISS but it just wasn’t right. Fortunately, Slipknot has continued to perform as their characters even though the world knows who each of them are, for better or worse.

Slipknot’s debut record is commonly regarded as the best heavy metal debut album of all time and there’s no doubt that it made them skyrocket in the music industry. The record was able to hit 51 on the Billboard 200 and has since been certified double platinum in the United States. And while every record they’ve released since then has charted much higher (Iowa went to #3, Vol. 3 went to #2 and All Hope is Gone, 5. The Gray Chapter and We Are Not Your Kind all peaked at #1), it’s still the highest-grossing Slipknot record, selling over 2-million copies.

And for good reason.

Ever onward and see you next week.

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